Nargis Ziyavatdinova

Nargis Ziyavatdinova

Courtesy, U.S. State Department

John Rash: Minnesota's greatest export - ideas

  • Article by: JOHN RASH
  • Star Tribune
  • February 21, 2011 - 4:09 PM

Minnesota exports grew at a 17 percent pace in the latest data available.

Leading the way were shipments of computers and electronics, followed by machinery and transportation equipment. And, of course, food, which was fifth on the list.

Something that’s harder to quantify may be our most extraordinary export: ideas.

Take the case of the PACER Center in Bloomington, which works to expand opportunities and enhance the quality of life for disabled youth, based on the concept of parents helping parents.

As part of the U.S. State Department’s International Visitor Leadership Program, PACER executives hosted Nargis Ziyavatidnova from Uzbekistan in 2002.

She was so impressed with PACER’s people and processes that when she returned home to Termez, a city on the Afghan border, she opened the Specialized Educational Center, a non-governmental organization dedicated to disabled children.

“My visit to PACER was the most profound,” Ziyavatidnova said today. “I was inspired by what I observed, and returned full of passion.”

Her passion has changed lives – including her own.

With no expertise or experience working with disabled children, the mother of five opened her center, got the support of the Uzbek president’s family, and set a precedent in mainstreaming children with disabilities into the Uzbek educational system.

The Specialized Educational Center was not only the first in Uzbekistan, but inspired similar programs in Ukraine, Tajikistan, Kazakhstan and Georgia, all of which have emulated her model.

Ziyavatidnova is back in the Twin Cities as part of a State Department “Gold Stars” tour of distinguished alumni of its program, which is celebrating its 50th anniversary.

She’s being hosted by an organization that’s another example of a great Minnesota idea: The Minnesota International Center (MIC), whose president, Carol Engebretson Byrne, was honored with the National Council for International Visitors Excellence in Advocacy Award in Washington last week.

And Minnesota’s Medtronic – one of the forward-thinking firms that have helped propel manufactured exports – received the inaugural NCIV Citizen Diplomat Corporate Award.

MIC, PACER and Medtronic are examples of how internationally-invested organizations make sure our ideas don’t stop at the state’s borders.

“Minnesotans are very open and willing to share what they know,” Ziyavatidnova said.

John Rash is a Star Tribune editorial board member. His column, Rash Report, appears on Saturday. Follow him on Twitter @rashreport.

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