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Astana, Kazakhstan • 23 August, 2022 | 11:08

Woman from Shymkent Heads One of World's Leading Pharma Companies

Iroda Jurabekova works for Boehringer Ingelheim in Germany

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Iroda Jurabekova is from southern Kazakhstan. She was born into a family of intellectuals, studied well from childhood, and loved learning languages and mathematics.

How did a trip to the States influence her life, and how did she become a global director at Boehringer Ingelheim, one of the world's top 20 pharmaceutical companies? A first-hand experience in the interview to

Childhood and USA trip

"I am from Shymkent. I was born into a family of intellectuals, my dad was a doctor, my mom was a teacher, and my grandparents also worked at school. I have 3 sisters, we are local Kazakhstan’s Uzbeks, but we have Kazakh roots as well. I graduated from school with honors. I loved learning languages and math, won the republican competitions twice."

"When I was in 10th grade, I became the finalist of the Future Leaders Exchange Program (FLEX) and studied at Lincoln School in Wisconsin for 1 year. I think this experience was one of the fundamental moments that shaped my future life. I learned how to adapt quickly to a new environment, how to connect with strangers."

From journalism to medicine

"Before the trip, I worked as a part-time journalist. As a schoolgirl, I accidentally got into the editorial office of a regional newspaper. I loved writing on various topics. After the USA, I dramatically changed my plans for life."

"When I returned from America, I felt like an accomplished journalist. I realized that I knew English very well, so there was no point in me going to law school or studying international relations. I dramatically changed my outlook on life and chose an interesting field - medicine. The more I studied it, the more I became convinced that I could be useful, and I clearly saw myself in this structure."

How to choose a profession

"There are different players in the health care system: doctors, managers, the government, insurance funds, etc. I was looking for a place where my knowledge would be most useful. My advice to young people is that we never know exactly what's in store for us. The main thing that we have to do is not to stop and keep going, every day improving the skills that will be useful for us tomorrow. When Mark Zuckerberg created Facebook, he was unaware of the scale that awaited him."

"I didn't understand where my efforts, learning languages, would lead me either, I just wanted to gain knowledge. I wanted to use English, be close to medicine, travel, and at the same time be of maximum benefit to patients."

Studying in London

"After school, I studied at the South Kazakhstan Medical Academy. In 2009 I began studying at the faculty of the pharmacology of the University College London (UCL) under the Bolashak program (state scholarship with all expenses paid)."

"Studying in England assumes independence. When you are taught by the best professors in the world, who lecture using 33 slides, it means that you have to read 33 books on your own. We took a lot of lab subjects that required hands-on knowledge. I paid a lot of attention to lab work because even if you know English perfectly, it doesn't mean that you know the professional vocabulary, words like a tube or a flask."

Johnson & Johnson

"After graduation, we are obligated to return to Kazakhstan. I had no idea where I was going to work. Suddenly I ended up at Johnson & Johnson in Almaty as Regulatory Manager and was responsible for the regulatory process for products that require government approval. I started at Kazakhstan’s level, followed by the Central Asian countries, and then I was in charge of several projects in several countries. From 2019 to 2021, I was responsible for 33 countries in Central and Eastern Europe and the CIS."


"Since September 2021 I work as Global Director of HEOR (Health economics and outcomes research) Customer Initiatives at Boehringer Ingelheim in Germany. This is a global leadership position with a high level of responsibility. I lead pharma-economic initiatives on a global level."

"My work schedule involves a lot of negotiation, meetings at different levels. We create strategies for bringing the medicines to markets to treat a lot of diseases - cancer, lung diseases, central nervous system diseases, diabetes, etc. My job as a director is to make sure that the medicine we produce meets the healthcare requirements and is profitable from the point of view of pharmacoeconomics."

What’s next?

"There is always room to grow, now I just want to relax and enjoy life. Achievements are always cool, but you cannot turn them into the only meaning of life, so I treat my work as a hobby. I have just started my job and I have a big challenge to explore big markets like China, the USA, Japan, UK, Germany and so on. It will take a few years. I also have my own projects. I am an advocate of not keeping work as the only area of interest."

English school instead of Harvard

"Thanks to my work in foreign companies, I saved a certain amount of money. I thought I would spend it on education at Harvard. But in 2017 I finally decided that I could study for free and decided to help children. I opened an English language school in Kazakhstan, I've always had a dream to create something for people. From every trip, I bring souvenirs and books to the school. We accept gifted and motivated children from poor families who can get a scholarship and study for free."

Who moved my cheese?

"Every time I fly home to Kazakhstan, I meet with children, talk to them, answer their questions, and share my experiences. I always tell them about the characters of Spencer Johnson's popular book ‘Who moved my cheese?’ It is about mice who are always running around looking for cheese. And one mouse always carried sneakers with him so he could run faster if necessary."

"And I tell kids relentlessly that you should always have sneakers, you never know when you're going to have to run. Knowledge is what these sneakers are to help you grow into a professional faster. Find hobbies, study, it's all bound to come in handy, you just have to be able to put all the puzzles together one day. That's when you'll realize your strengths, where to grow, and how to develop further.

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