Russia Considers Altrusim
Published: June 21, 2013 (Issue # 1764)
As Russia is starting to see people of different social classes engage seriously in activities aimed at addressing some of Russia’s most pressing problems, Russian philanthropy is now finding itself at a turning point, according to participants of a roundtable held Thursday as part of the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum. The topic of the roundtable was “Cultivating the Next Generation of Global Philanthropists.”
“What we have witnessed is nothing short of a revolution, and I am not exaggerating at all,” said Alexei Kudrin, the Dean of the Department of Liberal Arts and Sciences at the St. Petersburg State University. Kudrin was also Russia’s former finance minister. “I left civil service more than 1 1/2 years ago, and over that period I have been deeply involved in fundraising initiatives both in the regions and in the capital cities. Our funds have almost doubled, and I am genuinely impressed with the enthusiasm of donors.”
The issue of philanthropy in Russia is not new to the forum. However, the main difference between Thursday’s roundtable and previous discussions is that the focus of the debate has now shifted to sharing the various aspects of entrepreneurs’ dissatisfaction with state policies in the field of philanthropy — mainly concerning the government’s failure to create what potential donors would find an acceptable climate for making donations.
“Yes, one specific feature of philanthropy in Russia is that not many Russian business people agree that generosity can truly feel good; Rather, many potential philanthropists see their donations as a form of investment — they want to use it to promote their businesses or their own image,” Kudrin said. “Indeed, as with every investment, they want it to pay off. In some cases we see that businesses tend to more keenly invest in improving the infrastructure around their factories, for example, thus benefitting primarily their own employees who live in the area.”
While in 2012, Russian entrepreneurs on the panel had been adamant that the government needs to offer incentives for charitable giving — a natural reaction perhaps, given that they didn’t go into business out of wanting to do good — the hot topic this year was the creation of a working scheme that would allow the middle class to be involved in philanthropy.
“Russia has recently seen some impressive cases of volunteer activities, including, for example, initiatives in the regions to help the victims of the flood in Krymsk in the summer of 2012,” Kudrin said. “However, very few schemes exist in Russia that make it easy for ordinary Russians who want to engage in philanthropy, to do so.”
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