Donors Forum looks back at what the CSO sector in Russia has achieved over 20 years

20th Annual Donors Forum conference: What the CSO sector has learned over the years




What charities have failed to achieve so far and what has remained the same are being discussed at the conference.


The 20th Annual Donors Forum conference opened on 4 October at the Federation’s Chamber of Industry and Commerce in Moscow and was due to last three days. On the 5th, people could join the discussions online and watch films together on the 6th.


The conference opened with a plenary session “Philanthropy and Social Investment in Russia: The new reality” where sector experts discussed what could be said about the development of charity over the past 20 years.


What in philanthropy has remained constant


Philanthropy goes through developmental cycles, said Natalya Kaminarskaya, CEO of the Blagosfer Centre who moderated the plenary session. After each cycle, the sector comes together to look back and review the main issues related to its work. According to Natalya, talking about the new reality is complicated at present, but that accumulated experience and knowledge can help CSOs reflect on and understand how the sector should operate in the future.


According to experts at the conference, providing help, the public’s compassionate and generous nature and the absence of any political, religious, racial or other prejudices are elements that have remained consistent in charity over the years. As ever and despite changing circumstances, there are always those who are willing and able to help others.


What has not been achieved in that time


Over the past 20 years, the CSO sector has not had any real engagement with charities on major collaborative programmes, said Irina Prokhorova, co-founder of the Mikhail Prokhorov Charitable Foundation. “At every meeting, we would say “it’s time for us to join forces”, with the Donors Forum being very helpful in bringing in different organisations. We looked at many similar projects and tried to combine our efforts but in the end, nothing worked, or if it did, only to a limited extent”, said Prokhorova.


Furthermore, Prokhorova believes there are still problems in promoting the benefits of charity. Over time, society has become more sympathetic towards charities but that more needs to be done to encourage such support, she added.


According to Nikolai Slabzhanin, Executive Director of Children’s Villages SOS, not enough communication channels have been established over the years for those who would like and are able to offer help.


The results of what the sector has been doing over the past 20 years will not be seen for a while, said Oksana Oracheva, CEO of the Vladimir Potanin Charitable Foundation. However, during that time, charity has evolved into three unequal roles: direct support, development and innovation in which the sector comes up with new ideas. It is the latter area which, according to Oracheva, has not yet been fully developed.


The CSO sector has yet to properly engage with the Government, said Fatima Mukhomejan, CEO of the Art, Science and Sport Foundation. “This is a serious omission that has prevented us from being at the forefront of the mainstream sector economy”, said Fatima.


What to do next


According to the latest data from the National Research University Higher School of Economics for Civil Society Studies, so-called helping behaviour, which includes charitable work, has increased in Russia, said Elena Topoleva, Director of the Agency for Social Information and CEO of the Northern Kindness charity. For example, the number of people who said they felt compelled to help strangers in need has nearly doubled since last year. 72% of Russians in 2022 said they had helped someone by doing something. Last year, the figure was 43%.


But even with the increase in helping behaviour, confidence in CSOs seems to be declining, Topoleva explained. Consequently, the CSO sector has to realise that it needs to get its act together and start from scratch by talking about its work, transparency in charity and the importance of systemic support.


CSOs need to continue investing time in the environment sector and start engaging with different partners, said Oksana Oracheva. Maria Morozova, CEO of the Elena and Gennady Timchenko Charitable Foundation, also felt that CSOs should be building partnerships. The most important thing is that for all their wide-ranging and successful work, CSOs shouldn’t become “disconnected” from the country and not decide for themselves what is best for the Russian people.



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