Philanthropy for Social Justice and Peace, in association with Alliance magazine and Worldwide Initiatives for Grantmaker Support (WINGS), recently launched the second report in its Philanthropy Bridge Series — this time in partnership with CAF Russia — on the world's largest country. Russia isn't just large in geographical size, it's also large in terms of complexity. It's a country about which many of us know little yet find ourselves reading about on an almost daily basis, in turn creating curiosity and intrigue. So, what does the end of the Iron Curtain mean for philanthropy in Russia?
Russia to me is challenging to understand despite having traveled to its major cities and enjoyed its delightful culture and hospitality. This is true for understanding philanthropy there as well. Philanthropy in Russia is a working paper rather than an attempt to describe the sector in its entirety; it begins to distill what is known to create meaning. Here are some of my takeaways:
You can't understand Russian philanthropy without understanding its context. Despite the country's long and chequered history, philanthropy in Russia is relatively young, both the sector itself and even the notion of giving. Whereas philanthropy is embedded in the cultural context of many other countries, its emergence in Russia over the last three decades creates a distinction between a time in which philanthropy existed there and a time in which it did not. CAF's 2017 World Giving Index, which measures individual giving in terms of money, time, and helping a stranger (an awesome measure, by the way), ranks the Russian Federation 124th out of 139 countries surveyed. In terms of giving money, Russia ranks 104th. As the report describes it, "Russia does not appear to be a nation of givers." There are cultural and historical reasons for this. During the Communist era, public well-being was considered the responsibility of the state alone. This reinforced the notion that private charitable work should be considered a private affair and was not to be talked openly about. This may be a difficult notion for many Western philanthropists to understand, given the often default position of self and organizational promotion. Think, for example, about the purpose of a "top funders list" or the Giving Pledge page. Neither approach is right, good, or bad — just different. Twenty-seven years later, though, this does appear to be changing in Russia.
Who's giving, and how, are changing. Once thought of as a "demeaning, manipulative capitalist practice" that was forbidden (Jamie Gambrell), attitudes to philanthropy seem to be becoming more positive. Oksana Oracheva, general director of the Vladmir Potanin Foundation, believes that people are more supportive of philanthropy now, particularly as they become more involved themselves through corporate volunteerism, community philanthropy, and small individual donations. As was also the case with the Philanthropy in India report, small donations by the middle class have led to significant increases in giving in both countries. Although members of the middle class often don't give large sums, they can give smaller amounts more often (especially due to technology).
When did you last give by way of an SMS donation, particularly one that you were encouraged to make by an advertisement on television? For many of us, probably never. For a Russian, it may have been today. Numerous causes invest in storytelling through the media with a call to action to give any amount, which culturally makes philanthropy quite visible. Pretty cool.