Since 1998, when the first community foundation was established in Togliatti, the development of the community foundation field in Russia has been impressive, with 45 community foundations now in existence and an additional dozen or so institutions which could be described as community foundation-like. This growth has been accompanied by the emergence of a variety of networks; indeed the infrastructure supporting the work of Russian communtiy foundations is one of the most developed and robust in the world.
In another sign of the Russian communiety foundation sectors’ maturity and growth, the seventh regional platform of cooperation amongst community foundations in Russia was established in Tyumen (Siberia) on May 20th 2014. Representatives of the Pervouralsk, Nefteugansk, Noyabrsk, Berezovskiy, Tyumen and Sorokino community foundations signed an agreement which brought into being the Ural Federal District Alliance of Community Foundations. The development was welcomed as an opportunity to provide greater regional solidarity as well as offering a network for exchange of information and learning. Two of the member community foundations pledged a sharing of equipment which augured well for the spirit of cooperation.
Each of the six member community foundations is very different, reflecting how community philanthropy can be responsive to local circumstances. The youngest member has been operating for just two years, whilst the oldest – the Tyumen Community Foundation – was celebrating its fifteenth birthday. The Tyumen Community Foundation serves the urban centre of Tyumen in comparison to the dispersed rural area covered by the Sorokino Community Foundation, which relates to village populations of 10,000. Similarly, both the community priorities identified and the resources available cover a wide spectrum.
What was evident from the description of the programmes of work of each of the six community foundations was the emphasis placed on civic activism and volunteer energy. Whether it was organising a fundraising charity ball or environmental clean-ups, success depended in local participation and enthusiasm. At least one of the community foundation representatives explained what could happen if activities were organised in the absence of community buy-in – a tree planting initiative failed to attract the involvement of local people and within a week the trees that had been planted were vandalised and uprooted. The learning from this experience was taken to heart. Next time round the local community foundation activists took the time to invest in community engagement.
Each of the community foundations operated programmes of grant competitions, with a wide range of beneficiaries, however they also promoted a number of development interventions often in partnership with local government authorities and with the support of the small business sector. There was investment in children’s playgrounds and hostels for the homeless; also support for clean river campaigns and the rehabilitation of recreation zones. The Pervouralsk Community Foundation responded to the fact that there was no cinema in its area by sponsoring monthly film shows around local villages; and a number of the community foundations supported a very popular Book Exchange project, whereby children could exchange the books that they had read for new ones. In identifying community priorities, reference was made to household surveys and community focus groups as forms of consultation.
The new Ural Federal District and Russian Community Foundation Alliance received expert advice from speakers on behalf of the Russian Community Foundation Partnership, the Perm Alliance of Community Foundations, the Russia Donors’ Forum and Charities Aid Foundation (CAF) Russia, amongst others. Speaking on behalf of the Global Alliance for Community Philanthropy, Avila Kilmurray congratulated the community foundations in attendance at the two day event for their commitment and welcomed the new Ural Alliance. She noted that it was a particularly timely development, given that 2014 marks the centenary of the community foundation movement globally.