Charity in the 21st Century

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What form should charity take in Russia? This question is far from trifling. The answer has been discussed for years in the media, by experts and in homes across the country. Some say that under crisis conditions, help should be prioritized for those who need it most. Others say charity should be systematic, for which it is necessary to find ways to activate citizens' constructive potential to solve their problems independently.

One of the most dedicated proponents of systematic charity is the Mikhail Prokhorov Fund, which was founded in 2004 and positions itself as a fund for the 21st century. The principles of the fund's work were formed by studying both international and domestic experiences in the field of charitable work. As a result, the fund focused its work on the systematic support of cultural initiatives in the Russian regions. In the opinion of the fund's founder, culture (in its broadest sense) is a powerful lever for socioeconomic development in these territories.

The Mikhail Prokhorov Fund's real innovation is its use of a regional approach. Five years ago the fund began as a small charitable organization, working exclusively in the industrial region of Norilsk. In 2006, the fund expanded its operations to Krasnoyarsk, and since 2008 the fund has projects that are being realized in the Urals, Siberian and Far Eastern federal districts. The fund is developing separate programs for each of these regions, taking into account the historical, economic and cultural particulars of each area.

History shows that the most common mistake that new charities make is attempting to create something logical, benign and permanent, but failing to take into account the local culture, traditions and way of life. We believe that effective charitable work in the regions should be, first and foremost, oriented toward solving those problems that local society deems to be priorities. Only then, after earning credibility, can charities advance more radical and innovative practices in the regions.

This systematic principle and localized approach was part of the foundation of the Mikhail Prokhorov Fund's work in Krasnoyarsk region, including the fund's priority city of Norilsk, located above the Arctic Circle. One of the main problems that this industrial region faces (aside from its harsh northern climate and unfavorable ecological conditions) is its isolation from the "mainland." When the Mikhail Prokhorov Fund arrived in this region, its cultural scene was stewing in its own juices, and apathy and a welfare mentality reigned among the populace. Seeing this depressing picture, the fund decided that penetrating Norilsk's cultural isolation and raising the degree of creative activity among the populace were top priorities.

The Mikhail Prokhorov Fund's most important project in Norilsk is to attract theater groups from other regions. The Fund initiated the world's northernmost theater festival, Norilsk Season, which each year attracts the top theater groups in Russia. By comparison, before this project Norilsk had not hosted any theater groups for several decades. Another of the Fund's major projects is the Taymyr Cactus modern art multimedia festival, which allows Norilsk residents to become familiar with the entire spectrum of modern art.

At the same time, the Mikhail Prokhorov Fund has offered Norilsk residents a chance to put forth their own cultural initiatives. The fund founded 16 grant contests focused on the study of the region's local history, the esthetic improvement of the city, supporting talented scientists, athletes, creative young people and socially disadvantaged segments of the population. The improving quality of grant applications that the fund receives every year is a testimony to the effectiveness of its investments. Whereas in the first year the majority of applications were requests to aid in buying a computer, today the fund receives more and more proposals for highly conceptualized projects and initiatives.

In another of the fund's priority regions, the city of Krasnoyarsk, a different approach was chosen. Since the city is a center of science and higher education in the region, access to high-quality literature is especially important. Thus the fund's central project in the region is the Krasnoyarsk Book Culture Market, which will be held for the third time in 2009.

The market is one of the key components in the fund's priority project called Book World, which developed on both federal and international levels in 2009. The fund initiated two new projects: first, the Transcript program, to support the translation of Russian literature into foreign languages. The second project is The Nose Award for Literature, founded to support new trends in modern Russian literature. The realization of these and many other projects is part of the ultimate goal of broadening the regions' cultural horizons, improving their connections with the outside world and revitalizing local society's cultural awareness.