Not so many rivers to crossMay 2014
There is a saying in Russia that ‘good people do not suffer any losses when they are helping others’, writes Vera Kurochkina, UC RUSAL’s director of corporate communications.
This could also refer to a volunteer: by helping those in need and contributing to the local community, he or she gains not only appreciation but also experience and friends.
The concept of volunteering in modern Russia started in mid-1990s, before becoming a mass trend in 2006, which was announced as the “Year of Charity” in Russia. In 2006, the federal, regional and local authorities started to support the development of volunteering organizations that would help arrange and hold large-scale charity events. Moreover, volunteers began to initiate their own projects and activities to help those in need, for example children in orphanages, socially vulnerable families, elderly people and those who had suffered from natural disasters.
A huge uptake in nationwide volunteering was observed in the 2010’s – first, when huge fires broke out in Moscow region and other Central Russia and a lot of families needed help and support, and then at the Universiade and the Winter Olympics which saw the Russian government implement and encourage volunteering. Thus, Kazan Universiade 2013 and Sochi 2014 can be regarded as a new stage in the development of volunteering in Russia.
Both Russian and international PR-campaigns were organised to promote volunteering in Russia as a positive new approach to community projects. The input of volunteers in preparing these events was incredible: 20,000 volunteers at Universiade and 25,000 volunteers at the Winter Olympics.
In terms of corporate volunteering, its development started slightly earlier – in the late 1990s-early 2000s. The mass arrival of branches and representative offices of foreign companies brought volunteering expertise with them to Russia as a part of the headquarters’ corporate policies. Russian companies followed the example and began to promote corporate volunteering in mid-2000s, however, as a trend it really took off after 2008 when the global financial crisis resulted in businesses decreasing funding of corporate social responsibility programmes and as a result rethinking the importance and potential of corporate volunteering. In order to increase the effect of social investment, businesses encouraged volunteers to help with their charity work. As a result, the corporate volunteering movement in Russia was established on a more systematic and constant footing.
‘Easy to Help’ programme
Why is corporate volunteering profitable for business? According to research, corporate volunteering helps businesses meet a number of goals: to strengthen corporate culture, boost employee loyalty, develop horizontal relationship among teams, and create an atmosphere where employees are better able to express themselves in the workplace.
UC RUSAL pioneered the development of corporate volunteering in Russia. Today, the development of volunteer initiatives is a fundamental part of RUSAL’s corporate social responsibility policy. The company supports the growth of a socially responsible society through creating an environment that encourages citizens to take an active part in the life of the cities they live in.
RUSAL’s projects are raising awareness about the nature of volunteering which helps people to realize that volunteering can make a real difference to the community. In the last few years, RUSAL’s volunteer movement has spread from Moscow, to Northern Russia and Siberia, to large regional centers like Krasnoyarsk and small towns like Krasnoturyinsk and Shelekhov.
RUSAL’s ‘Easy to help’ programme is at the heart of the company’s charity and volunteering work. The programme involves dealing with social challenges affecting a city or region through the participation of activities valued by local communities. In 2013, corporate volunteering actively developed through social activities and events at children’s homes, social and educational institutions, and large scale projects such as the charitable project “We believe in miracles and make them come true!” (a chain of activities and events to celebrate New Year) and environmental volunteer work, such as The Yenisei River Day.
To support the New Year project, 69 volunteer teams were formed from the company’s field employees and their family members in 15 cities across Russia. The teams conducted over 700 various social actions for 191 non-profit organizations and institutions, a thousand New Year gifts were donated by employees and delivered to children from low income families and those who lived in children’s homes. In 2013, RUSAL’s centre for social projects also mobilized many volunteer teams from local partners and organizations, thus extending the scope of the event.
‘Yenisei Day’ is regarded as a unique environmental initiative in Russia aimed at protecting the Yenisei Rivers, the largest river system flowing to the Arctic Ocean, and creating a new Siberian ecological tradition.
The project was developed by UC RUSAL together with the Krasnoyarsk branch of the Russian geographic society in 2011. In 2012, Krasnoyarsk officially approved the last Saturday of September as Yenisei Day and the idea is now also established in the neighbouring Tyva and Khakassia regions. In 2013, Yenisei Day became an “ecological marathon”, and from May to September, various activities took place such as cleaning, sport, art projects and scientific studies. As a result, in Krasnoyarsk alone, over 30 tonnes of rubbish were collected by volunteers from the river’s shore. While studying local history and the ecosystem of the Yenisei, volunteers’ eco-tourism skills helped establish ecotourism welfare for the Yenisei.
New national day?
A direct consequence has been other Russian regions are also now considering establishing holidays devoted to rivers as a way to boost eco-volunteering activities. The Penza region has already done it. RUSAL hopes that the success of Yenisei Day will one day result in the creation of a national day of river protection in Russia.
In order to build a communication platform for current and prospective volunteers, NGOs and others interested in RUSAL’s projects, the company has recently launched a new internet site www.pomogat-prosto.ru in Russian which allows anyone to join RUSAL’s volunteering team, stay updated and contribute to the company’s initiatives.
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