SPIEF, Russia Nr. 1 

Two weeks ago I attended SPIEF (http://www.forumspb.com/#) in St. Petersburg (SPG), Russia. It is one of the biggest conferences in Russia, very much modeled after the Davos meeting of the World Economic Forum (WEF).

Putin’s hometown is one of the most magnificent cities in the world (I think). For me, being there was like walking into a novel or endless novels of Russian history – having read classics like Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina, Dostoevsky’s Crime & Punishment, The Master & the Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov, & Nicholas and Alexandra about the last Russian monarch, Tsar Nicholas II of Russia, to name just a few. The weather and white nights were magical.

I was there, once again, with Jürgen Griesbeck, founder & CEO of streetfootballworld (sfw), who spoke on the panel “CULTIVATING THE NEXT GENERATION OF GLOBAL PHILANTHROPISTS.” After the panel, CNN did a piece on sfw: http://edition.cnn.com/2013/06/20/business/russia-football-world-cup/

For sfw, this is its “debut” in Russia. Although it is a region with huge potential for Social Change/Development Through Football (DtF), sfw currently does not have any network members in the region.  With the WC 2018 & Winter Olympics next year coming up in Sochi, sfw felt there was no better moment than now to explore opportunities & expand its networks in the region.

The country has all the ingredients for DtF to create impact: the potential for reach & critical mass, enormous popularity of the game, significant corporate resources, not to mention a few Oligarchs’ personal vested interest in FCs (incl. Chelsea & Arsenal).

We had the opportunity to meet some corporates that have a strong interest in what sfw is doing, and in forming potential partnerships to increase the visibility & scale of their Russian DtF programs, engage more non-Russian partners as well as create international exchange programs with other countries such as China and Brazil/Mexico.

One of our potential partners is MegaFon (http://english.corp.megafon.ru/), the second largest mobile operator in Russia. They have already done quite a lot in DtF, working with the Football for Children foundation based in Moscow. So far, they have mainly focused on organizing an annual football tournament for orphans across Russia. They started the program in 2005 and this year, the games had 200 participants from 8 regions. Teams have to compete at the local, regional and national levels to get to the final tournaments and players have to do well in school in order to be selected to the team.  Each team also has at least 4 girls (if I remember correctly). The winning team gets to visit London, meet football players from Arsenal and sit in the VIP box.

During this trip, I learned a lot about the Russian orphans situation – a forgotten group in a country where government provides almost no direct support to independent charities. Of course, this is not unique to Russia; many large emerging countries have similar issues. But I gained some valuable insights on challenges specific to Russia – for disadvantaged youths such as orphans, for independent charities that reply on private funding and for the country at large.  Despite all the “negative” press on the country, I was very moved and encouraged by the conversations we had and believe if anything, football can make a difference.

To be continued . . .

Michael Elliott, President, Chief Executive Officer, ONE

Oleg Deripaska, Chief Executive Officer, Chairman of the Management Board, UC RUSAL; Founder, Volnoe Delo Foundation
Jürgen Griesbeck, Founder, Chief Executive Officer, Street Football World
Aleksei Kudrin, Dean of the Department of Liberal Arts and Sciences, St. Petersburg State University
Lenka Setkova, Director, Coutts Institute, Coutts
Ruben Vardanian, Co-Head, Sberbank CIB

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