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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Pious Do-Gooders Need Not Apply

Compare it to the Wild West or Al Capone's Chicago if you like, but when it comes to conspicuous consumption, Moscow's budding business scene has more in common with 1980s Wall Street: Cellular phones, sleek Mercedes and spiffy Italian suits are de rigueur, and social responsibility is seen as a practically communist concept.


Or so the stereotype goes. To Lena Young, Moscow director of the British-based Charities Aid Foundation, Russia's new entrepreneurs are fledgling Carnegies and Fords poised to create a tradition of charitable donorship.


Young, who was born in Russia and has lived in the West for over 20 years, spends a fair amount of time encouraging Russian businesses to set aside funds for charity before investing in that second set of streamlined Scandinavian furniture.


But she is not looking for Mother Teresa, either. Young is out to convince wealthy Russians and Russian businesses that giving money is not only right but profitable and prestigious.


"For social prestige, money is not enough," said Young. "They have the cars, they have the trips abroad, but they don't have status." And if the quest for prestige keeps the money flowing, she says, then more power to it.


Young says that an "intuitive," spontaneous tradition of charity is being born, with 65 of 70 banks surveyed by her organization already donating. To coax along the creation of a class of donors, Young publishes Money and Charity, a magazine distributed free to banks and other organizations that evaluates charity programs and profiles donors like Inkombank, which has contributed over $400,000 to the arts, education and programs for mothers and children.


"We flatter them, we tell them, 'You are not alone, you are respected, your work is worth analysis,'" Young said in an interview at her central Moscow office, decorated with a mural painted by orphans and a humorous postcard drawing of Queen Elizabeth II wearing nothing but white gloves and a yellow hat.


The magazine, she said, points out that it is in the interests of businesses working "in a country with poor people" to "stop poverty so they can shop."


These concepts -- not to mention Young's frank, salty tone and her unabashed admission that she never met a dollar she didn't like -- are somewhat foreign to many Russians weaned on a Soviet habit of "considering money and morality incompatible."


She and other CAF workers teach countrywide seminars designed to show leaders of Russia's 6,000 private charities that charity is itself a business.


"You have to answer letters and faxes, return phone calls," she said. "And not treat charity as some saintly thing: 'I have to be good; I can't discuss business matters.'


"Some people say, 'I don't like to ask, but ... ,'" said Young. "Well, if you don't ask, you won't get. And if the sponsor wants to take his picture with the kids from the orphanage, then you better get the kids down there, and not say, 'This is humiliating.'"


But while she is quick to skewer pious do-gooders, Young on the whole is just as non-judgmental and welcoming to the various kinds of charity workers popping up in Russia as she is to donors -- provided they get the job done.


There are the "professionals," she said, like the psychiatrist who tired of watching mental patients "pop pills" in institutions and founded an organization that helps patients find work and socialize.


There are the "bureaucrats." "They like sacks, and they like to distribute things in sacks," she said. "They require lots of documents -- for pensioners to get a loaf of bread they have to show how many meters there are in their apartment."


And then there are the "godfathers," in love with "the role of patron," who have grandiose plans but are "vague" on how to implement them. "But they do attract attention to the issue," said Young.





The Charities Aid Foundation can be reached at 928 0557.