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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Kiriyenko Helps Raise NGO Cash At Home

PERM, Ural Mountains — Maria Salnikova clapped enthusiastically Thursday as Sergei Kiriyenko, presidential representative in the Volga Federal District, awarded 300,000 rubles ($10,700) to a Perm hospice for the terminally ill.

"These are our guys," said Salnikova, who manages a Western-financed center in Perm that helps develop local NGOs. "We are used to getting money only from Western charities. What is different at this fair is Russian NGOs are receiving Russian money!"

The hospice was one of 79 nongovernmental organizations awarded grants at the District Fair of Social and Cultural Projects. The fair was organized by Kiriyenko in an attempt to create a new model of social policy in which money from federal, regional and municipal coffers is awarded on a competitive basis and matched with donations coming from Russian businesses and Western charities.

"The goal of this fair is to distribute funds publicly, openly and on a competitive basis together with the groups of a civil society," Kiriyenko said Wednesday as he opened the fair. "The government alone cannot solve the tasks that face Russia today."

The fair had pledges of between 80 million and 90 million rubles from various donors for social projects in the Volga region, which comprises 14 subjects of the federation, said Alexander Zarubin, Kiriyenko's deputy and chairman of the fair's organizing committee.

The 79 winners, awarded a total of 18 million rubles, were among more than 500 applicants.

Other groups were able to appeal for more substantial funding by presenting their projects at the fair. Western charities, such as George Soros' Open Society Institute and Britain's Charities Aid Foundation, were among the donors taking part.

"This is not quite a fair, not quite a conference, not quite a competition," said Olga Alekseeva, director of the Charities Aid Foundation's Russia office and a member of the fair's council of experts, in an interview Thursday. "But what is happening here is an incredible thing: For the first time, the authorities are conducting a more or less open dialogue with charities and NGOs."

Kiriyenko said he wants to develop a mechanism — familiar in the West but little known in Russia — for directing funding at those who need it most.

Organizers of the Perm fair invited several of the big businessmen known as oligarchs, but only Interros president Vladimir Potanin was on hand to look at potential recipients of his charity donations. He refused to disclose the amount of his donations.

"Businessmen long ago realized their companies, which are often the main employers in town, cannot escape solving social problems," said Potanin, who controls regional industries Udmurtneft and Perm Motors. "It would be good to join efforts with the government. If Kiriyenko manages to develop the system of interaction, other bureaucrats may follow."

Many participants complained most government officials do not understand the issues and resist any cooperation with NGOs.

"Bureaucrats are afraid that after tasting a better standard of social services, no one would want to return to the old ways," Potanin said.