Wealth and philanthropy in Russia

Elisabeth Schimpfössl

Wealthy Russians are increasingly giving to charity, but their choice is often informed by political and social expediency

Since the turn of the century, philanthropic giving by Russia’s rich has seen extraordinary growth. However, their generosity is deeply rooted in history and culture, as well as constrained by ideology and politics.

Many of those who initially were less than excited about engaging in philanthropy swiftly identified their philanthropic passion to avoid having a disagreeable project assigned to them by the authorities.

In the early 2000s, there were several reasons for Russia’s new wealthy to take up philanthropy. The economy had recovered from the 1998 economic downturn and the recently-begun oil boom had increased personal fortunes. As those who had prevailed in Russia’s cutthroat capitalism of the 1990s began to think about consolidating their social status, many of those who had enriched themselves during the oil boom followed suit. The new rich came to understand that conspicuous consumption would only reaffirm their reputation of being ruthless and selfish. If they wanted their social status to be seen as legitimate, they knew they had to demonstrate some compassion and care for their less fortunate fellow citizens.

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