Social Camp – an event organized as boot camp rather than a traditional conference – took place in the city of Tver on the Volga River in July and brought together offline and online activists willing to change life in Russia for the better. They start on the same basis: not to moan, not to complain and not to expect too much from the state, and it appears that giving and volunteering is what they choose as a platform for their activities. These people had already started their own projects or joined volunteer groups and were eager to find partners and supporters and promote their ideas.
Internet activists, web designers, specialists in online financial solutions and bloggers shared their projects and expertise with leaders of non-profit organizations and volunteer groups. In turn, people coming from the voluntary sector used the opportunity to seek advice in regard to their successful and not-so-successful projects where technology was used for fundraising, social organizing etc. It seemed only very natural that these two groups of civil society came together: those who are aware of social issues and have an experience of finding effective solutions, and those with advanced technical skills and understanding of online communication. Looking at them at work together I was under the deep impression that the impact of their joint activities will be significantly bigger than if they were apart.
We are witnessing the appearance of a totally new generation of young activists who really care about human rights, environment protection or corruption – causes that only recently seemed totally helpless in terms of getting support from the ordinary people. An anti-corruption website started by blogger and activist shareholder Alexei Navalny raised 7 million roubles ($250,000) and has 8,500 followers on Twitter. A fundraising campaign to turn Andrey Sakharov’s apartment into an interactive museum initiated by a group of students and human rights activists raised 426,000 roubles (slightly over $15,000) and has 1300 friends on Facebook and Vkontakte. We are not seeing millions and billions yet, but we see that thousands of people are ready to act and contribute their time, energy, skills and money; they are not happy to just observe and wait. Some have already started institutionalizing themselves as non-profits, others prefer to remain unregistered. I don’t think it matters at this stage. What matters is that the existing pretty weak and often disillusioned voluntary sector becomes suddenly populated by new energy and skills of young people who choose to get together and change something.
Julia Yudina is Director for Marketing and Communications for CAF Russia