From pies to a giving circle: Changing the life of a Karelian village in Russia


Vera Titova


The Mill Community Foundation, from a Karelian village Pryazha (Northern Russia), with a population of 3500 people started its work in 2014, baking pies. Today it is one of the most visible community foundations in the country, implementing several large-scale programs, organising grant competitions, supporting the reviving of local crafts and traditions and holding various fundraising events. Vera Titova, a board member of the foundation, shares its story and how the Mill Fund shifts the power to the villagers.

In Karelia, it is no worse than in Bali
At the root of the ‘Mill’ is an active and committed person – Ekaterina Efremova. She has a degree in sociology, but lives in a small village simply because she enjoys it. It is the same story with me. I was born in Moscow and I lived there for 25 years, but I finally moved to the land of my ancestors six years ago. I feel like a local.

‘Downshifting’ is now a buzzword. People abruptly change their fate. They abandon their homes in big cities and go off the beaten path, away from social life. This usually means moving to some warm place by the sea, such as Bali. The North is not worse. You can also meditate, and most importantly, life is much more interesting.

The purpose of our activity is to give people a chance to think about how to make sure that there are no failures. This is the basis of civil society: to awaken a desire to change something, and to influence what is happening.

СAF Charitable Foundation, which implements the programme supporting community philanthropy development in Russia, has helped us a lot at the stage of establishing the community foundation.

Let’s go hockey!
The story of pie was born during our first grant. Once upon a time, hockey was popular in our area. The team was famous throughout the North-West, but over time, broke up. The inventory became worthless and the children had nowhere to play, so we started to work as part of the programme, supporting local initiatives. Under this program, part of the money for the rinks construction was provided by the local government, part by the Republic administration and the rest was to be collected by the local community.

The task was tough: how will the locals, who had never participated in anything before collect more than two hundred thousand rubles?

Adults did not understand why they should support charity events and donate money for construction, saying: ‘Let the administration build it.’ We came up with different approaches: at first a flea market where residents brought their things and sold them, then to selling pies. Children turned out to be much more active than adults. They really wanted a skating rink in the village, so they tried to raise money by baking and selling pies. We then received a grant from Elena and Gennady Timchenko Charitable Foundation. Locals flooded the rink and went out to skate with their families.

By this moment, the community realized that they had the power to change lives in the village for better. Local hockey players joined their funds, and together, built a warm locker room at the rink. One local resident started to train children for free. Now we have the Meteor hockey team. From all over, Karelia people are coming to Pryazha to play. Our locals clean and fill the rink. What won’t you do for our own Malkins and Ovechkins!

A spark in the park!
We have now advanced from pies to modern tools. Last year, thanks to The Funding Network, we attended a Giving circle event in Latvia and decided to give it a try. To select the three best projects for raising money, the panel was formed including representatives of the village administration, local business and active residents. Ninety-two villagers visited the event which was held in the park. We had a cozy tea-time and presented the projects.

Our local policeman said that he would donate 3000 rubles if his friend told a joke. He told a joke, and then all the comedy and fun began. Everyone started to tell jokes in a circle, which were kind and not dirty at all, and donate money. So we raised 82,700 rubles for three projects, and they have already been implemented. People not only donated money, but also offered kind help.

#ShiftThePower Pryazha
Today we practice three tools which actually shift the power to communities and catalyse community-led development and responsibility – #GivingTuesday, Community’s social passport and Giving circle. It is amazing to see how people become the driver of social change. They convene, share ideas and challenges and make life in Pryazha better.

Vera Titova, Mill Community Foundation

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