Interview – Chulpan Khamatova

In November 2006, two actresses and friends set up Grant Life, a foundation to raise funds to treat children with cancer. Today it is one of Russia’s most successful fundraising operations. Last year it raised nearly $7 million, 57 per cent of which came from individuals. How much has her celebrity status contributed to this success, Olga Alexeeva asked actress Chulpan Khamatova, co-founder of Grant Life.

How much do you see yourself as a leader? Is your participation a key to the success of Grant Life?

I think my participation is important for many donors. When people realize that the foundation is supported by those who are in the spotlight, who cannot just hide if something goes wrong, it gives them confidence that donations to it will reach those in need. But my work has nothing to do with my so-called ‘celebrity status’. I think about it as being like that of any other member of the foundation team or volunteer. But because of my name I can sometimes sort out problems faster, get access to people more easily.

How do you see your personal responsibility in terms of your appeal to people, your activity in philanthropy?

I don’t think about it. I just see doctors who need help fighting for children’s lives. I see children who need help. I see parents who cannot be left alone with the tragedy of cancer. Maybe it’s my upbringing that does not allow me just to pass by, especially now when I know that if you wish to help, you can help. But I would not just sign up for any charity thing, this problem I work with touches me.

At the start of Grant Life, you said that the project would not have any administrative costs or staff, that all donations would go directly to children. Has anything changed in the past few years?

Unfortunately, yes, my attitude has changed. We now have a large foundation, and we understand that we need people to work effectively. For example, if we want – and we do! – fewer children to come from the provinces to Moscow for treatment because it’s the only place where they can get quality care, we need to build the capacity of hospitals and doctors in the regions; we need to send doctors from Moscow to train local doctors. And the foundation needs to organize this. If we want really good, experienced doctors, we need to support them financially because state salaries are a joke. We could not in the end remain a classic assistance fund and just pay for operations because it became clear to us that occasional help of that kind would not solve the underlying problems.

We needed someone who could coordinate our work with volunteers, we needed psychologists to work with the children and their parents, we needed an accountant – a lot of people without whom the foundation would have remained at the basic level of an assistance fund.

Our foundation is often accused in the media of being too loud. There is this view in Russia that philanthropy should be very quiet, give a donation and walk away. But if we are to truly change the lives of children with cancer, we need a different approach. For example, a child with leukaemia has to wear a face mask at some stage of treatment and they are often bullied or ridiculed because of it. So we need to campaign to change such attitudes; we need to explain why a child has to wear a mask, and we need to find donors to fund this. If you really want to change the situation, it’s not possible to do it quietly.

Time needs to pass for people to realize that leaving one-time gifts is not enough. We can only prove our point when we show that we’ve achieved long-term change.

But isn’t it the state’s function to develop regional medical care? Does your foundation have a role in influencing public policy?

We try very hard to influence government policy in this field, where we can. But today we cannot just hope for the state to sort out all our problems. We need to do it ourselves, the process of changing public policy is too slow!

Chulpan Khamatova is a Russian film, theatre and TV actress. She has starred in a number of Russian films and TV series, and was awarded the State Prize by President Putin in 2004 for her achievements in acting. She has also starred in several German-language films, and is best known in the West for her role in the 2003 film Good Bye Lenin!

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