3 questions to Natalia Conroy

We often introduce our partners, projects and beneficiaries to you, however we rarely talk about ourselves. That’s why, not everybody knows how our foundation is organized and who the members of our team are. So today we are starting a #3questions rubric to give you a chance to meet us, to share our current tasks and plans for the future.

In this first session, #3questions will be asked to Natalia Conroy, the president of our foundation.

- Natalia, in connection with recent events, has the fund’s strategy and policy changed?

NC: It has and it hasn’t. Let me explain this. The world is constantly changing, but global misfortunes, like epidemics, exacerbate the expectation of change and a sense of insecurity even among people who, in most situations, look confidently into the future. Those who are assisted by CSS are vulnerable in ordinary times, so our strategy and policy have not changed. What is changing however, are the tactics and methods that our partners - Russian NGOs and charity foundations that work directly with children and their families in difficult situations - use. The strength of our partners' approach has always been in personal, lively contact and support. Nowadays, NGO specialists - educators, therapists, social psychologists, lawyers, family counselors, administrative staff and volunteers - are looking for opportunities to maintain intimacy and ensure the safety of people. How does this make a difference for us? We do not work with the ultimate beneficiaries, but thanks to our partners, whose projects we finance, we see changes and evaluate the risks associated with testing new methods of working online via new technologies. We understand that some of them may work, while some may not. But the same risks are now borne by organizations and companies in all areas. For us, the question is this: to support the project and, possibly, help vulnerable children, or wait until the situation stabilizes and the results become more predictable. Therefore, it seems to me that we are now very passionately discussing partners' applications and trying to evaluate the effectiveness of the proposed support.
As for the internal workings of the foundation, in part, it was distant from the very beginning. The founder of the Fund is Australian businessman, David Russell, a man with a very busy business and personal schedule. From the outset, he has always wanted to take an active part in the affairs of the foundation. He is keen to understand how charities work in Russia, to know the people that lay behind the names of partner NGOs, what they do and for whom, the results they achieve and what future they dream of for themselves and their dependents. For us, before Coronavirus, conference calls were the usual format for communicating. With Mr. Russell now unable to travel here we have increased the number of conference calls.

- It is now spring of 2020, we are in the midst of a pandemic and facing a looming economic crisis, does CSS compare favorably with other charity foundations?

NC: Now we are supporting our long-term partners who we worked with before COVID-19, and new ones that came to us more recently because we were ready to finance the projects under new conditions. I think today our main advantage is that we are able to significantly increase the number of partners and supported projects, expand the geographical territory, and enable regional NGOs to implement new programs for families with children in difficult situations. In many respects, this advantage is cemented by the fact that CSS does not rely on the collection of charity funds, but is financed by the generosity of the Russell family. Because we don’t need to fundraise, which is a luxury for a charitable organization, we can give our partners and the people for whom they work a sense of stability.

- With the pandemic in mind, can you tell us about the changes to the foundation’s plans for 2020 and 2021?

NC: Of course. As you know, we started officially working in Russia in 2019, but back in 2018 we began to discuss plans, possible formats of activities and to get acquainted with Russian NGOs, including in the regions. We continue our internal discussions now and, of course, we will grow and change, but in 2020 and 2021, our main tool for supporting the non-profit sector will be a contest to finance new projects for end beneficiaries. The competition will be held every year, on a quarterly basis. In each of the four rounds participation will be possible for different types of NGOs:

  • young organizations with their small start-ups (grants up to 700 thousand rubles).
  • experienced non-profit organizations (grants up to 5 million rubles).
  • experienced NGOs who want to scale and share their experience (grants up to 12 million rubles).

We will entrust the evaluation of applications to experts who are well versed in the field of Russian charities. We will also support the projects which began in 2019 and continue in 2020.