“More and more in life, I find that there tends to be greater commonality than not across borders and there are always opportunities to learn from one another,” said Johanna Gilligan, founder of Grow Dat Youth Farm in Louisiana and a new member of the US-Russia Social Expertise Exchange (SEE).
Gilligan was among those from throughout the US and Russia who gathered on October 17-18, 2013, for SEE’s “Building New Networks” conference in Arlington, Virginia. The event brought together eight of the program’s working groups to deepen partnerships through setting goals for the coming year and designing projects to achieve them.
Hailing from Samara to South Carolina and Vladivostok to Indiana, the participants represented a wide range of professional fields. “The program gives the opportunity for interaction among academics, human rights practitioners, and people who work for the federal government and have dealt with local government,” said Andrey Korobkov, professor of political science at Middle Tennessee State University and co-chair of the Migration Working Group.
Drawing on previous US-Russian collaborations, SEE connects experts through 12 thematic working groups to advance objectives that benefit citizens of both countries. The program also holds an open competition for Linkage partnership projects and awards fellowships to experts who spend time in Russia or the US to further the aims of working group projects.
While many conferees in Virginia were returning members, there were numerous new faces in the working groups. As Denis Rogatkin, coordinator for the Youth Union “Doroga” in Petrozavodsk and co-chair of the Education and Youth Working Group explained, “New members bring something of their own – new knowledge, new views, and new highlights to share.”
Gilligan took part in the program’s new Social Entrepreneurship Working Group, which met for the first time. The group is made up of members from social enterprises ranging from youth farming schools to a puppet workshop for older hard-to-employ mothers. “A plan was developed for folks from Russia to come to the US and visit our individual non-profits,” said Kevin McDonald, founder, president, and CEO of TROSA, a residential program in North Carolina for substance abusers.
The Business Ethics and Compliance Working Group proposed to standardize basic international criteria for Russian multinational supply chains and encourage voluntary participation for multinationals and Russian suppliers. “Our goal is to create a synergistic effect – a union of effort, knowledge, and experience from Russian and American sides to solve together important business problems that affect us both,” said co-chair Khvicha Kharchilava, head of the research center at the Association of Corporate Directors and Managers in Moscow.
Drawing on experiences from their Common Stories project, the Collaborative Journalism Working Group will connect sister cities Novosibirsk and Saint Paul through an online portal where journalists and citizens will post articles, photos, and videos. Also using online tools, the Education and Youth Working Group will curate a CyberFair panorama that engages students and educators in Russia and the US, connecting schools and community organizations to build partnerships and seeking to involve youth in service learning. “By using technology to enhance learning, we’ll be able to maximize our diverse resources to reach a wide audience,” said co-chair Yvonne Andres, the president and CEO for the San Diego-based Global SchoolNet Foundation.
The Rule of Law and the Community Working Group discussed how to best increase the capacities of citizens to partake in police oversight and will create and distribute a handbook with specific recommendations.
On the eve of significant environmental centennials in Russia and the US, the Protection of Flora and Fauna Working Group will redefine and promote the full value of protected areas to the public and decision-makers. The Gender Equity Working Group will focus on creating effective and sustainable responses to violence against women and building new partnerships among likeminded organizations.
The Migration Working Group will study the effects of mass media on the formation of public attitudes towards migrants. “Since the issues we deal with overlap with those covered by other groups, like education, health care, and mass media,” Korobkov explained, “we will interact and collaborate with experts from different but very relevant fields.”
After two days of designing projects, working group co-chairs presented their proposals to all participants during the conference’s closing session. The breadth of topics addressed by the projects and the approaches that will be utilized present many areas for potential collaboration among working groups. Through the projects designed at the “Building New Networks” conferences, the foundations will be laid for more effective institutions and partnerships in Russia and the US.