Inaugural Fellowship Program Fosters Relationships

“Familiar questions, solved in a different way; totally new knowledge and skills, allowing us to look at the situation from a new angle; amazing opportunities to visit iconic American landscapes.” This is how Anna Zavadskaya, a fellow in the US-Russia Social Expertise Exchange, described her experience in the U.S. She was struck by “…the diversity of wildlife and… [by the] people passionately working for conservation of these treasures.”
 
As an environmental scientist, Zavadskaya was selected to complete her fellowship as part of the Protection of Flora and Fauna Working Group. With her new working group colleagues she spent eight weeks examining and comparing environmental management of protected areas in the US and Russia.
 
Seventy-five other emerging professionals and advanced practitioners, similarly connected with SEE’s diverse thematic working groups, traveled to the US or Russia to advance the groups’ projects and gain important professional experience.
 
This first cohort of SEE fellows was a diverse and accomplished group, coming from 16 U.S. states and 17 Russian regions. They brought many perspectives into the program and came from backgrounds
diverse as journalism, social entrepreneurship, academia, community development, social work, law and business. Yet, despite their differences, each of the fellows demonstrated a genuine hunger for learning and building new U.S. - Russian networks.
 
Following the official fellowship launch event in Washington, DC in January, SEE fellows traveled to 17 Russian regions and 26 U.S. states to work in host organizations closely associated with their working groups as well as with their own professional interests and expertise. The fellows’ experiences were as varied as their backgrounds and skills.
 
Eleonora Ignatovich, a Community Development Fellow, spent time with groups such as the Rural Community Assistance Corporation in New Mexico and TechGROWTH at Ohio University where she focused on economic community development and small business start-up culture.
 
“I’ve learned best practices in economic and community development, green infrastructure, arts and culture, youth involvement from US non-commercials, social business, academic institutions and government,” said Ignatovich. Since 30% of the native population in her home city of Tomsk is under 35, she hopes that the arts, culture, and youth components of her fellowship will help her make an impact now back in Russia.
 
In the Russian Far East, Pavel Dimens, a Protection of Flora and Fauna Working Group Emerging Professional Fellow, explored the cold waters of Lake Baikal and other Siberian nature preserves as he worked to absorb lessons from the Russian experience in the management of nature preserves.
 
“Actually being in the villages and towns near which these preserves are located,” said Dimens, “you gain an understanding of the mindset of locals and their attitudes. Learning of the actual culture, you develop a deeper understanding as to the obstacles, goals, and motivations for these preservation systems.”
 
Education and Youth fellows Maria Mikhaylova and Irina Ushakova spent time observing how American schools and NGO’s work together to engage youth in local communities in California.  Community Development fellow Irina Reshta explored entrepreneurial ventures in Asheville, North Carolina and Wichita, Kansas — cities that have been entrepreneurial hubs in their own right.
 
Many of the 2014 fellows played a critical role in the implementation of working group projects. The Public Health Working Group tasked three of its fellows with traveling across five time zones on the Trans-Siberian Railroad to connect with advocates, government officials, and academic specialists in order to better understand the healthcare needs of migrant workers in Russia and compare them to challenges that exist for migrant health in the U.S.
 
“The fellows were the principal workers for our project… and that was a growth experience of not only having senior fellows working with more junior fellows, it was an enriching experience for all of us, on both sides of the border,” said Don Zeigler, Public Health Working Group Member and a fellow himself.
 
Following the completion of their stays, fellows returned home to apply their newly-acquired knowledge and experiences in their local communities. For example, Gender Equity fellow Paytsar Danielyan proceeded to organize several round tables to share her experiences and jumpstart new initiatives for prevention of domestic violence in her local community of Orel, Russia. Similarly, Migration Working Group Fellow Liz Malinkin captured her fellowship experience in an article in the National Interest entitled, “Russia: The World's Second-Largest Immigration Haven,” which highlighted possibilities for Russia and the U.S. to forge common ground over this pressing issue.
 
The first year of SEE Fellowship program concluded in June, 2014, but the linkages established during the fellowships will continue to live on through the fellows’ professional work, their collaboration in SEE working groups, the newly established SEE Fellowship Alumni Network, and through future rounds of fellowship exchanges.