Few people know that 7th SOCIAL INNOVATIONS #INFOCUS International Conference is not organized on the largest UN platform in Geneva by some mighty international corporations, agencies or well-known businessmen. Proactive NGOs from the Russian city of Perm are at the helm of such a large-scale event. Those organisations are National Association of Educational Development ‘Notebook of Friendship’ and Vector of Friendship, both working in close cooperation with the UN Geneva office. It goes without saying that the Government of Perm Krai, Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Rossotrudnichestvo Federal Agency, and the Federation Council support such teams, which actualise socially important projects and programmes promoting social innovations and develop volunteering system. 

In 2018, the winners of the international children’s contest ‘Notebook of Friendship: Uniting Children of the Earth’ headed for the UN to share their ideas on changing the world. This fully correlates with the ‘grown-up’ and substantial 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, which includes global Development Goals, set by the United Nations. The ideas of Russian regional NGOs were reflected in the UN’s largest platform while taking root there and attracting world community’s attention. How did it happen? Olga Zubkova, the head of Notebook of Friendship, spoke on that throughout #INFOCUS conference. 


“I am not afraid of calling myself a Russian patriot. Thus, I wanted to show Russia’s experience and technologies in the sphere of social initiatives on the high status international platform. Volunteering, like no other issue of social agenda, promotes public diplomacy. Sense and values of volunteering practices are globally understandable. That is why, ‘Vector of Friendship’ initiative of holding a series of international conferences on socially important projects gained support and cooperative interest by one of the UN’s largest humanitarian divisions, United Nations Library”. 

Olga clarified: 

“We got immediate attention after setting up our conferences. The point is, NGOs from various countries are interested in relevant technologies of developing different kinds of volunteering. After evaluating the outcome of topical sessions on the conference initiated by Russian NGOs, Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, former Deputy UN Secretary-General – Director-General of the UN Geneva office, and the current Chairman of the Senate of Kazakhstan recommended UN Volunteers Organisation to consider constructive cooperation with Notebook of Friendship Association. The collaboration is to concern designing and promoting new ways of implementing best volunteering practices internationally. 


#INFOCUS Conference is now a long-term international project. In 2018, the discussion of its contents will continue at the panel session called ‘Information for Peace and Sustainable Development’ in the course of the Second Eurasian Women’s Forum in St. Petersburg”. 

According to Olga Zubkova, Association is both in special consultative status with ECOSOC and has special accreditation for holding an annual international event with a large UN body, while acting as a full-fledged co-organiser. That fact provided both Russian social innovations/volunteering organisations and world community access to the UN platform. 


The head of Notebook of Friendship said: “For the first time ever, leaders of different countries acted as speakers and experts in the fields of volunteering and charity! That was very important for everyone. As it turned out, Russia is not just left behind. It can be a driver of positive change, possessing exceptional borrow-ready experience. I think it is truly symbolic”. 


Now, according to organiser, the experienced team’s objective is to maintain such a niche with all the opportunities it provides. Team members also have to create conditions preferable for participants’ collaboration, while working out common decisions on essential topics. That will surely help them “to become leaders, who globally promote social innovations using accumulated experience and outcome analysis”. Indeed, all humanity strives to achieve creation, partnership, understanding, and implementation of the best technologies and ideas with their use for the greater good. Year by year, Notebook of Friendship and #INFOCUS are gradually progressing towards those aims with new vectors in conferences’ topics and content being developed. 

Where does the energy come from to actualise such a great project? Olga Zubkova is sure: her team is both her power and her point of pride. It is nearly impossible to gather a ready-made team like that. However, one can educate people. 


Ms. Zubkova said: “As I have already mentioned in my speech, the programme of developing schoolchildren’s socially important initiatives called ‘Notebook of Friendship’ became the basis of all our socially important projects. The name may seem childish to you. It is, however, a rather sustainable system of educating volunteers, innovators, social entrepreneurs, and NGO representatives, who already maintain projects of their own. That is an alternative educating technology, which primarily educated members to work for itself”. The head of the organisation describes herself as “definitely a team player, concerning both Notebook of Friendship and #INFOCUS”. 


Olga Zubkova’s core message is the following: with appropriate placement, everyone will see that true volunteering is not spontaneous, but social and it is able to give birth to both social entrepreneurship and socially oriented business. Inclusive programmes of Notebook of Friendship involved teenage volunteers working with disadvantaged children. What should be the next step, after all of them grew up? The organisers decided to open a commercialised camp for both disadvantaged and healthy children. It is her vital example, where ex-volunteers launch an enterprise to invite their friends there, both as members and participants. 


All that is possible in the global format. 

Ms. Zubkova calls women-participants of Geneva conference perpetual motion machines, which act in different spheres. According to her, they are “ready to give birth in a global sense while understanding that their relatives’ health, their families’ happiness and world peace”. However, Olga does not want to take pride in it. She is dreaming of time, when women “will just love, shine, and organise the ‘lit’ space so that strong men acting in such space, will also strive for positive construction”. Olga also desires for people, who will maintain peace instead of being egoists and for elimination of poverty and poverty as social institutes. 


Global change will only begin after refocusing one’s own development and the development of people around you. Olga Zubkova says that woman should remain a skillful motivator and creator until the time of such global change comes. 

Tina Stankevich, news agency of the Eurasian Women’s Community

Translated by Nikolay Boykov