Maria Morozova: Russia is for all ages, not just for young people or the elderly

Maria Morozova: Russia is for all ages, not just for young people or the elderly

The head of the Timchenko Foundation comments on opportunities and barriers for transforming the attitude towards older citizens in society

Maria Morozova runs the Elena and Gennady Timchenko Charitable Foundation – one of Russia’s largest family charitable foundations according to Forbes. The foundation’s programmes involve providing support to the older generation, developing sports and culture, and helping family and children. These strategic focuses, which are designed to promote a systematic solution to the social problems of an ‘aging Russia’ and nurturing a ‘growing Russia’ with special attention devoted to the country’s regions, are part of the programme of the second Eurasian Women’s Forum in which Maria Morozova will take part.

Maria Morozova is the General Director of the Elena and Gennady Timchenko Charitable Foundation (December 2010), a member of the Public Council under the Ministry of Labour and Social Protection of the Russian Federation, a member of the Expert Council of the Agency for Strategic Initiatives, and a member of the Council for the Development of Social Innovations of the Constituent Entities of the Russian Federation under the Federation Council.
Business priorities: charity and humanitarian projects.

It is essential to change the general public’s attitude to the status of members of the older generation as well as tear down the conventional perception of the elderly and help educate young people in the spirit of respect for people of retirement age, Timchenko Charitable Foundation General Director Maria Morozova believes. Given the decrease in the proportion of able-bodied citizens and the demographic decline, it’s no accident that the government has stepped up its attention to issues concerning people of the ‘silver age’. Morozova says that when the foundation began addressing the problems of aging and quality of life among the elderly seven years ago, “very few people wanted to talk about it”.

“We tried to attract public attention through the media, but often encountered direct refusals to cover this issue”

“Today, on the contrary, a very high level of attention is devoted to the social and psychological aspects of human aging”, Morozova says. “But I wouldn’t describe this change as extremely positive, in part because it is due to changes in pension legislation, problems with healthcare, and the level of social support for older people. So discussions about life at an advanced age often have a negative connotation. However, there is another aspect at play here: the theme of active ageing is presented by the government and in the media in an overly ‘cheerful’ style, but in fact the concept of active ageing is not yet connected to the real life of older people.
We see the role of the non-profit sector as developing a dialogue between the government and society. I truly believe that such a dialogue is necessary, in particular to create conditions in our country when we aren’t afraid to grow old”.

– Why are we afraid to grow old?

– By and large, Russians don’t like the image of old age. It frightens them. Today, there is a growing conviction in society that we shouldn’t rely on the government and everyone should look out for themselves. The idea of increasing the retirement age and citizens’ reaction to it as well as the current size of pensions reinforces this conviction. Overall, the situation instils a sense of insecurity among young people about their future. In turn, the images conveyed by pop culture (‘forget about old age’, ‘live for today’, ‘be forever young’) only strengthen the fear of ageing.

– Do you think the Russian media talks enough about charity and philanthropists?

– They’ve started talking about it more now. Specialized high-quality resources have been created, for example the ‘Takie Dela’ web site. Many public media outlets have become conduits for charity and major fundraising foundations are raising money with their help. A great example of this is Rusfond at Kommersant. They are doing a lot of joint work to promote charity. More and more educational programmes covering social problems and charitable activities are coming out.

– What kinds of barriers have you encountered when implementing the foundation’s programmes and how have you managed to overcome them?

– Back when we had only started talking about the problems of the older generation, the key barrier that we had to overcome was the lack of leaders and organizations that were interested in this. There were far fewer people and institutions working with issues concerning old age compared with issues concerning children, for instance. This gave rise to yet another problem – the lack of profound ideas and programmes to change the quality of life for the elderly.

At the same time, working with the elderly has its own specifics: you’re not working for a quick result, but for the long term.
You are altering the system in order to change the quality of life. This specific aspect also highlights the complexity of creating good projects and the emergence of professionals in our focus. Such projects are appearing now. I think that grant competitions, including those held by our foundation, played a major role in this. With their help, a large number of citizens and NPOs have become involved in issues concerning the older generation, including major regional resource centres that now consider this theme to be their own.

– You have been running the foundation for seven and a half years now. If your activities were no longer connected with the foundation starting tomorrow, what area would you choose for your own self-realization?

– To be honest, I don’t think about anything outside of charity and solving humanistic problems. I think that you have to take it very seriously, while remembering your responsibility to the specific people that you help. It’s very important to me that the founders of the fund, Elena and Gennady Timchenko, share these values, and our work is specifically built on these principles.
If changes were to occur in my professional life, it wouldn’t matter where, but I would still work for people and help to improve their lives.

– What is the most interesting thing you have taken away (from your experience working at the foundation) that you would like to share with the women of the world at the Second Eurasian Women’s Forum?

– It probably wouldn’t be a take-away, but a vision of what produces success in our activities. It’s above all the ability to understand the depth and relevance of public problems and then the willingness to make an intelligent contribution to their solution.

As I said, the foundation began to support the older generation when this topic was terra incognita and nobody in Russia still had any idea of how to work with them. We took a systematic approach to the issue and articulated the logic of the work, which we continue to adhere to today.
For me, the most important thing in my work is to not only guide people towards help here and now, but also to long-lasting sustainable results.
This approach also dictates the choice of smart tools, such as the aforementioned grant contests that stimulate the initiative and develop social activity and social entrepreneurship.

It’s the same story with the problems of small territories, i. e. cities with a population under 50,000 residents and rural settlements – a subject that was initially unpopular but eventually got the foundation to swing into action. Our programme aimed to identify the potential for the development of these territories through the implementation of socio-cultural projects. To this end, we drafted programmes with local leaders and agents of change while jointly identifying and shaping the competitive advantages of their city or settlement. As a result, it became possible to move away from a situation where people were just surviving in certain areas to their strategic development. We broke the ice, as they say.

So I would like to give some advice: don’t be afraid to undertake difficult tasks if they are extremely valuable to you personally. You will succeed.

Tina Stankevich, Eurasian Women’s Community Information Agency