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UK and Russia


PeerEx UK-Russia aims to strengthen the entrepreneurial capacity of NGO leaders in Russia and the UK through this cross-border exchange programme.

Peer-Ex: Building cross-border connections

Around the world, CSOs and social enterprises are having to find new ways to adapt to changes in the political and financial landscapes they operate in. The charity and social enterprise sector in Russia and the UK is no exception to this. The aim of the programme is to help organisations exchange knowledge on how to strengthen civil society and social enterprises by seeking alternative solutions to leadership challenges and build resilience, and as a result, to achieve greater positive impact.

Peer to peer learning is an excellent method to build know-how by:

  • finding solutions to shared challenges, based on good practices already in place

  • sharing different perspectives

  • learning from each other, while leveling out the hierarchy

This programme is built on Euclid Network’s expertise and previous experience in hosting peer exchanges for civil society and social enterprise leaders.

Participants from the two countries will be matched and spend time together face-to-face to learn from each other, as well as learning from experts. The peers will also work together online before and after their visits. Costs of participating will be covered by the project.

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Behind the scenes of PeerEx Programme

Every year, civil society leaders from Russia and the UK come together to share their experiences and future aspirations.

They get matched into pairs and take part in meetings where they discuss their challenges, strategy, and areas of improvement - even visiting each other’s organisations to see how they operate first-hand.

But what learning happens beyond the workshops and the meetings?

For us, it’s important to look at those moments and how they contribute to a meaningful experience and a sense of community, despite external factors outside of our control.

In times of crisis, like the COVID19 pandemic, it’s important to remember that sense of togetherness and trust.

In this piece, we interview two of the pairs a year on from the end of their Peer-Ex Programme to see what really stood out for them during the programme and what has changed for them since.

Before – Assumptions

In our conversation, the peers shared some of the preconceptions they had before the process even started.

George Thomson from Volunteer Scotland, had a word of advice for future participants: to go into the experience as equals.

He tells us: “I think there’s a general assumption that civil society in Russia is in its infancy. I think it’s a false presumption to have. We both have things we can learn form each other and the willingness to do better.”

Based in Russia, Elena Fomina, from the Krasnoyarsk Center for Community Partnerships, says: “We have worked with a couple of organisations before in London so I knew how it worked with them but didn’t know much about Scotland and its civil society. For me it was great to see how developed some of the approaches are. I do think if there were more programmes like this people would have less suspicions around each other.”  

Jim Wallace, from Aberlour Child Care trust, adds: “When I visited Evgenia, people said to me ‘you’re 10 years ahead’ but in a lot of ways it isn’t the case, I felt fairly behind in some areas.”

Evgenia Kantsypko, who was paired up with Jim, works in St. Petersburg at the Charity Foundation “RAOUL”.

She says: “Before the programme I thought I am not a leader so maybe it won’t be for me. I just thought I will just try and see. When we had our first meeting I realised it wasn’t just about experience and strategy, it’s more about your values and connection to yourself and how you can inspire others just by being yourself.”

George Thomson PeerEx cartoon

During – Friendships and relationships

George: My discovery in that peer exchange was friendships and relationship building. You’ll see from my cartoon the team made an enormous impression for me. And that was such a remarkable thing for me because I felt we were on the same wavelength.

Elena: Yes. And it wasn’t just from the meetings and group activities – it was also what we discussed outside of that as well, when we had time. It helped me to look at what I am doing and look at our work, because we had been working for more than 20 years as an organisation.

Jim: I felt that we were a group of people from the same organisation. It felt familiar and I think it was shared values that existed between us. We were coming from the same place.

After - Lasting memories and lessons

Evgenia: I was really inspired when I visited Jim’s organisation. I enjoyed meeting Johnny, an outreach worker who works with people on the streets. He had been working with the organisation for 15 years and I was almost crying listening to him and how he spoke about young people.

It made me think that this was the most important thing for NGOs – to find and keep people like that. Since then, my attitude towards my colleagues has changed. I became maybe more understanding. I now make sure to give more positive feedback and make sure I acknowledge their work. Many of them work with people that are traumatised or that have disabilities and it requires a lot of sympathy.

In terms of our work, I realised we don’t talk about values enough and actually I had an occasion after the programme where a colleague and I had a disagreement on next steps for a project. I realised that disagreement was because we hadn’t spoken about our values enough, and had not written them down formally anywhere. That session of the programme on that really stuck with me.

Jim: I remember meeting the staff at RAOUL and hearing about a young man who started working in IKEA and it was clear without that support he received from the organisation (which helps young people who grew up in orphanages and young people with disability on their way to an adult independent life) he wouldn’t have got there.

During my visit I also learned about their Family strengthening programme, which showed real commitment to family reunification and a reluctance to give up hope. We don’t do enough of that in the UK – people are being? written off by the system.

George: I had a couple of standout moments. One was visiting community school sessions and hearing presentations from the representatives there.

But another moment that stood out for me was when we were site seeing in a busy area. I stepped off the pavement and on to the grass and I missed a step and fell over. Immediately a man who was out with his family came and helped pick me back up. I was really impressed – I think it says a lot about a place.

Parting Thoughts

Through political tensions, pandemics like COVID19, and other external factors that may be out of our control- we believe that the value and power of community shines through.

And that is one of the main priorities of the PeerEx Programme – to not only instill lessons in strategy and leadership, but also to empower people to share their commonalities and challenges in a meaningful and lasting way.

Through the programme, we have seen that sometimes the real nuggets of wisdom come from the informal, small moments beyond the workshops and meetings.

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