Back to Moscow

Despite appearances, and perhaps reputation, Russian food is in fact delicious...Despite appearances, and perhaps reputation, Russian food is in fact delicious...

Read from the first of my February 2010 blog posts from Russia here.

Russian restaurants, outside the big cities at least, are very different from those in Britain. In the evenings most have live music, and everyone - all ages - dances. It was in such a restaurant that we spent our last evening in Rybinsk, and drank vodka Russian style.

Victor was the master of ceremonies. He doesn't usually drink vodka in fact, but this restaurant had a particularly fine Siberian vodka – unfortunately not available in the the UK – for which he made an exception. First, a small glass is filled with vodka, and a second larger one with tomato or orange juice (most Russians prefer tomato). Then the toast, made in turn by anyone present who feels moved to initiate it, and the vodka is knocked back in one, followed straight down by a large gulp of juice. The other essential, after a few of these, is water: Sergey had the forethought earlier to give us all a bottle of water for our rooms - I drank the whole litre as soon as I got back, and woke up the next day feeling fine.

Where Rybinsk was very cold, but beautiful, our return found Moscow a balmy -7°c, and snowing hard. We drove back from Rybinsk in less than 6 hours; when we met Victor and Sergey on Friday at the Oxfam offices Victor told us that after dropping us off at the Izmaylovo Hotel it had taken him 3 more hours just to drive across Moscow.

So what was achieved in Rybinsk?

Of course we had, as is the way of projects such as this, a page-long list of specific objectives, and looking through them I think all were indeed achieved, or are on track for completion in the written analysis to come. I would expect no less: Oxfam are a good client precisely because they know exactly what they want and are realistic about what can be achieved; they commit funds very carefully and rightly insist on their money's worth. A measure of my respect is that, having worked for them a lot over the last 2 years, they remain among a small number of charities to which I continue to donate.

But I would pick out two outcomes of our work here that are a bit harder to capture in written objectives:

  • the observable change in the participants over the 3 workshop days; their growing confidence in their own abilities, and growing commitment to actually make their social enterprise work, and create incomes for struggling families in Rybinsk
  • the growing understanding between all of the partners: Pavel as the original designer, all those involved in the new social enterprise, Sergey and Victor and the other staff of the Oxfam Moscow office, and ourselves.

Children in Rybinsk - making their own furtureChildren in Rybinsk - making their own futureThis latter relationship in particular blossomed in the meeting in the Oxfam Moscow office on Friday.

One aspect of fair trade I haven't mentioned in these posts from Russia to date is the way it can challenge what Marx called 'commodity fetishism' – describing the way in which commercial products appear in shops stripped of their real origins in other peoples' work, and thus replacing the real social contact we should have with those people by an empty money relation. Fair trade helps tip the balance back a bit towards people: it matters to us what their lives are really like.

Our resurgent need for real human relationships instead of bland commercial transactions will I predict be a key driver of business in the next decade.

By introducing a story and other creative elements into the fair trade model we take this more human relationship between distant people up another level. As far as we are all concerned - I mean my like-minded colleagues in both Russia and the UK - we are not engaged in a one-off project for Rybinsk, but a pilot for a new model of fair trade that can be implemented anywhere people make something, and have a story to tell.

Awesome Quote!

The words:

Our resurgent need for real human relationships instead of bland commercial transactions will I predict be a key driver of business in the next decade. something I agree with also. You've helped me put it into words.

God bless,