INNER-CITY HOUSING Russians get close look at how program works

Private business and the nonprofit sector are still emerging in Russia.
CAMPBELL -- Sixteen Russians visited Campbell Friday to tour housing developed by Common Wealth Inc. and to learn how to develop similar public-private partnerships to solve community problems in their country.
Common Wealth is a nonprofit community development corporation that focuses on building and renovating affordable housing in the inner city. It has completed projects in Campbell, Youngstown, Struthers, Lisbon, East Liverpool and Steubenville.
The Russians represent a variety of non-profit organizations and local governments from throughout their country.
A representative of Russia's second-largest aluminum manufacturing company was also among the visitors, who are participating in a two-week study tour at Kent State University's main campus. The program is provided through KSU's Ohio Employee Ownership Center.
The purpose of the program, said Dan Bell, international program coordinator at the center, is to show the Russians what can be accomplished through collaborative efforts among government, business and non-profit organizations, and to teach them how to form relationships and work together to solve community problems, such as the need for affordable housing.
New opportunity
Private business and the nonprofit sector are still emerging in Russia, Bell said, and for them to work together with government is a new opportunity.
The program also fosters networking among various Russian entities by bringing together individuals from throughout the country with a broad range of backgrounds. About half of the time in the classroom is spent sharing participants' experiences and knowledge, he said. "They learn from each other."
Participants were selected based on their experience in developing cooperative projects, their ability to share what they are learning from the program once they return to Russia, and their interests, said Inna Loukovenko, of the United States Agency for International Development, which sponsors the program.
Initiating communication
Alla E. Vinnik, director of the Center for Business Ethics and Corporate Governance in St. Petersburg and one of the participants, said that she applied for the program because she wants to learn how to initiate communication between her organization and government.
Although there is a substantial government presence in St. Petersburg, Russia's second largest city, and a lot of government money designated for the maintenance of historic sites, Vinnik said there is very little contact between government and businesses or non-profit organizations.
Fostering those relationships, she said, would allow a variety of entities to work together to improve both the quality of life of Russian citizens and the business environment.
Following brief introductions, the Russians bombarded representatives from Common Wealth and area financial institutions with questions about how they determine which projects to support, establish residency guidelines for housing developments, and turn a profit on their investments.
The group also visited the Akron Community Foundation and chambers of commerce in Youngstown and Akron, and will visit similar organizations in Cleveland and Columbus next week.

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