Olga Alexeeva’s sudden and untimely death in July 2011 marked a huge loss to the world of global philanthropy. In recent years, having kick-started and encouraged many of the more interesting new philanthropic initiatives in Russia, Olga had “gone global”, bringing her passion, her energy, her no-nonsense style and her profound commitment to issues of justice and human rights to the emerging philanthropic arenas in countries such as Brazil, China and India, working with new foundations and wealthy individuals and families to help them think through and realise their philanthropic goals. Initially Olga did this the Charities Aid Foundation and, more recently, under the auspices of her own new organization, the Philanthropy Bridge Foundation.
Olga also had a profound influence on the development of the global community foundation field. Although most recently she had been operating in a world of big money, she never lost touch with her belief in the power of communities, educating her donor clients about the value of local organizations in helping to bring about real change in the communities that they knew and understood so well. In the mid 1990s, it was Olga, then working at CAF Russia, who had recognized the potential of the community foundation as a vehicle that could model a new type of cross-sectoral collaboration and foster civic activism in the newly-configured political and economic landscape of post-Communist Russia. The first Russian community foundation was established in Togliatti in 1998, with support from Olga and CAF. Today there are over 40 across Russia, from the exclave of Kaliningrad to Primorsky Krai in the Far East and that number continues to grow. The field is now sufficiently established so as not to have to rely on the energies and leadership of a single person, with national and regional networks in place and a bevy of seasoned practitioners for new community foundations to turn to.
Less established, however, is the field of philanthropy in emerging economies and it was this that Philanthropy Bridge Foundation was setting out to rectify. Alas, with Olga’s death and the foundation so new the trustees of the PBF have decided to wind up the organization. On January 23rd and 24th, the PBF trustees hosted a seminar, “Building Bridges: Developing Philanthropy in Emerging Markets” in London for philanthropy practitioners and former colleagues of Olga to determine what parts of Olga’s work and her vision can be carried on by others. You can read more about the outcomes of the meeting in a piece for the Alliance blog by Filiz Bikmen, director of programmes and international relations at the Sabanci Foundation.