November 1, 2020

Society ought to accept special children

CHILDREN WITH DOWN SYNDROME, WITH ICP, VISUALLY CHALLENGED AND HEARING-IMPAIRED - MOST OFTEN "INVISIBLE" CITIZENS EDUCATED AT HOME OR MEDICAL FACILITIES. HOW CAN BUSINESS COMPETENCES BE USEFUL FOR CHANGING THE ATTITUDE OF SOCIETY AND SOCIAL SYSTEM TO SUCH CHILDREN? WE TALKED ABOUT THIS WITH NAREK SIRAKANYAN, PRESIDENT OF FREEDOM INTERNATIONAL GROUP AND FOUNDER OF "GROWING UP TOGETHER" CHARITY AID FOUNDATION.

- What prompted you to create a foundation to support organizations helping special children?

- My wife and I were at the Bolshoi Theater, a woman was sitting next to her son with Down syndrome. When the boy laughed at the wrong time, people turned around and even made comments. His mom blushed and apologized. While studying at Harvard, I saw children with disabilities everywhere, and there they are part of society. This difference in attitude touched me to the core. I decided to get serious about the topic and got down to work. I learned from the principal of a specialized school that the approach to caring for children with disabilities has not changed since the 1960s, and inclusive education does not work in the real world. The heads of charity foundations spoke about legislative difficulties, lack of funding and staff. The first thought was to create my own foundation. But I am not an expert in this topic. I am good at helping other companies: I have experience in building Freedom Group's business in a wide variety of areas - from pharmaceuticals to eSports. And we began to study what funds were involved in working with children with disabilities and how we could help them. This is how "Growing Up Together" Charity Aid Foundation came to be.

- What is the key concept of the foundation?

- Out of 9069 funds from the website of the Ministry of Justice, about 800 work with children with disabilities. But half of the donations are received by ten foundations, which are known to everyone. And other NGOs, who also work honestly and efficiently, do not even have websites: all the resources go to providing direct assistance to children. Our foundation can manage their social media, organize events, provide PR and GR support - do everything that will attract much more attention to them. We are ready to provide IT support, marketing and online education. This is the model Freedom Group uses when interacting with businesses within the very Group. I am sure it will show its effectiveness in working with charity organizations. We have recruited digital marketing professionals, writers and text messages for "Growing Up Together" Foundation. I would hire such specialists to work in my business. And they are already developing marketing strategies for several funds, on a free basis. We are ready to share technology. Over the past three years, I have invested heavily in the Sessia IT platform. Now any fund can immediately get a free mobile application, which includes a messenger, a private social network and a marketplace. This will allow, for instance, to accept donations and quickly find a suitable defectologist, or any other specialist. This is our idea - to create an ecosystem for Russian funds to help children with disabilities.

- How did people from the charity sphere respond to your idea?

- I had meetings with several well-known benefactors. The response is the same: "It's so great that you found us." When you delve into a topic, the right people immediately appear. I called a friend who had a child with Down syndrome. He put me in touch with the founders of the “I Am” foundation to help children with mental disorders. And now we are already running their social media and website, and we have many joint projects.

- Are there cases when you come up with unexpected ideas while communicating with experts?

- All the time. I want to actively promote inclusive education. There are very few schools where special children are involved. The principal of one of them said that children with autism love programming. And I have my own Cyber Legacy eSports team. This is how the idea of a charity online eSports championship for schoolchildren, including children with disabilities, was born. If everyone gets to like the format, we shall make the championship an annual event.

- What goals do you put for yourself?

- I shall personally finance the foundation's operating expenses of $ 52.5 million over the next 15 years. And I believe that this will help grow the charity market in the Russian Federation by multiple times. The first goal is to achieve such coverage by 2035 that every child with disabilities and his or her parents know that they can get support at any given time. The second is a multiple increase in the number of schools and universities offering inclusive education. Third, so as to make Russia's successes visible to the world, - to make it enter the top 25 of the world CAF (Charity Aid Foundation) charity ranking. If we can help all 790 foundations working with children with disabilities, the problem will become much more visible and the attitude of the society towards special children will improve, and incidents like that at the Bolshoi Theater will remain history.

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