Kind Luxury had the great pleasure to sit down with Irina Baytina, a Russian philanthropist and one of the organisers of the famous Winter Ball to discuss her philanthropic journey.
The Winterball is a key annual charity function in Moscow and its roots goes back to a small charity event organised by a German Ambassador, Ernst Jörg von Studnitz and his wife Polly in 1996. As Polly von Studnitz was a pediatrician the charity’s goal was defined to help sick Russian children.
When in 2003 the term of the Ambassador's stay in Moscow ended, Ms. von Studnitz addressed two ladies - Maria-Anne Golitsyna, whose husband, a descendant of the famous Russian royal family, and Tatiana Yastrzhembskaya, the wife of the Russian presidential aide to take the lead in continuing the tradition of the charity ball.
So the ‘Winter Ball’, which contains elements of European traditions of charity balls and, without exaggeration, opened a new chapter in the history of Russian charity giving.
|Committee member of the Winter Ball - Proudly supporting children with rare diseases|
My mother, Lidia Aronovna Moskvina, a wise, honest and fair woman.
QUOTE YOU LIVE YOUR LIFE BY
|“If not me, then who?” – Irina Baytina|
How did you start out on your philanthropic journey?
In 2003, my good friend, Tatiana Yastrzhembskaya, asked me to help with the organization of a charity ball. In the past, I had only ever attended charity events as a guest and I was not sure how much I could really help. My doubts disappeared when I first met Maria-Anna Galitsyna, the soul and inspirational force of the Winter Ball. I immediately had a great sense of trust towards her personally and felt a real connection with all of her projects. These things can happen in life: you see a person, share their vision and are then motivated to help in any way you can.
The Winter Ball foundation is led by women. From your initial meeting, how did you go on to start your foundation?
Having first met Maria-Anna Galitsyna through Tatiana Yastrzhembskaya we had a collective realization that we could work well together. We wanted to get involved with the Winter Ball and there was something of a 'chain reaction' when we were invited onto the Organizing Committee of the ball. We also became involved with the broader network of support that underpins the success of the Winter Ball. It is interesting that the first ball organizing committee consisted essentially of foreigners. Over the years, the foundation team that runs things has changed. Now most team members are Russian citizens and we work from a basis of our friendship united around our charitable idea.
Like any women, we can argue about the design of an invitation card, but when the question comes to providing urgent help to an ill child, there is never a disagreement.
As we have worked together for so many years it feels strange if we are apart even when going on vacation. We miss our meetings and discussions. Our children are friends and we are aware of so many family problems and victories over adversity. In short, the Foundation has become a big and important part of our lives.
Tell us about the challenges and difficulties of running the foundation?
The challenges we face are no different from those encountered by any other foundation in Russia. The main problem is the lack of a favourable tax regime for charitable donations. For example, a donor (corporation) transferring funds to support a charity currently receives no tax benefit for doing so. But we hope that this situation will change for the better. With tax deductions now applying to private donors we want to see this extended to the corporate sector.
When we started, there were no tax benefits in Russia at all so it's very much a work in progress.
How do you select the projects to support?
The selection of the projects that our foundation supports is based primary on our personal assessment of the beneficiary and the trust that we have in them.
It is important for us to know who receives our help and what difference it will make in practice.
During the past 10 years we have helped the rehabilitation clinic of Dr. G. N. Romanova in St. Petersburg. Among other foundations, we implicitly trust the 'Children-Butterfly' foundation, which helps children with epidermolysis bullosa an inherited connective tissue diseases that cause blisters in the skin and mucosal membranes. Children with this condition are often called Butterfly children because the skin is said to be as fragile as a butterfly’s wings.
In addition, over the past four years we have supported the children's department of the N. N. Blokhin Russian Oncology Center. Even though a rare disease there are many children diagnosed with Sarcoma who need urgent surgery but who do not receive any government support. For those receiving government support the operation is free and they then have to buy their own prosthesis. That's exactly what we do: we collect money, for remarkable oncology surgeons to carry out the operation and we buy a prosthesis for the child which is custom made. In all cases, we are confident that our support reaches the intended children.
Every year the Winter Ball is dedicated to a specific country? How do you select the country?
The theme selection idea for the Winter Ball was completely accidental.
In 2005, the Ambassador of the Republic of Argentina, His Excellency Mr. Alejandro Aramburu invited the representative of our foundation, Ms. de la Donasen Uh and proposed to organise the ball with an Argentinean Tango theme. We really liked the idea, as it helped us to bring our event onto an international stage. Since then, every year one of the Embassies becomes a patron of the ball. And as ambassadors and embassy staff recommend us as a reliable partner with a good reputation, we do not often have to ask for patronage, as it is the Embassies who approach us.
In 2016, we created an exception and organised the event with the patronage of the Ministry of the Foreign Affairs of Russia. It was a great honour and a huge responsibility for us as the theme was Russia. Once again we realized how rich Russia is in culture, talent and a good heart.
In 2015-2016 you raised 1m USD with the event, what was the key factor of this success?
There is no secret, the lower the cost, the greater the income.
Our aim is to bring the event organisation budget to zero.
The hotel Ritz-Carlton provides us all venues for free. All hosts and entertainers perform for free. All alcoholic drinks are provided by sponsors. A big team of volunteers work to organize this event including our children and their friends to help make it a success. Our expenses are the technical requirements and catering, which is provided by the hotel with a generous discount. With the opportunity given by this interview, I would like to give my heartfelt thanks to all our supporters.
What was your most memorable experience in your philanthropic journey?
I remember all the details of every ball but the most memorable one was the very first. It was the ball that I will never, ever forget. None of us knew how to organize and host a charity event. We were all very nervous. Before the start of the event, I was given two bags with the lottery tickets. Instead of mixing them and putting them into the bowls, I sorted them the way they were given to me (one part contained only the winning tickets while the others had no chance of a prize at all. It was more than a little embarrassing At the end, the attendees that bought a huge amount of lottery tickets won nothing and were wondering why the guests at the table from the Italian company de Longhi were celebrating their stream of prizes. I would like to thank all our guests who took this situation with such good humour in accepting the apologies of the ball organisers.
What does your typical day look like?
The programme for my day depends on which country I wake up in. If it is Brussels, that means that the BRAFTA Art Fair is opening and I will spend my day there. If I am in Parma, then it's the Mercateinfiera - the international modernism, antiques and collectable fair where I normally spend three to four days a year. If I wake up and see Lake Maggiore out of my window, it means I am at home. Here I do my bills and take care of my responsibilities. In Moscow, of course I could write that I go to the beautician, spa and gym, but this wouldn’t be true. Outside of everyday chores, I try to spend a lot of time with my friends. My weekends are fully dedicated to my family, so I meet friends for lunch during the work week. Every day I visit my mother as I can’t convince her to move to our place. She always wants to be independent. In addition, I try not to miss any theatre and film premieres. So my life is not different from so many others. But I do have this drive to do good for others.
Supporting charity is not a "tick box" activity for me; it's a fundamental part of my life and consumes my attention most days.