This December, I had an incredible opportunity to travel to Russia and exchange best practices with socially responsible business leaders in three Russian cities: Moscow, Kaliningrad and Kazan. (Learn more here)
Many Americans assume that people in other countries have one homogenous identity.
In Russia, this could not be less true.
Like the United States, Russia is a huge country with diverse people of many different ethnicities, faiths, socio-economic backgrounds and political opinions.
The three Russian cities I visited exemplify the diversity within Russia.
We started in Moscow, a bustling metropolis that never sleeps.
Moscow reminds me of New York City, except bigger, with a population of 15-million. The Moscow subway system transports roughly 3-million people per day, equal to the population of Chicago, and its 300 stations are among the most beautiful in the world.
Like New Yorkers, some “Muscovites” have a nose-to-the-grindstone brusqueness that can be mistaken for rudeness by the many camera-toting tourists who swarm their city. Those who call Moscow home are among the most ambitious, talented and hardworking people from around the country and the world.
As we learned during our conference for socially responsible business leaders in Moscow, many of these hardworking citizens are changing the world for the better. For example, the team at Matorika (below) makes cutting-edge prosthetics for children. They take the time to personalize each prosthetic with the child’s favorite colors and superhero character.
Our second stop was Kaliningrad, on the Baltic Sea.
The roughly 600,000 residents are excited and energized by a spike in visitors since hosting four matches of the 2018 FIFA World Cup. Locals consider themselves the most European Russians because their city was German until its near destruction during WWII. After the war, it was absorbed into the USSR and renamed Kaliningrad after one of Stalin’s most vicious henchmen, who never had nothing to do with the city.
Understandably, locals prefer to use its former German name, Königsburg. Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, they have been separated from mainland Russia by Lithuania, and a unique identity has emerged from this isolation and blending of nationalities, a lot like in Hawaii.
Once a prosperous German port city, Königsburg suffered great economic depression during the Soviet era, from which it is still recovering today. The ongoing recovery is being driven by the many local entrepreneurs who, rather than relocate to Moscow for more opportunities, stay and help create more opportunities in Königsburg. Their local pride and commitment to rebuilding their city’s historic prosperity reminded me of the entrepreneurs I’ve met in Detroit.
Our last stop was Kazan, a historically Muslim city founded by descendants of Genghis Khaan 150-years before Moscow.
This prosperous city on the mighty Volga river is the capital of the Tatarstan Republic, a predominantly Muslim region in the middle of Russia. Today, about half the population of Kazan is made up of Slavic Russians, and the blending of East and West makes beautiful Kazan the “Istanbul of Russia.”
Kazan locals pride themselves on being the friendliest Russians, and I agree with their self-assessment. Unlike in Moscow or Königsburg, passersby in Kazan returned my smile, and several people stopped to offer directions when I got lost looking for the famous Kul Sharif Mosque. Because of this friendliness, Kazan reminded me of my sweet home, Chicago.
We flew from Kazan back to Moscow for one more night in the Russian city that never sleeps. On our last night, we ate an authentic Russian dinner before saying our heartfelt thanks and tearful good-byes to our wonderful Russian team members and hosts, who are some of the goodest people I have ever known.
I met good people everywhere I went in Russia, which fits my belief that most people everywhere are good people.
What the world needs now is good people working together to promote peace, protect human rights, and build a brighter future. That’s why I was so honored to be part of this international collaboration of socially responsible businesses, and it’s why I encourage other Chicago entrepreneurs and business leaders to participate in similar peace-building programs through WorldChicago. Find out more at www.WorldChicago.org or contact Angela Mughal at WorldChicago: email@example.com or 312.254.1800 x102