YPO in Russia: Impact-Driven Program Grows Next Generation of Entrepreneurs

While each year YPO celebrates more members creating positive impact around the world, a chapter in Russia is leveraging its collective power to make a difference.

In a recent global leadership survey conducted by YPO, 93 percent of those surveyed say business should create positive impact beyond profit. YPO’s vision reflects this growing trend as it strives to create greater impact in the world.

Leaders in the YPO Russia chapter, inspired by this vision,  launched their own initiative to support Russia’s new and most promising entrepreneurs, the CEOs of the future.

Understanding the challenges facing millennial entrepreneurs

It all started in 2016 when YPO Russia Chapter Chair Oleg L. Volkosh, President at Mediaplus Group – together with chapter officers Vadim Belyakov, Founder at NOTALONE; Ekaterina Lapshina, Chief Executive Officer at ERA Capital and Oskar Hartmann, Chief Executive Officer at Hartmann Holdings – began to explore ways that YPO can positively engage with the business community in Russia.

“A group of us felt there was an opportunity to become more impactful to external society as a whole. We asked ourselves, what could create positive change to our society in Russia? We explored a lot of options, including charity work, but eventually decided to focus on supporting young entrepreneurs, age 20 to 28, who are starting their own business,” says Volkosh. “We all had positive assets to share with young entrepreneurs and were keen to provide the same support that some of us had received in our careers.”

“Our generation is the first generation of Russians that is open to radical fast-paced changes. We are the first ones to live without the heavy burden of duty.” Oleg L. Volkosh, President at Mediaplus Group

The decision to launch a business accelerator-type program for the country’s brightest entrepreneurs was reinforced by a study that the chapter initiated with millennials in Russia.

“One of the program’s co-founders, Ekatrina Lapshina, proposed that we take time to understand the millennial generation better. We hired a professional research agency and the findings generated a lot of interesting insights,” says Volkosh.

The importance of mentorship

A key finding of the study was the importance this group attaches to regularly sharing insights and issues with others.

“My favorite insight was how millennials perceive that mentors should provide regular feedback and not act as authority figures,” says Volkosh. “They told us we don’t need your advice, just regular feedback. These findings also reinforced our beliefs that trends and the attitude of this generation are not too far from those of the same generation in different markets.”

Volkosh’s personal story as the founder of the first commercial TV station, 31 Channel in Almaty, Kazakhstan, at just 19 years old, is a testament of the importance of mentorship.

“I had the great privilege to have a mentor who helped me start the business when I was a producer for a government TV station in 1991 during the Soviet Union days. I didn’t know this word ‘mentorship’ at the time, but now I realize without it, I would not be able to be where I am today,” says Volkosh.

A YPO-inspired platform for leadership growth

The first task was to identify the entrepreneurs qualified for the program. The chapter started a close collaboration with EO, recruiting candidates from the pool of finalists of the EO Global Student Entrepreneur Award (GSEA). With support of YPO Russia member Sergey Solonin, Chief Executive Officer at QIWI, a collaboration with Ashoka was also established to identify young leaders launching innovative ventures with impact.

The initiative then focused on offering three product opportunities: Education, mentoring and forum tailored around YPO processes. The selected group was regularly invited to attend some of the learning events and meet chapter members, providing opportunities to network and be exposed to new ideas, as they started their forum experience and mentorship sessions.

For many of the candidates, the experience was completely new in its approach to develop holistic leadership skills. “Here people understand that if you change yourself, your personal life (and) your state of mind, you can change your business as well,” says Diana Kolesnikova, Co-founder of career counseling and self-development company My Story.

Another candidate, Kristina Bagrova, Founder of Young Group, comments on the significance of the program at this time in Russia. “Our generation is the first generation of Russians that is open to radical fast-paced changes. We are the first ones to live without the heavy burden of duty.”

Early signs of success and relevance   

In 2017, one of the candidates, Dmitry Rubin, Co-founder of AgroDroneGroup LLC, was selected as a finalist in the GSEA world competition in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, for his work on innovation in agriculture.

“At first I thought the program would be more about the business, but now I understand it is more about self-development, a way of life,” says Rubin, reflecting on the significance of the program as his company expands.

The engagement by YPO members and spouses in the program continues to increase, with 14 YPO mentors, 18 entrepreneurs and additional member and spouse volunteers trained to engage in supporting the program in different capacities.

“For mentees it is a dream. But the program also significantly benefits members, especially older members looking for an opportunity to give back to young entrepreneurs and create legacy in life, while several professional spouses also are asking to get involved,” says Volkosh.

He adds that an indirect benefit has been the chapter “opening up” more to the public. Partnering with prestigious external business conferences and business schools like Skolkovo allowed the chapter to create awareness and promote YPO.

“This program helped us become more relevant to society as well as more visible in business society and among the next generation of leaders,” adds Volkosh. “Across Europe we are seeing more chapters planning to launch similar impact-driven initiatives with many members planning to integrate the program within their own social impact business agenda, therefore creating a multiplier effect.”

Looking at the future business climate in Russia, Volkosh is a strong believer in Russia’s entrepreneurial culture despite political, economic and social challenges.

“In Russia, there is a lot of startup activity. Russians are very entrepreneurial. Throughout out history, they have demonstrated ingenuity and determination in the face of challenges. They will always find a way,” says Volkosh.

“Today for new startups, the key challenge is with government starting to play a bigger role in business. So it is a big choice for young graduates. Should I take risks or apply for safer government jobs? That is all the more reason for the support we are providing.”

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