On this day, September 12, 2016, I resumed as a student of the Master of Sport Administration course at the Russian International Olympic University (RIOU), Sochi. I had received a scholarship from the Vladimir Potanin Foundation that covered the entire tuition, accommodation and a monthly stipend.
Until April 2016 I had never encountered the name of Vladimir Potanin. The Russian billionaire has been a regular on the Forbes rich list for decades but it never stood out for me in my line of work. Roman Abramovich, that other Russian oligarch, was more familiar because of his ownership of Chelsea Football Club.
However, I eventually came across his name when I received an email from the AIPS announcing scholarships for the Russian International Olympic University that was funded by the Vladimir Potanin Foundation. I searched for him online and found a decent collection of articles to back up the persona.
I was admitted to RIOU and eventually got a grant from the Vladimir Potanin Foundation in July 2016. Two months later, I moved to Sochi, the city that hosted the 2014 Winter Olympic Games, to study alongside students from 13 other countries. We were all Vladimir Potanin Foundation Fellows, with lodging in the plush Brevis Apartments overlooking the Black sea.
While I craved an opportunity to meet Mr Potanin during my stay in Sochi, I sent an email to the foundation expressing my appreciation for such a life changing opportunity that I was given.
Born in 1961, Potanin is one of the remaining original Russian oligarchs who made their billions from the Russian state during the upheaval of the 1990s after the fall of the Soviet Republic. And like many of Russia’s ultra-rich, he is leading a movement towards greater philanthropy and encouraging his country men and women to share their wealth.
After pledging to give half his wealth to charity, Potanin set up the Foundation which has been working at developing the arts as well as other projects like the Sirius school for Russia’s most-gifted students.
I had the opportunity of visiting the Sirius school alongside other classmates in 2016 where we gave a talk to students in the age range 13-16 about sports journalism and choosing a career. The well-funded school was like a real life Hogwarts, with its purple-themed furniture and state of the art library, classrooms and halls.
The Sirius school is aimed at discovering and harnessing the power of focus in Russia’s young talents early. Students are brought into the former five-star hotel that hosted guests during the Winter Olympics and made to spend three weeks at a stretch where they are taught by some of the country’s best teachers. The best pupils are selected from different regions according to their grades in the sciences, literature, art and sports. It is a way to monitor and groom Russia’s best brains and place them on a path to higher institutions instead of losing them to the West.
The Vladimir Potanin Foundation also worked towards bringing the global #GivingTuesday campaign to Russia for the first time in October 2016. My university had an opportunity to participate as we worked to raise funds for the purchase of prosthetic limbs for a 10-year-old girl from Sochi. We played Curling as a means to raise donations.
In Potanin’s own words, wealth should be used for the greater good: “Several years ago I announced my decision to donate a major part of my wealth to philanthropy. I genuinely believe that wealth should work for public good and, therefore, I am trying to make my own contribution toward a better world, especially toward a better future for my own country, Russia.”
It is a great pleasure to appreciate an immense character who gave me an opportunity to study for a life in sports management. Thank you, Mr Potanin.
One year after my study, I’m working hard to make everyone who invested in my education proud – my teachers, Mr Potanin, my family. I hope to be able to give back to sports in my country and the world as much as I have been given.
After all, to whom much is given, much is required.