Svetlana Kulakova: The key thing in conservation projects is to love one’s homeland

18 october 2021

Environmental Protection is one of the key focus areas of SIBUR's Formula for Good Deeds social investment program. The October issue of the program’s digest features an interview with Svetlana Kulakova, an ambassador of the Formula for Good Deeds and Chair of Perm Krai’s Ecologists’ Association, discussing the secrets of implementing successful conservation projects and explaining why it has become trendy to be involved in this.

Svetlana, you have already successfully implemented dozens of conservation projects. But do you remember how it all started? How did you get into this area of activity in the first place?

I work for Perm State National Research University. I initially got involved in non-profit sector’s projects as an expert. As time went on, I got invited more and more often, and I became progressively busier. At some point a colleague of mine and I decided to take part in a contest and apply for a grant from the Presidential Grants Fund, and, predictably, we ended up not winning anything. We got a lot of useful experience and had our own share of frustration and disappointment, and this nagging question of "why do others get it and we don't?" got stuck in my mind. After all, we represent the professional community. Our next step was to enter an application for a grant from the
Formula for Good Deeds program. People we knew told us it was very unlikely that we would be able to win the grant. But it just so happened that we ultimately did win. And, after that first win, we started taking part in other contest. We have since won both presidential and gubernatorial grants, and we even obtained a grant from the German Goethe Institute’s Foundation.

So, as it turns out, the Formula for Good Deeds was your lucky beginning? –

Indeed, it was. At least, that gave us this innermost confidence that, generally speaking, our thinking is right, and our actions match the logic of the grant makers.

Since you told us about your initial disappointment and realization of why you had not won, can you share with us any mistakes you may have made at the outset, something that can be shared?

Our team represents an experts’ community. We are full of ideas and we are eager to attack several problems at once. And so, initially, we wanted to bundle everything into one single project. Now I realize that that was a completely wrong idea. We need to set small achievable goals, get there and then move on to another level. I now clearly understand that an organization must have a mission, and it has to adhere to this mission so as not to get overwhelmed with information and wishes, something that happens all too often. It seems to me that a non-profit organization should pick an area and take it under its wing to help develop it. Or, alternatively, it could, as was our case, get involved in coordination activities. So, local residents would come to us and ask, "We want to build an ecological trail”. And, in response, we would get ourselves involved in this helping them achieve this objective.

Could you please tell us about your projects that you have implemented within the framework of the Formula for Good Deeds?

Our first project is called "Environmental Lectures on the banks of the Mulyanka River", and our second one is titled "The future generation". The target audience of both projects is school students, as they seek to popularize environmental, geographical, and biological sciences. A lot is being said these days about digitalization, robotics, automation, but what it is very often forgotten is that our lives are directly dependent upon our environment. And so, as we go about implementing these projects, our task is to demonstrate how important and relevant it is for the future’s sake to ensure that today’s schoolchildren start thinking seriously about environmental, geographical and biological professions and go on to study these disciplines in college. Since I am personally employed by my University’s Geography Department and work very closely with ecologists and biologists, I find this to be very relevant for us as well.

Perm Krai’s Ecologists’ Association has a fairly large team. What is your personal role in these projects? And does this role vary from project to project?

I guess my role is primarily to generate ideas. Following that we discuss these ideas with the team as in who can add something to a particular project idea or, alternatively, suggest an amendment. Then we work together to prepare an application for each contest because every one of them has a unique focus. So, in general, I am more of an "ideas generator," a restless spirit. But other members of the team also suggest their ideas. They would come up to me and say: "Let's do this kind of project, shall we?" I would respond: "We shall!" And they would ask me: "What do we need to do to make it happen?" And I’d go: "Write down a list of resources you’d need, what would be your deadlines, what is the goal, and most importantly, who we are doing this for?” After all, a project must have a target audience. No one has come back to me as yet but they keep telling me: "We haven't given up on this idea." I’m ready to support anyone, but ideas need to be refined and perfected. Since I have my own projects that I work on, I have no time to comb the ideas of other team members. But, by and large, I like the fact that people have started coming up with their own projects, which is a good thing.

A lot of people are involved in implementing eco-projects these days. Why do you think this is so? And most importantly, is this a good thing or a bad one?

I don’t have a clear-cut opinion about that. On the one hand, more organizations are paying increasingly more attention to environmental issues and are allocating funds to deal with them. On the other hand, there are issues that may have been neglected for years but when a growing number of concerned citizens get involved, the problem begins to acquire critical mass and things start to roll. And this is a good thing. The downside is that those who understand that it is necessary to involve professionals are not always the driving force behind all this. For example, we once had a regional project in a river valley. I voiced my firm conviction that it was necessary to get professionals involved. But the response was: “But we’ll have to pay them!” So, they ended up attempting to do everything on their own. Ten years later, they got back to me and said: "You were right! Let's look for financial resources to hire professionals”, and the project started to progress along!

But, sadly, a project that does not progress may not be the worst example of what might happen. It gets much worse when non-professionals find the strength, opportunities, and resources to implement projects that are not quite well-founded. Projects like these start to get too anthropocentric and oblivious of the environment. The project team may believe that what it is doing is good, but in reality it may be causing irreparable harm to nature systems.

Therefore, the fact that a lot of people are involved in implementing ecological projects is both a good and a bad thing. This is probably an evolutionary step and we will get over this eventually. I can already see in the case of my own city that professional people get increasingly more involved in efforts of the teams that implement environmental projects, and that these projects are getting increasingly more thorough and better thought through.

Is there something that makes implementation of eco-projects unique in some way? If so, what is it?

Apart from being truly professional, our team has a shared love for our homeland, our nature. This is what is driving our desperate desire to make this world somewhat better. On a personal level, the energy and the emotions that we invest in such projects, are so much stronger than one’s desire to make an income out of this. And, whenever I come up with an idea, we don't initially discuss the matter of funding. What we do discuss is how relevant it would be for a particular area and how much good it would do for the target audience. This is the key to success: the goal is not to implement a project for the sake of implementing a project, but it is to make it great, needed, relevant, and not confined within a calendar plan but let it live on beyond one. That is why when we start giving a shape to our project, we start looking for stakeholders. We engage local communities who might benefit from it, we take into account their interests and needs. It is crucial to find as many interested parties as possible. For example, if we're building an eco-trail, we are aware that we won't have the necessary resources to maintain it on our own later and we must immediately understand how the trail is going to be maintained going forward. That's the key to success.

You are one of the Formula for Good Deeds’ ambassadors. What does this status mean to you?

For me, above all, this means a lot of responsibility. Looking back, I see with greater clarity that people are looking at me and at my team, that they scrutinize what we do. This includes those who are already doing something, and those who would only like to start doing something. People telephone me, write to me and ask for advice. And I can't say no to them. I understand that, as an ambassador, I have no right not to help someone. So, this means responsibility for what I do personally and for the advice I give people who also want to get involved in implementing environmental projects.

And, finally, a few words about your plans for the immediate future. What sorts of projects does your organization have in its docket?

We recently opened a new eco-trail in Novye Lyady township where we are now offering tours. As a follow-on to the "Future Generation" project, we have developed an online course for school students on how to perform research with the support of university professors. The course ends with a contest of research papers. The project emerged as a response to requests from parents of school students who need to perform research but do not quite understand how to do it properly. In particular, the parents got thrown off by a requirement for their children to draft an article and prepare a presentation. We worked through all these enquiries, shaped them into a "School of Science" project and got a governor's grant for its implementation. Right now, we’re working on yet another project also developed in response to requests coming from school students. I am referring to a summer school on biodiversity research and preservation.

Further information about activities and projects of Perm Krai’s Ecologists’ Association is available at the Association’s official website via this

Applications for grant and interregional projects’ contests conducted within the framework of the Formula for Good Deeds social investment program will be accepted electronically at the program’s web site through October 24. The deadline for getting applications from Nizhnekamsk-based organizations is November 20, 2021.

Please send your inquiries regarding participation in the contests to the contests’ coordinators:

In case you missed our past issues:

  • Alla Umetskaya: "The grant contest is an opportunity to try oneself as a miracle worker”
  • Svetlana Grigoriyeva: “The only secret of success is trust”.
  • One good deed is one life saved!
  • More donors mean more lives saved
  • By taking care of our elderly, we are taking care of our future
  • Marina Yefimova: “There are no trouble children, but there are hard life circumstances”.
  • A chance for life for children with cerebral palsy
  • Let's help renovate the Kind House for people with developmental disabilities
  • About SIBUR's Moscow-based employees providing volunteering assistance to the Choose Life Foundation helping children with cancer and hematological diseases