We were shocked and saddened to hear of the death of Olga Alexeeva, the director of Philanthropy Bridge Foundation. In the world of giving most of the attention goes to the donor; Olga’s contribution in inspiring and educating emerging market donors should be counted in billions of dollars.
Michael first met Olga a decade ago when he was running the British aid programme to Russia. Olga was one of the grantees, running Charites Aid Foundation Russia with formidable professionalism. It was in that role that she had begun to encourage wealthy Russians to give.
A few years later, by the time we came to write the book, Olga had moved to London to run CAF Global Trustees, widening her scope of clients from Russia to other emerging markets. She was an invaluable source of wisdom, inspiration and challenge for our research.
Olga was the soul of discretion. This may have frustrated us as writers – she never dished the dirt on her oligarchic clients, whilst hinting there were more than a few juicy stories if only she could tell them – but we understood that this was essential to her business. She had won the trust of the new rich in Russia, starting in the paranoid days of cowboy capitalism in the 1990s, through her deft handling of some difficult relationships. (Olga talked recently about her first meeting a Russian oligarch who “arrived with six bodyguards and had the eyes of a killer”.) Through her influence, some of the richest people in the world started on a journey not just to give but to give wisely.
The last time we saw Olga was when Michael spoke earlier this year at the CAF Foundation School, an initiative that Olga had started to train philanthropists and foundation staff from emerging economies. She talked about how, in the Soviet era, she had made the journey from one of the regions of Russia to win a place to study journalism at Moscow State University and then, through journalism, had become engaged in social issues. Throughout her life determination, hard work and generosity had gone hand in hand with her acute intelligence.
She will be widely and deeply missed. Our thoughts are with her family and her son Nikita in particular.