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Russia: Helping People Help Themselves

December 9, 2011

Local Initiative Support Project (LISP), a new program in a series of small villages in Russia, relies on local decision-making to address local needs. A paved road, improved water system, or even a playground for a hamlet with a lot of children—decisions on these now come from the bottom up.

In Korshik, Russia, first graders play at recess on their new school playground. Screams of joy and cries of "I like to go down the mountain slide!" and "I like the bike best!" bounce off the walls of the nearby school.

There are many children here, many as a result of a government program that encourages parents to have extra children in rural areas, and this playground is a bright spot. Korshik is a poor, remote farming village 1,000 kilometers northeast of Moscow.

Some of the money to build the playground came from the government, some from local businesses. And some came from the village. Each household donated a small sum. In a place with many needs, this playground fills an important one. It is a place for kids to go, a way to keep the place alive.

" It has changed lives. Children are more active, they're not hanging about, they are here to play, parents know where their kids are.  "

Svetlana Buldakova

math teacher at the elementary school in Korshik

It was by no means clear Korshik would get a new playground. But though a new road, or a stadium, were popular options, the need to give kids somewhere to go won out. Ichetovkina Nadezhda is part of the Korshik village government. She says that, after several meetings, "most people wanted it and voted for the playground, and since they voted, they gave their money without any regret."

This is a new idea for the people of Korshik—not only did they buy into the project with their rubles, they agreed, after much discussion, that the playground was a priority. In 2011, Korshik, along with other villages in the Kirov region, submitted 267 projects for funding. 197 got approval.

In Verhoshizhimie, a few towns over, the priorities are different, but the process is the same. Villagers here voted to spend over two million rubles to fix a small stretch of the main road through town. Each of the village's adults gave some money to the new road. Now, the road carries buses, farmers taking their vegetables to market, and kids on their way to school.

It was a fair amount of money to fix 700 meters of road, locals say, but it was the right decision. Now, people can get where they need to go. Natalia Popova is using the new road to visit her mother, cupcakes in hand. "It has made change for the better because now buses can run, when the road was old, buses couldn't use it," she says.

Unpaved roads turn into impassable mush in the fall and spring. The new projects are part of a World Bank supported program that relies on local people and local decision-making, at all stages, to solve local problems. The local government's Elena Titorenko says the debate and the decision-making are teaching people to work together. "It's good that people could be flexible in rejecting their ideas and accepting other priorities. And the money is collected by the people—it is very important, it means that people are invested."

It is a new kind of planning, small-scale and from the bottom up, says Dmitry Matveev, the deputy governor of the Kirov region. "I think that it's a different approach. If we build the roads, that's one thing, if we build them together it is another," he says.

Next for both villages in this isolated part of Russia ... back to planning and voting and, local leaders suspect, a push to pave still more roads.