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Veronika Zonabend

social entrepreneur, co-founder of Noôdome

On the Noôdome project, education, the future and on where the world is heading

On the Noôdome community
Noôdome is a community of people who want to do something for a better future. It’s a network of people engaged in different activities who rarely cross paths in everyday life.

The aim of the project is to create a community where people want to mix and come together to create and promote ideas and projects whose relevance is not yet obvious.

Everything always happens against the flow, starting with the fact that as a family, we returned to Russia when many people were leaving the country. And now our Noôdome project is going against the flow: just when everyone has gone to ground, we’re trying to bring everyone together.
On the importance of contact
We’ve been living in a new reality for a long time now, and our institutions and infrastructure are a legacy of the past. The desire to connect has increased, especially when it comes to deep, thought-provoking contact, which reminds you again why you need that contact. Today the trend is for people to want precisely this deeper type of contact.

Contact with others is always necessary, it’s just that everyone likes different amounts. We need family, children and friends. But thousands of Facebook contacts probably don’t have much of a meaning or a foundation.
Where is the world heading?
Over the last few months, we’ve seen things as they really are. Before that we were all in a perpetual whirl of activities — events, conferences, and gatherings in various places around the world. It was time to draw breath and reflect.

The world is shifting from a system where people are united by country towards different principles. Interests and activities are becoming more important than nationality in uniting people. Enclaves and oases will spring up in various places around the world and people will move between them. The world will belong to certain communities.

Everything in society is changing and this had become clear before the beginning of 2020. We’re living in an era of perfect storm, where we’re seeing a complete transformation of all our practices and institutions. We’re going to have a bumpy ride for a long time until we reach a different equilibrium.
On mentoring and raising children
A mentor is not someone who tells you what you want to hear. Most parents today think they know exactly what their children need. But the more I discover, the clearer it is to me that our children will live in a completely different world from our own and what we tell them to do won’t work for them. I see our duty as parents as giving our children as much choice as possible and the chance to look around and choose their own path. The habit of making a choice and the ability to do so is one of the most important skills in life. It’s something that many people lack.
Nowadays it’s as though people are herding their children into a pen. It’s like they’re running a marathon, taking exams. Right from childhood they’re constantly having to prove something: they don’t have the right to make mistakes. This isn’t good.
On female leadership
The involvement of women in leadership roles is very important, as it brings a somewhat different style to management. It’s managing people first and foremost; it’s about empathy and about treating everyone as people rather than roles.

It’s a good thing that women in many countries are now more involved in public life, but on the other hand we shouldn’t forget that bringing up children is a very important social task. It’s one that demands a very deep commitment. And when radical feminism asserts that women don’t need to be involved in bringing up children, I don’t think that’s right. Any kind of extremism is bad.
We want to do good things here; we want things to be good in this country. I think there are far more opportunities here. The ambition is that people will want to live here and that they’ll feel happy.
Why have the projects in Russia?
It’s a case of being most useful in the place of your birth, as the saying goes. The cultural code that’s ingrained in us is about the country you grew up in and where you can do something useful. Generally speaking, everything depends on your aim and what you want. If you want to just live and have a fairly comfortable life, then of course it’s easier to live abroad. But if you have an ambition to do something meaningful then it’s far more difficult to create something there than in Russia. It takes two generations of living in another country to achieve cultural understanding and the feeling that you’re fully accepted.

We want to do good things here; we want things to be good in this country. I think there are far more opportunities here. The ambition is that people will want to live here and that they’ll feel happy. It’s also for children to feel that they want to spend at least part of their lives in Russia, so we want to do everything that we can to that end.

In Russia everything happens not “thanks to” but “despite.” We need principles and rules that aren’t broken. There are still problems with this. You can start playing football and then see your opponent touching the ball with their hands — because it turns out that they’re playing basketball now, not football.
On school education
My husband and I had the idea of creating an international school so that our children had a choice about where to learn. What’s more, it had to be a school where children could really mix and know how to mix, where they could feel that they were part of the world and not a closed space. At the International Baccalaureate Organization, they told us that our values matched those of the United World Colleges educational movement.

The first UWC school opened in 1962. There was an educator named Kurt Hahn; in my view his work has not yet been properly appreciated. His idea was that personality is formed in adolescence and children needed to be taught to mix in order to avoid another world war. Kurt Hahn founded his first school in Germany back in 1919. At the beginning of the 1930s the Nazis ordered him to expel Jews from the school and when he refused, they forced him to leave the country. Kurt Hahn opened a new school in Scotland in 1934 and after the war the first UWC college opened in Wales.

The UWC system is unique for several reasons. Children from different social backgrounds study at its colleges, which creates an environment where teenagers seek and find common ground. This is very important when children come from countries that are in conflict with one another. The image of the enemy crumbles, because it turns out that there are two sides to any conflict, that each side has its own truth, and people have suffered on both sides. And there’s something else: no single culture dominates in UWC institutions. At the Dilijan college for example, there are children from 80 countries and there is no country that makes up more than 10% of the pupils. As a result, all the students see themselves as representatives of their own culture and are proud of where they come from.
Producer:  Marina Vasiltsova
Editors:  Anton Manyashin, Ivan Nikolaev
English style editor and translator:  Elizabeth Guyatt
Interviewers:  Anton Zhelnov, Tatiana Arno, Askar Ramazanov
Photographer:  Vladimir Vasilchikov
Stylist:  Karolina Traktina
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