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Business Leaders, Public Participation and Sustainable Development

Region: Baltics, Lithuania
Author: Eleonora Ogijenko, Visaginas Community Foundation
Consortium Member: ECOLOGIA Baltic Office
Status: Needs Funding Budget: $14300 Collected: $0 Needs: $14300
Goal: Six business leaders from the Russian-speaking community of Visaginas, in Lithuania, will travel to Vermont to observe and discuss examples of sustainable development by local businesses.

Background on Visaginas

The city of Visaginas, located in northeastern Lithuania, is in a unique situation. It was built in the early 1970s in order to operate two Soviet built RBMK (“Chernobyl-type” graphite cooled) nuclear power plants. The population of the city (numering about 30,000 people in 2006) was created almost entirely of people transplanted from the Soviet Union, primarily Russia. When Lithuania sought accession to the European Union, closure of the nuclear power plants was a requirement imposed by the EU. As a result, the economic foundations of the city were largely eliminated. Visaginas’ largely Russian speaking population found itself isolated economically, culturally, and geographically.

Responding to this challenge, Visaginas’ residents formed NGOs, municipal and business committees to begin designing a new future. We formed a Community Foundation to support the activities of community transformation. Our goal is not only to lead the transformation of Visaginas, but to make our city’s transformation a model for all of Lithuania.

Visaginas Community Foundation was established in 2002. Its mission is to improve the life of Visaginas community by encouraging philanthropic actions of business and not-for-profit sector, and providing support for the projects and programs that are important for our community.

Sustainable Development and Local Initiatives in Visaginas

In February 2005 the Community Foundation organized a workshop for Visaginas business leaders “Increasing business effectiveness by implementing principles of sustainable development”. The Strategic Development Plan of Visaginas City was adopted in 2004, and it outlined sustainable development as a priority. Visaginas Community Foundation identified the need to educate community, and business people in particular about sustainable development and corporate social responsibility. The workshop was conducted in cooperation with our long term partner – the Vermont based organization ECOLOGIA which has worked with the Visaginas community since 1999. The workshop showed how implementing principles of sustainable development could give businesses a competitive edge in global marketplaces. As a result of the workshop participants understand that they need to learn more about how small and medium sized businesses are actually implementing strategies that were discussed. They understand the idea, and now need to see how it works in reality. ECOLOGIA invited Visaginas business and community leaders to visit Vermont and to see sustainable development principles as a core component of small and medium sized business operation.

The Visaginas region and the state of Vermont have similarities: these are rural regions, surrounded by unspoiled nature with tourism potential, remote from manufacturing centers, have highly educated population. In addition, Vermont has the United States’ largest and most successful network of small and medium sized businesses successfully employing principles of sustainable development - Vermont Businesses for Social Responsibility. Businesses in VBSR are prepared to show Visaginas business and community leaders how they apply sustainable development principles in practical and concrete ways in their everyday business operations. Many of the Vermont businesses have direct parallels to emerging businesses in the Visaginas region – forest and wood products, information technology, tourism, light manufacturing. Such an opportunity for Visaginas business people would help to adopt experience of their Vermont colleagues, and will contribute directly to the Visaginas community.

Visaginas Community Foundation seeks to organize an exchange program in USA for a group of 6 Visaginas community members including business leaders, city Mayor and Director of Visaginas Community Foundation. This would be a continuation of our already started project, applying practical knowledge. ECOLOGIA will be the coordinator of this program in Vermont. During the program participants will be provided with an opportunity to discuss sustainable development and corporate social responsibility issues with their American colleagues, and to visit related businesses. They will see how successful businesses educate the public, and respond to public needs and interests. They will develop a deeper understanding of sustainable development in practice, and they will start developing practical steps for creating the best, most sustainable long-term solutions to adapt in their environment upon their return home. Such an educational exchange program with an aim to develop concrete action plans towards sustainable development would greatly benefit the Visaginas community: sustainable and socially responsible business will contribute to the well-being of the city.

Expected outcomes

  1. Visaginas business, government and community leaders will bring back concrete examples of business plans and marketing associated with implementing principles of sustainable development. These examples will be on a scale appropriate to Visaginas.
  2. Visaginas leaders will identify “mentors” with whom they can communicate as they begin to apply principles and practices they have seen in Vermont.
  3. Each participant will develop an action plan focused on adapting most relevant practices.
  4. As a group, Visaginas community leaders will develop a concept of “regional branding” to promote this region as a region of sustainable development.
  5. Visaginas community leaders will develop a model for a support network of environmentally and socially responsible businesses. Like VBSR, this will be appropriate to the Visaginas region, and Lithuania more broadly.
  6. Through our Friends of Visaginas network (already established), we will disseminate information and models developed on the trip to other municipalities in Lithuania with whom we are cooperating.

Air-fare round trip Vilnius- Burlington VT, 6 tickets @ $1,180 = $7080 (Visaginas contribution, $3,000) $4,080
USA visas: 6 @ $100 $600
Health insurance: 6 @ $ 93 $558
Lodging (homestays): 6 participants, 8 days @ $20 $960
Meals: Per Diems for 8 people @ $35 for 8 days, plus closing dinner $2,492
Transportation (van, gas, parking fees, etc.) $1050
Communication costs (phone, fax, postage) $210
Interpreter (includes air fare, health insurance, etc.) $2800
Bookkeeping $250
Program Coordinator and Driver $4,000 (ECOLOGIA Contribution)0
Subtotal $13,000
VF administrative fee $1300
Total Requested from Virtual Foundation: $14,300