iwc-headerIzabella, how did you become the President of the IWC?

Izabella. This is a long story! It is connected with my husband’s career. He started his diplomatic career here in Moscow 15 years ago as a councillor. At that time I was a teacher in the Polish school in Moscow. I did not have time for any international work then, my focus was on my family and my job. My husband’s second main work base was Kiev, and later on I became the director of the Polish school in the Polish embassy there. I was given the responsibility of organising a charity bazaar by the Polish embassy, which I did three times, and they were successful. After that I participated in organising a small charity group, and I discovered that this work was very interesting for me, despite the fact that the official language of the charity club was English. At the time I could communicate fluently in Russian or French, but I was a beginner in English; I never studied it at school.

izabella-iwcWhen I joined my husband, who had been appointed ambassador in Bucharest four years ago,
 one of the events I organised was a presentation to 
the wives of other ambassadors of the work of an outstanding Polish woman of the 20th century. I also invited members of the steering committee of the IWC in Bucharest, and this was how my work and adventure with the IWC began. After this, I twice organised a charity bazaar, and continued to work in a charity group.

Two years ago this February when I came here, I
 did not have a full time job and had some spare time,
so I joined a non-formal Polish club, which organised
a breakfast meeting once a month. I also invited the wives of ambassadors and IWC members. After one year I was asked to become the President of the IWC. I knew nothing about how to be a president, and the situation was not easy because our steering committee then had only four people with any experience, and only three other people. There were a lot of empty places. It is different now; all the places are full!

Please outline the IWC’s main activities.

Izabella. The main goal of our club is to promote friendship between women of different countries. It’s very important for us. The second goal is to raise money for charity. This is a challenge, after one year in the job
 I at least know what I want to do. My idea is to unify people, but also to stress identity. The first thing I did when I became president was to re-organise our general meetings. We started to hold meetings in embassies, in galleries, in museums, in hotels. Every general meeting has its theme, but beyond that it is important that we women get together, it is important to have the chance to exchange information and emotions. So, for example I organised a general meeting in the Polish embassy. To underline the identity of Poland, the main concert of 
the evening was a performance of Chopin’s music, but to underline the international nature of the evening, we also had a French composer.

It is wonderful to be able to help new arrivals in Moscow, people who have come to a new country,
 to a new city, to be with new people. We help them get to know Russian culture better. The ‘unify but not standardise’ idea is also very important in our work
 in the steering committee. It’s not easy to work only with women, particularly when they are from different countries, because everyone has her own vision of the club and culture, also of communication, of expressing emotions. I try to bring these women together, but always come back to the same general principal.

sonia-iwcSonia: This is something that Izabella has done extremely well. I have been working with the steering committee for one year. I remember when I arrived, that there although were many new members, nobody knew each other. It was not easy to see what the right role was for every person, but Izabella has done that and more. Her appointment has been a great success for this club.

I’d like to add that the official reason why the club came into existence in 1978, was to facilitate the organisation of activities. It was actually GlavUpDK, a branch of the Soviet Ministry of Foreign Affairs which aided the creation of the club. With Moscow being a major world capital where so many diplomats were posted, it was only right that this sort of club, which acted to support the embassies in the same way that similar organisations did abroad, should be allowed to exist. We started getting involved in charity work much later, because at the time the official line was that there was no need for charity in the Soviet Union, because the government was taking care of all the needs of all the people. It was only in 1991 after the system completely changed, that charities were added to the club. Now we saw a way that we could give something back to Russia.

How do you choose the charities?

Izabella: We have two steering committees. One covers general issues such as what to spend money on; what to organise; what projects we should plan for and so on. The other committee is the charity committee. This has a very stable group of members, specialists 
in the charity field. They are aware of what charities 
are doing what here. If a new charity wants to apply for our help, they have to fill in an extensive form, and are visited by a three-person delegation to verify the application, and if we feel that donating money is appropriate we go ahead and back that charity. Once a year we have an audit. We have a very strict accountant. She knows how to make all of us economise on everything and spend the money very effectively!

How do you find people to be on the steering committees?

Izabella: It works by word of mouth. I am approached by many people at almost every function that I attend – it is really fantastic – who ask if there 
is any way that they can help. I would also like to
add that when I became the president, I didn’t know how much money we raised for charity. Ninety per cent of the money we collect is given to charity, and seventy per cent of this is given to charities which help children, and the rest to charities which help the elderly and disabled people. Ten per cent goes on all the administrative expenses that we have to spend to hold our meetings and get people together, but this is very strictly controlled. We raise money thanks to our two main charity fund-raising activities which are the Charity Bazar and the Embassies of the World Dinner and Ball.

Please tell us more about the Bazaar.

Izabella: The winter bazar is our main charity fund- raising project which generates the most money for our charity events. It has become established and is well known; almost a brand in itself. It is a one-day event, held at the Slavyansky hotel. Last year we had over 4,000 visitors which included some members of the staff of more than 60 embassies. So it very important for me for example to maintain good contacts with the embassies.

Sonia: One of the reasons why the event is such
 a success is because it is supported by so many embassies who contribute food and craft items which you simply cannot buy in Moscow most of the time. Over the years it has become known that you have
 this amazing event just before Christmas where you can buy for very reasonable prices a huge variety of goods. Each national group invites members of their own community to attend. Most of the people who attend are the wives of expats. These are people who are generally established in their own way, and this 
is one reason why it is interesting for sponsors to be present at the event. They are able to advertise directly or indirectly. We have a master of ceremonies to make sure that the event runs smoothly. It runs from 9 or 10am in the morning through until 6pm in the evening and basically it is full all the time, because there is always one or other programme happening. We have music, dancing, a room for children etc.

iwcIs the embassy ball event held every year?

Izabella: Yes, every year. The preparations start in June, in fact we recently sent out the first letters to the ambassadors. In September we send out a letter to sponsors. I think the ball is important, it’s a way of saying thank you to everybody, but it is also a charity fund raising event in it’s own right. We want to invite more Russians, after all, we are in Russia. The ball consists of two parts. It’s a dinner, so this provides an opportunity for people who are not connected with the diplomatic world to meet various ambassadors over a meal. Secondly, it’s a ball.
 I don’t think I will be telling any secrets if I say that we have already decided this year to do something special to mark the club’s 35th anniversary. We want to present different dances from around the world such as the Tango, Polka, Waltz, Samba and many others. To do this, we need the support of the embassies, but I think that everybody in the club feels that this is going to be something special, there is a sparkle in people’s eyes when we talk about the programme.