The discussion in the “City” hall at Startup Village went far beyond the establishment of the innovation city and touched upon the most important aspect of the Skolkovo ecosystem – people, each of us.

Igor Zadorin, a famous Russian sociologist, head of the research group “Zircon”, and Oleg Alexeev, vice president and head managing director for education and research of the Skolkovo Foundation, had a conversation about Skolkovo’s identity, development of Skolkovo’s community, and other issues which one way or the other concerns probably all participants of the Skolkovo ecosystem without exception. The beginning of this conversation was the session “City for Innovation or How to establish a creative environment at Skolkovo” which took place in the “City” hall at Startup Village.

Oleg Alexeev gives a speech at Startup Village 

During a speech about his research on the Skolkovo community, Igor Zadorin, head of the research group “Zircon”, put forward a number of quite crtical questions, and defined the key topics of this conversation. Oleg Alekseev answered the sociologist, talking about the solutions that the Foundation has already prepared. He also described the roadmap that will most probably be followed during the process of creating the ecosystem, including very sensitive questions about relations within the Skolkovo community. The question which Igor Zadorin touched upon during his speech, was the following:

I.Zadorin: Is it necessary to build all objects on the territory of Skolokovo rapidly? Do we actually know at this moment what a person who’ll be living on the territory of Skolkovo really wants?

O. Alexeev: This is a good question. Not only Igor Zadorin, but also our colleagues from the Netherlands, KVD company, whom we consulted with on the main principles of community formation, would tell us that. In the first place, we can only talk about an established society when it starts reproducing itself. In our case we are talking about the timeline of about 2030-2035. It is absolutely clear that by that time Skolkovo will bet that which today the project represents only through its symbolic projects and objectives.

From the presentation of one of the winning projects of residential sector in Skolkovo

A lot will happen by that time. Most importantly the people will change at Skolkovo. By that time the innovation city will acquire all its features in relation to types of activities, relationships between people, with an understanding of which professional competencies are needed. People will also clearly understand by that time what living and working at Skolkovo will offer them, a corporate spirit at Skolkovo will be formed, being passed not only by the word of mouth but also from one person to another.

I. Zadorin: In order for this society to develop dynamically, it is necessary for it to be able to influence the physical environment. If people living at Skolkovo are not able to influence the formation of the city in any way, to change the urban environment, they will never consider Skolkovo to be their own.

Igor Zadorin, head of the Research Center “Zircon” gives a speech in the “City” hall at Startup Village 

O. Alexeev: That’s fair enough. But in fact due to many reasons we don’t have to worry about this now. First, Skolkovo’s territory will be free from buildings for quite a long time, there will be no fast construction here. Another thing is what we will actually allow people to do. And also how we will design and construct our buildings, and whether it will be possible to alter them later. This means that a priori they must be arranged in such a way that it’s possible to use them for different functions. That’s why today we talk about multifunctional and interdisciplinary buildings. In key objects, such as the university, technopark, cultural and administrative center, school, family campus, this multi-functionality is naturally already taken into account. And even that diversity which we envisage and start today, can be altered and supplemented with time.

Before the beginning of the session: “City for Innovations” is the main topic of the hall   

I. Zadorin: There is a factor of the so called “dichotomy” between corporate structures with their vertical hierarchy and communities (with horizontal connections and means of self-government), with objective contradictions lying at the basis of this dichotomy. It is necessary to find a balance between them with the aim, as said by a sociologist, of “creating a functioning society” (i.e. a society which is united by the idea of reaching a certain aim).

O. Alexeev: First of all I would like to mark that for us a professional unity is the priority, the common aim of doing business, and only then the unity through the place of residence. De facto it happened like this: when construction of Skolkovo began, we thought that we will have work places and residences appearing simultaneously. Now we see that jobs will be created with a considerable lead compared to the residential construction. The question is whether it’s good or bad. If you look at the experience of those countries where such centers are created as an important part of the city infrastructure, everywhere jobs are created first – and then residences.

From the presentation of a winning project of the residential sector in Skolkovo

Yes, residential sector is no less important. But in our system of “functioning society” residence turns out to be secondary. It is important to form the professional core first. And then this professional core will create, based on this infrastructure, that way of life which corresponds to its needs in the best way. If we had the possibility to form both residential and industrial infrastructure at the same time, you wouldn’t be able to predict which processes and what type of society would dominate then. And for us, I repeat, it is highly necessary to have the domination of the unity of creating innovations. Skolkovo is not a scientific center or a university campus after all. And at the same time it is not a place where there are only offices or a place where large companies have built their research centers. And it’s not just a Moscow suburb. It is something else, not having a clear analogue in the existing theory and practice of city design. We will have to create a special place.

I. Zadorin compares the Skolkovo society with the social network where moderation is required. Participants of this “network” are talented, independent, creative, ambitious, and promising. He compared our people to protons. However, it is known that protons collide. Inner competition, jealousy, claims for leadership and other factors can become reasons for creation of such “power of repulsion” inside the Skolkovo community. The sociologist also cites an interesting fact: two thirds of professionals interviewed by “Zircon” who had any kind of connection to Skolkovo said that they found themselves most probably suitable for the Skolkovo society. At the same time they said that they didn’t know what this society was or whether it existed at all.

O. Alexeev: I think that those who will “repulse” too strongly will run the risk of leaving the Skolkovo orbit rather soon. And those who stay will become Skolkovo residents. For us cooperation is more important than “pupation”. And we will encourage in any way possible those who are ready to share their non-commercial research results with the society, to share it for free. I find this ability the main virtue of human life and human cooperation.

The question of co-existence, this is also the question of good team dynamics. For example, so far women comprise only 18% of the system (I’m talking not only about the Foundation here, but about the whole ecosystem, including the startups). So far everything we have done suits male ideology. At Skolkovo Open University we managed to break this tendency and the situation has considerably improved. The girls also got the possibility for growth, many of them are already working at our companies. Next: there are only about 10% of foreigners in our ecosystem now. But if we want to build an international center, we must have 20-25%. Of course the majority of people speak English here but this doesn’t guarantee the real international spirit.

It is clear that our community still hasn’t expressed very clear values. We do not have a mutual support system, internal communications are limited, office premises are organized in the open space style, but there is no genuine openness. We must start with the everyday life, with personal relationships. Our daily life is much more difficult, it is full of various nuances. We must be interesting to one another and not only as people who are strong and run fast but we must also stay interesting to on another after we have done the 100-meter sprint.