Agency for Strategic Initiatives and the Internet market in Russia

January 22, 2013
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President Putin recently stirred debate about his Agency for Strategic Initiatives, announcing on November 2012 that the agency will fund socially-oriented Internet projects to address social issues and create jobs for Russia’s “creative class.” These could include e-libraries, sites promoting civil initiatives, and online teaching.

Certain observers have grumbled that the cash is unlikely to be handed out fairly, while others think it runs against good business sense for bureaucrats, and not customers, to be bankrolling innovators. But Andrei Nikitin, the General Director of Agency for Strategic  Initiatives  (ASI) and a former  entrepreneur himself, is confident it’s what Russia needs and told Modern Russia it’s nearly ready to go operational, adding “after extensive discussions with the expert community in February-March 2013 this concept will be presented to the President of the Russian Federation.”

With the biggest Internet market in Europe, and a host of up and coming Internet entrepreneurs, Russia certainly has potential in the field, observers often point out. Visiting Moscow as part of his European Tech Tour in 2011, the Wall Street Journal Technology editor Ben Rooney commented: “The one message that came through loud and clear is that this is a great time to be setting up an Internet business in Russia.” The President Putin is also mindful of a need to lure talented Russians back to their homeland and reverse the “brain drain” that has seen many head Westwards to techie meccas like Silicon Valley.

Improving the business climate

But the ASI is not just Internet-focused, rather it’s part of a broader effort to improve the climate for entrepreneurship in Russia. Mr. Putin has set the government’s sights high, declaring that the country must pull itself up the World Bank “Doing Business” rankings from 120th place in 2011 to 50th by 2015 and 20th in 2018. Hence the appointment of Boris Titov as Business Ombudsman, the privatization drive and a string of other initiatives such as improving the criminal code as it relates to entrepreneurs.

ASI is tasked with creating favorable conditions for SMEs, in particular those in the innovation sector, which means working with the government to remove bureaucratic barriers and drawing up and submitting proposals on issues such as the labor market and professional education. It also collects, reviews and approves proposals by entrepreneurs for new business projects, providing the necessary russia_administrative support. The Agency is divided into three branches: New Business, Young Professionals, and Social Projects and the department of the partnership network development, each led by a professional.

Mr Nikitin describes ASI’s goal as being “to realize all the positive ideas coming from the public, and try to apply them in projects on federal and regional levels.”
 
Indeed, an important part of ASI’s work is the practice of “crowdsourcing” where a large number of people provide input remotely to a project: thousands of people fed ideas into the agency’s first roadmap and even more on the second. “We are completely open for any interesting proposals and we are trying to take all opinions into account,” Mr Nikitin said. 

Next steps…

  • In February 2013 ASI expects for the fund for initiatives in the Internet market to be completed.
  • This year ASI plans to launch the Global Education program, similar to initiatives in China and Kazakhstan, where students receive government funds to study abroad on the condition that they return to work in their home countries.
  • ASI is also planning to implement standards in the regions and to help in the attraction of investments to Russia, to help improve the position of the country in the World Bank’s Doing Business ranking and ASI expects President Putin’s goal of a top 20 placement by 2018 to be met.
     
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