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Regular version of the site

‘The Volunteer Centre Started on My Windowsill at Home’

Anfisa Dmitrieva on the initial recruitment of volunteers, service learning and projects you can get involved in right now

© Daniil Prokofyev/ HSE University

A year ago, the Volunteer Centre opened at HSE University. Anfisa Dmitrieva, Manager of the Student Initiative Support Centre and Head of the Volunteer Centre, joined members of her team to speak with HSE University Life about the types of volunteering that have appeared since then, what volunteering gives to students, and how to start doing good deeds by doing something that is interesting.

Anfisa Dmitrieva
Head of the Volunteer Centre, HSE University

‘We need volunteers right now’

It didn't start the way I thought it would. When I returned to HSE University from the VERA Hospice Charity Fund, I planned to develop corporate volunteering at the University. I had a whole strategy of how we would prepare offline events, I discussed it with my colleagues, and then... The pandemic began, and our plans changed completely in just one day. It was a real challenge for me.

Because of the lockdown, elderly people couldn’t leave their homes. They needed help with having medicines delivered, food and simple human company. One day they called me and said: ‘We need volunteers right now’.

This was how we started offering foreign language classes for older people together with the Centre for Local Community Relations. By the way, just recently we passed along a group of older men and women who are already fluent in English and French to our foreign students so that they could continue studying at a more advanced level.

Read more

Sangam Kumar Singh speaks about joining HSE University’s volunteer initiative

The Volunteer Centre started on my windowsill at home. Back then I worked 11-12 hours a day: I woke up (already at my workplace), put my laptop on the windowsill and off we went — emails, calls, training, planning... Everyone around me was at a loss and didn’t know what to do, and I had to build processes from scratch, find and coordinate people, with almost no volunteer base at the time.

Nyuta Federmesser's lecture at HSE University
Nyuta Federmesser's lecture at HSE University
Mikhail Dmitriev

Now we have about 600 people in our team, including HSE University students from different campuses, staff, alumni and lyceum students. There is one active young female volunteer from St. Petersburg; we have never seen each other, but we are constantly in touch — that is very valuable!

In addition to the older generation support project, this year we started helping schoolchildren with their studies, teenagers from boarding schools (together with the Step Up charity foundation), and children in difficult life situations (jointly with the Under the Flag of Kindness’ charity foundation). We also recruited digital volunteers to help students and employees with the transition to distance learning.

Maria Nazarova

2nd year, Bachelor’s Programme in Business Administration

I remember how excited I was to get a message in the general volunteer chat that help was needed to put together HSE Student Handbooks for first-year sudents. Despite the amount of work (and we were dealing with them for 2 days until late in the evening), we had such fun and a great time at the Atrium at Pokrovka. At some point I just caught myself thinking that I wanted to help. That's where it all started.

I can note two important projects for me this year: helping veterans with lunch deliveries (when restrictions started to be lifted, not everyone dared to leave their flat) and helping schoolchildren with their homework. Apart from that, from time to time I am involved in supporting various events and meetings. I really like the atmosphere at the Volunteer Centre: you go there with an open heart and feel a sense of community with people you may not even know personally.

‘Volunteering provides an opportunity to participate in events that are not always easy to get to’ 

Today, offline events are finally coming back into our lives, so the Centre's main area of focus is event volunteering. We are actively looking for volunteers for the HSE University Open House, the April Conference, the Association of Global Universities meeting and other landmark events this spring, both inside and outside the University.

We have a formal agreement with Mosvolunteer, and they provide us a number of offers to participate in events. We discuss many of these in our group on VK.

Volunteering provides an opportunity to participate in events that are not always easy to get to. For example, last August our volunteers helped at the ArMI-2020 international festival of military equipment. The workload was intense, but the guys came back absolutely delighted!

Volunteers at the HSE Open House — 2021
Volunteers at the HSE Open House — 2021

The Association of Volunteer Centres recently sent us an action plan for this year, and there are some cool sporting events abroad. I really hope they take place in person and we can send students there.

We also set up partnership meetings with various NGOs. I still have a warm contact with the VERA Hospice Charity Fund, which often comes to us and our good student organizations to give lectures. In November we had a meeting with the fund’s founder, Nuyta Federmesser, where we discussed the topic of palliative care. It resonated strongly with the students.

Yulia Vedenina

2nd Year, Bachelor’s Programme in Urban Planning

I started my volunteering journey even before I entered the University in order to earn extra points for admission, as clichéd as that sounds.

Acquaintances who had volunteered at the FIFA World Cup told me that it was incredible. And then I started looking for where to recruit volunteers for city events in Moscow. My first experience at sporting events left me with the warmest emotions: getting to know a huge number of people, interacting with athletes, being able to watch competitions, along with many other discoveries. Since then, I have been a regular volunteer at events for three years now and I have enjoyed every one of them.

When I got into HSE University, I immediately started to discover whether there was a similar volunteer organisation here. There actually turned out to be a few. I took part in various events and all of them were very interesting. For a student, volunteering is an opportunity to attend many University events as an organiser, one might say: to learn many details of their inner self, feel part of the team, communicate with other students and University guests, take a break from studying and develop useful skills.

‘The knowledge you gain in the classroom can be applied to help the community’

Another big goal for us is introducing Service Learning into the educational process, where a student can, in the process of volunteering, improve precisely those competencies that they develop in lectures and seminars. This model is very popular in many foreign universities.

We plan to have a more active dialogue with faculties so that students can try their hand in areas related to their educational plan. After all, the knowledge you gain in the classroom can be applied to help society.

For example, we are now concluding an agreement with Russia’s State Historical Museum to send volunteers who are interested in history to the museum's exhibitions and events.

Whether volunteering should always be rewarded with credits is still under discussion. I am convinced that the main reward for volunteers is the joy and drive of helping someone, trying something out, finding like-minded people and expanding your network of contacts. 

Volunteers at the HSE Open House — 2021
Volunteers at the HSE Open House — 2021

‘The hardest thing this year has been convincing myself that it's impossible to help everyone’

Every day the Volunteer Centre receives more and more calls from various organizations asking for help. On the one hand, this is great — we are known and needed — but on the other hand, we have to prioritize. So probably the hardest thing for me this year has been convincing myself that it is impossible to help everyone, no matter how much I would like to.

Yesterday I received a phone call from an elderly man (I don't know how he got my phone number), who asked for help with basic computer science to download the topographical maps he needed from the internet. We don't provide targeted help, but I just couldn't bear to say ‘Sorry, I can’t’ and hang up. I started looking for centres near his home that would be able to help him, and now I wonder how he is, if he called, whether he managed to resolve his issue. From time to time the desire to help everyone can be excessive and I stop myself.

It is difficult to build these boundaries, but you can only do what you have the resources to do now. That's why I always say to volunteers: ‘If you suddenly realize that you can’t participate in a project due to studies, illness, personal reasons, just tell us about it and we will find a replacement.’ Volunteering is voluntary help that a person gives free of charge, and it should not be done unwillingly.

An important message I always try to convey to event organizers and our partners is that a volunteer is not free labour. A volunteer should be treated with respect and gratitude. It's not right to give them work that they haven't agreed to do in the first place — you always have to be specific about what they are helping you with. A volunteer helps you simply because they have the time and inclination. Thank him or her, and at least thank them like a human being.

Nyuta Federmesser's lecture at HSE University
Nyuta Federmesser's lecture at HSE University
@Mikhail Dmitriev

Where do I start if I want to help?

First of all, you need to understand what you want to do and how much time you are willing to spend on it. You should answer these questions of yourself first and then in the ‘I want to become a volunteer’ questionnaire. Choose one or more areas (helping the elderly, participating in events, advising schoolchildren, working in a call centre, etc.) and wait for the Volunteer Centre's email. If you haven't yet decided what you want to do, we will send you different projects that need volunteers and you can apply for what you like.

I also recommend checking out the portal of the Nuzhna pomosh (Need for Help) Foundation — it publishes projects to support children, people with special needs, animals, etc. This will help you see the whole range of good causes in which you can involve yourself outside the University.

And, of course, be sure to get to know the student charities at HSE University — HSE Outreach, Open Your Eyes, Best Buddies — they have lots of cool projects waiting for volunteers.

What to read and watch about volunteering


  1. Éric-Emmanuel Schmitt ‘Oscar and the Lady in Pink’
  2. Roman Maslennikov ‘Volunteer Diary’
  3. Yevgeny Kosovskikh ‘The other medicine. The story of a doctor who saves those who have no one else to help’
  4. Hannah Brencher ‘If you find this letter…My journey to find purpose through hundreds of letters to strangers’ 
  5. Cynthia Lord ‘Rules. No toys in the fish tank’


  1. ‘1+1’ (2011)
  2. ‘The diving bell and the butterfly’ (2007)
  3. LisaAlert ‘Nespokoynoy Nochi’ (Not Goodnight) Series (2020)
  4. ‘Korczak’ (1990)
  5. "#Yavolunteer. Stories of people who care’ (2018)

To become a volunteer

April 19, 2021