Centre of Freedom

Centre of Freedom - educational project where rescued animals help to build beneficial and dynamic relationship between people and animals

Photo of Olga Sami
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I confirm that I am fully aware of the eligibility criteria and terms of the Purina BetterwithPets Prize and, based on its description, I am eligible to apply:

  • Yes, I’m eligible
  • Yes, I’m 18 years old or older

Should you be successful, please confirm your availability to attend:

  • Additional Skype interview(s) during the week of March 16-20th 2020
  • The Purina BetterwithPets Forum in Paris, on 3-4th of June 2020

Initiative's representative name

Jelena Verdi

Initiative's representative date of birth


Initiative's representative gender

  • Woman

Headquarters location: country

  • Russia

Headquarters location: city

Saint Petersburg

Where are you making a difference?


Website or social media url(s)

https://www.instagram.com/yasvoboden.fund https://iamfreefund.online https://svobodacenter.ru

Date Started


Focus Areas

  • Fostering emotional intelligence and behavioural competences
  • Promote inclusivity
  • Enhance physical activity and wellness
  • Re-imagining the role of pets in society

What is your current yearly budget for the initiative? If you are an idea stage, what early budget you would need to kick-off and run operations in your first year?

  • €50k - €100k

Organisation Type

  • nonprofit/NGO: an organisation that uses its resources to achieve a purpose outside of creating profit

1. Founding story: Share a story about the "Aha!" moment that led the founder(s) to get started or the story of how you saw the potential for this project to succeed.

"Centre of Freedom" is the result of many years of work of the Charity Trust "I am Free." The Trust already had a project since 2016 called the DOG-LESSON. This project is about educating children and teenagers across the country about animal care. The Trust trains volunteers and adapts animals for project. In 9 out of 10 cases, these dogs are from shelters. In May 2018, horse Gerald was rescued by the Trust, then underwent a rehabilitation course and subsequently then became the first Trust’s therapist horse: volunteers, their families and students came to visit him. This was the beginning of the rescue and rehabilitation project for the horses and the opening of the first humanitarian and educational centre in Russia.

2. The problem: What problem are you helping to solve?

The need for the Centre developed gradually and organically as it naturally had a place in society and is aimed at solving problems of animal cruelty in Russia by: providing a temporary or permanent shelters for horses and dogs, providing regular humanitarian education for children and teenagers, carrying out systematic work to prevent the exploitation of animals together with city and regional authorities.

3. Your solution: How are you planning to solve this problem? Share your specific approach.

The implementation of the project will contribute to the sustainable development of a humane society in Russia, every individual will have an understanding of the reasonable and careful treatment of other people around them, also the urban ecosystem and pets, as well as from young age they will be responsible for their actions in relation to their fellow citizens and wildlife . The need for the centre risen by a social request from the society and will be aimed at solving problems like animal cruelty: providing a temporary or permanent shelters for horses and dogs, providing humanitarian education for children and teenagers, carrying out systematic work with local authorities to combat the exploitation of animals and the provision of palliative care for those that are in need (jointly with other foundations). Regular educational work with the new generation and proposed ready-made solution to these problems being to the local authorities is the best way to eradicate the problems of inhumane treatment of animals.

4. Innovation: How are you innovating or using unique approaches to solve the problem?

The idea of the project is a partnership of a rehabilitation centre for animals (horses and dogs) and a centre for humanitarian education for children and teenagers. Since 2016, children have been showing a lot of interest for this sort of education and are happy to attend classes. At the moment the trust is leasing their land for the centre. The centre is located in a picturesque woodland area near St. Petersburg. The territory of the centre is about 2 hectares, which will house buildings for animals and premises where kids can come for a short course of cognitive classes at any time of the year. To become a student of the Centre, they just need to apply on the Trust’s website. All classes are free with the help of specialists.

5. How does your project harness the pet-human bond to help people develop important social competencies (For example: emotional intelligence, collaboration, empathy, resilience, inclusivity) and overcome serious societal issues (for example: violence, abuse, trauma, isolation, abandonment)?

The main secret of the centre is educating people about human and animal interaction. At the centre people will learn how to walk a dog, read their favourite book to dogs, or, together with an experienced volunteer, clean and feed horses, plant vegetables or create art installations from natural materials during holidays or weekends. This approach is innovative for Russia, but the Trust’s experience has proven it is worth it and it is working. Another innovative side of this project is plans to engage other Trusts. Hospices, nursing homes and other centres turn to join forces and create other similar projects and collaborate. The aim of all these projects will be to change attitude towards animals, to prevent animal cruelty.

6. Impact: how has your project made a difference so far in terms of both business outputs and social impact? How do you plan on measuring progress?

Since we have started this project we have managed to secure the land for the construction of the centre, signed up volunteers to work and organise jobs. A horse keeper, 2 groomers and a psychologist are working with horses. At the moment, the Trust already prepared teaching materials for the volunteers and developed an educational program. Dogs-therapists are working with their owner-volunteers. Since 2016, 530 lessons have been held in schools, 168 lessons and thematic lectures were held in children's libraries, plus there were more than 300 socio-psychological rehabilitation classes with children in psychological centres. In total, more than 9,000 children took part in the training events since we have started. The centre will triple this number in 2 years.

7. Growth strategies: what are your main strategies for scaling your impact?

Opening of such centre in the region will help local authorities to tighten control over illegal horse rental points or animal use and abuse for commercial purposes, this will introduce punitive measures and license their activities. The Trust is an expert of the Agency for Strategic Initiatives, and the project has been recognised as a leader in our industry. The director of the trust is a member of the public council under the government of St. Petersburg and working closely with the local authorities and have their support.

8. Creating shared value: How does your initiative create value for different stakeholders?

The main idea is that the state, businesses and NPOs can increase profits and increase competitiveness by jointly solving social problems. The common goal is to improve the emotional scene associated with attitude to animals in Russia and the world, a practical solution to the problem of keeping animals (shelter), the development of volunteerism, partnerships in the field of non-profit organisations (community programs with other foundations) and the creation of a humane society (activities with children ) The global goal of the project is to educate, environmental leaders of a new generation who will be able to take care of the planet in the future.

9. Financial sustainability plan: can you tell us about your plan to fund your project and how that plan will be sustainable in the short, medium, and long term?

At this stage, the trust implements the program at the expense of the financial costs of the trustees, grants from the local authorities and fundraising programs. In the future, the government of St. Petersburg will start allocating funds for the implementation of such programs for certain categories of citizens, in support of palliative care. In addition, we plan to carry on with our fundraising programs and plan to develop in the direction of a socially-oriented business, working in line with pro-profit.

10. Team: what is the current composition of your team (types of roles, qualifications, full-time vs. part-time, board members, etc.), and how do you plan to evolve the team’s composition as the project grows?

The team consists of the full time director. The Governing Board consists of 3 more individuals who are from marketing, business and media background. At the moment Trust also has 2 full time horse and 2 full time dog trainers. 3 full time educational psychologists, 4 full time generalist assistants and 2 full time managers. Trust also has a lot of registered volunteers that help part time as and when, professionals like solicitors and accountants assists trust as and when needed.

11. How do you plan to influence your field of work if you are a winner of this edition of the Purina BetterwithPets Prize?

Would you like your children to smile and be happy, breathe fresh air, enjoy life and have a good relationship with their mentors? This is our dream! And we also dream that animals that suffered from cruelty found their homes and being sheltered from cruelty in this world. Olga Vatomskaya, whose idea it was to create the Centre of Freedom project, decided that kids should have an ethical future and new opportunities. Olga created the project where the main mission is to educate children to look after themselves holistically and to take care of the world they live in, surrounding environment and everything alive. Together with Purinа, we can do more!

12. How did you hear about this challenge?

  • Social media


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