You were once named “a hero of the #EqualGame campaign.” What does the word “hero” mean to you?
It means that I am a symbol. Though, I don’t entirely like the word „hero”. I think of myself as a magnet for like-minded people. I try to be visionary and share my vision with other educators, parents and coaches in Ukraine and abroad.
Your organization, League of Tolerance, has many initiatives going on. Can you tell us more about what you do?
O.F.: For the past 4 years, I’ve been CEO and I focus on events related to social education of people. We mainly work through sports and focus on democratic participation and entrepreneurship. One of our campaigns, a project for human rights, is recognized as one of the 16 best global practices by Beyond Sports Award in reducing inequalities in sports! As part of another campaign, Young Parents Young Empowerment, we help young fathers and mothers organize business and entrepreneurship while supporting them in active parenthood. These are just a few examples. Wherever we see a problem or place for growth, we try to act. If there’s still an unidentified group that lacks guidance, we want to facilitate their development, talk them through challenges, and simply be of help.
Even though it’s not always about the numbers, you clearly are helping a great number of people through the abundance of projects!
We have a good team of 18 people, fully dedicated to the cause, who are responsible for different projects. However, we are all volunteers. There is no regular salary. Most of us have day jobs outside the League. I work as a lawyer, but we also have designers, accountants, people from IT. It is a good base to further develop our organization. Weekly it is roughly 10 hours of work for each of us. It is all that’s needed to develop a pro bono organization with real-life effects in our community – not only in Ukraine, but also on the European level. We have started several projects in Italy, Spain and even Switzerland.
How has it all started for you?
I was born and raised in Donetsk and I became a refugee in my own country once the military conflict with Russia started in 2014. The professional term for that is „internally displaced person”. Me and my wife (who was pregnant with our first son then) had to move 7 years ago. We now live in Ivano-Frankivsk.
Living through such a terror – it must have had an impact on you and your work.
The situation required me to adapt quickly. Before, I was a businessman, going after profit and reputation. But it has all changed. My whole perspective is different now. Working for a charity, even as a volunteer, you have various roles and responsibilities. Sometimes you are a leader, sometimes a manager, and sometimes – a coach. It suited me well – that variety of roles and dynamic work environment. A person who wants to work in this field needs a willingness to develop and learn. Otherwise it’s nearly impossible to pursue this path. What’s most important, in my opinion, is setting a good example to the youth. Nowadays, we have a significant number of female leaders and coaches who can prove younger generations that women do and can achieve amazing things! We create mixed teams, enriching the communication and educational factors.
It’s not only gender equality you strive for, but also cultural awareness, isn’t it?
Yes! I try my best to invite coaches and entrepreneurs from abroad, sometimes they’re from neighboring countries, from Eramus+ participators, but also further places. It helps kids to understand that we are all equal despite our differences. Recently we had two female football and badminton coaches from Turkey. A female softball coach from the USA also worked with the League of Tolerance.
You were selected for the International Visitor Leadership Program in 2020. Can you tell us a bit about your experience?
It was the first time I took part in such a global project. There were participants from all over the world, almost all continents. It was a great opportunity to network. I am hoping to invite some people I’ve met through the IVLP to our projects and activities. It would be amazing if people from many continents could take part! At the IVLP we had amazing and inspiring speakers during our online workshops and meetings. They all introduced us to their respective cities, local traditions, music, communities and projects – and – most importantly – their areas of expertise. It was a very good experience.
Tell us what you find most important and rewarding in your work.
Young people’s smile! Whenever we can create a situation of growth – it is a job well done. Sport and physical activity are good for them – no matter whether they are athletes, artists or scientist. Playing in mixed-gender groups or with kids with disabilities – too. We teach them about bullying and how important empathy and cooperation are. Being able to serve keeps me going. It’s not rewarding in the same way as working for a huge company, earning big money. But you will have satisfaction because your community and environment will be more resilient and more confident.
What do you think we, as a society that raises future generations, should focus more on?
In my opinion we shouldn’t think of it as „creating” or „shaping” future generations. We tend to think that minorities or people with disabilities need our help. But this is a wrong approach, very disrespectful of their abilities. It would be more beneficial to be their friends, but don’t pressure them into relations. We have to understand their circumstances and, step by step, earn their trust. Seeing a problem and deciding to solve it won’t work until we are welcome to help. You need to know if someone actually wants to accept your help and if they don’t – you need to respect it. So, we, as a society, should focus more on understanding each other and being there for each other. Teach about boundaries, listening and respect.
A word of advice for the young people who will be reading this?
My advice is very simple – everything you do should give you pleasure and joy. Even if your parents tell you to do something, try to convince you to pursue “success” and profit – remember that first, we need to take care of our mental health. That starts with our joy of living. Your work should resonate with your heart. Even if you settle for something small, no matter what others say, you always deserve respect for whatever you do that makes you happy!
To see more of Oleksandr at work you can watch this video and experience yourself the change he makes in his community.
Oleksandr Fomichov is the CEO of League of Tolerance – a Ukrainian NGO, whose main aim is to make a positive social change through sport. First, he trained and worked as a lawyer. In 2014 he needed to move with his family from Donetsk after the military conflict broke out. Nowadays he combines his lawyer job with volunteering as a youth mentor and social activist.
Photos: Courtesy of Oleksandr Fomichov