The Blandin Foundation has long showcased cutting-edge ideas in rural Minnesota, and on Wednesday, it will have some unusual visitors to impress.
A group of Russian leaders, here as part of a Russia-U.S. innovation conference, will head north on a tour spearheaded by foundation public policy director Bernadine Joselyn.
Joselyn is perhaps the only foundation official in Minnesota whose career trajectory included being a U.S. State Department diplomat in Moscow. Her skills will be put to use, as the tour introduces foreign visitors to everything from raising algae for energy production to accommodating autonomous governments within national borders — such as the Fond du Lac Indian Reservation.
“Innovation and entrepreneurship in rural places is a powerful story for these Russian visitors who, like us, want to support local leadership beyond their capital city,” said Joselyn.
Russia has limited experience in the nonprofit and philanthropy world. The tour will highlight the many ways those sectors help solve challenges, ranging from business opportunities to youth development.
The delegation is in St. Paul this week as part of a U.S.-Russia innovation conference that is bringing together companies, universities and nonprofits to share best practices and explore ways to strengthen U.S.-Russian trade, investment and research.
The conference was initiated by Minnesota Secretary of State Mark Ritchie, who invited Joselyn to take the outstate lead. Sponsors range from FedEx to 3M to the Eurasia Foundation.
The Blandin trip is the only outstate tour offered to foreign visitors. A tour of the nonprofit Natural Resources Research Institute in Duluth will reveal methods for processing birch bark — abundant in Russia — for use in soap, cosmetics, shampoos and more.
At Fond du Lac, visitors will learn the foundation’s role in supporting broadband initiatives to link the reservation to the global economy and provide for youth leadership options.
Said Joselyn: “This is citizen diplomacy.”