In Moscow, Modern Solutions For Working Mothers

Co-working centers with free childcare offer a lifeline to the business women of Moscow.

Coworking with child at Working Mommy
Coworking with child at Working Mommy
Anastasya Manuilova

MOSCOW – On paper, Russia is not a bad place to be a working mother. It has one of the most generous parental leave schemes in the world, with new mothers entitled to 70 days of leave before the birth of their child and 70 days after, at full pay. Further leave can be taken by either parent up until the child's third birthday, at 40 percent pay.

The state protects a mother's job for three years, and most women in Russia plan to care for their child for at least two years, recent research from the Romir Institute has found. What's more, while the gender pay gap in Russia is 22–27 percent – above the average for both the European Union and the OECD – there is no significant gap between the earnings of women who have children and those who don't.

Despite these protections, many Russian women still find themselves struggling after they have children. Some, particularly single mothers, find it difficult to get by on 40 percent of their full pay. They also struggle to get back to work.

I wanted to go on with my professional career as well as have time with my child.

There is a significant area in which Russian workplaces have not kept up with global trends: Only very few companies – around 5 percent – provide their employees with flexible hours or the opportunity to work from home. Nor is there a well-developed freelance sector in the country. This leaves mothers who want to work flexibly, rather than full time, with few options – a problem compounded by limited places in free, state-run childcare kindergartens. Private childcare is not popular in Russia, due to high costs and a lack of carers.

"On the one hand, there is state support, which (is) in many ways (a result of) inherited Soviet ideas about the importance of mothers' access to work," says Janna Chernova, a sociologist at the National Research University Higher School of Economics in Moscow. "On the other hand, neither the USSR nor the Russian Federation has ever promoted the idea of greater involvement of men in childcare. So in the Russian business sector – based on market logic requiring an effective employee to be one who is willing to work overtime – women with children immediately lose out to male colleagues, who have the opportunity to shift the functions of caring for children to their wives."

Olesya Kashaeva, a P.R. specialist from Moscow, experienced these challenges firsthand. "Many mothers don't want to come back to their usual work after having a child, because they are afraid that they won't manage both the child and the job time schedule," she says. "I was one of those who was not sure of their abilities in this situation. But I wanted to go on with my professional career as well as have time with my child."​

With Working Mommy, Russian mothers no longer need to choose between career and childcare — Photo: Working Mommy

Kashaeva decided to establish a foundation, called "Way Into Life," to help mothers on leave after the birth of a child to work out what they want to do with their careers. She struck on the idea of a co-working space for new mothers. "The idea … came to me with the birth of a second, younger son, who I had to take to work with me," she says. "It is not always possible to concentrate in such an environment, when the child is around. You can, of course, call a nanny to the child, and then work, but it is economically unprofitable. It turns out that co-working is the best way out."

Hence the main goal of her project, rebranded as "Working Mommy," was to give mothers space and time to work, by creating free co-working spaces with carers on hand to look after children.

The first space was created in 2012 in Moscow with the help of a grant of 1 million rubles ($14,000) from Russian charity Our Future. By 2017, there were 10 co-working spaces operating across the city.

"This year we will also start expanding into the regions. By the end of 2018, our co-working centers will be open in 35 Russian cities, from Vladivostok in the east to Almetyevsk in the south," Kashaeva says.

There are many co-working spaces with embedded childcare around the world, from London to Paris, Berlin and New York. But the difference with Working Mommy is that it is free.

"Free entrance is one of the main reasons for our popularity," Kashaeva says. "Originally we were thinking about taking some money for it, but then we understood that mothers who can pay for the co-working don't really need us."

She says that when opening a new co-working space, the foundation first contacts local government to negotiate the use of an existing free space. That way they only have to pay for the childcare workers – something they fund through grants, fees from corporate training they provide and the proceeds of an associated sewing center, where some mothers are hired to make tote bags for events.

If you are a mother, it is hard to catch up with trends.

In addition to the free space, Working Mommy also helps women acquire new skills, providing them with online and offline courses and master classes. After completing a course, a specialist from the foundation helps the mothers find a new job, which might better suit their lifestyle. The most popular courses are those that provide introductions to psychology, law and accountancy.

"I give consultations to around 30 mothers in a month," says Anna Larina, one of the career specialists at the foundation. "In general, most of them have a high level of education and are looking for a freelance or full-time job. Around one-third want to start their own business, often in a sphere of children's facilities."

This was the case for Ekaterina Syrina. She was working for a printing service in Moscow, when, while pregnant with her third child, she realized that having children was making it hard for her to get back to work. "In my industry, technologies change all the time, and if you are a mother, it is hard to catch up with trends and not lose qualifications," she says.

Syrina also felt that she wanted her work to be connected with children, so struck on the idea of opening a children's leisure center. "Specialists from Working Mommy helped me start this project in terms of getting sponsorship, space and essential documents. Now, after two years, I lead two centers in one of the neighborhoods of Moscow, visited by more than 300 people monthly," she says.

Kashaeva says that, every year, Working Mommy supports dozens of such startups.

"Mothers are great workers – they know how to plan time, they are hardworking and able to organize everything. But sometimes they just need a little help in finding their way in the modern professional world," she says.

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In Argentina, A Visit To World's Highest Solar Energy Park

With loans and solar panels from China, the massive solar park has been opened a year and is already powering the surrounding areas. Now the Chinese supplier is pushing for an expansion.

960,000 solar panels have been installed at the Cauchari park

Silvia Naishtat

CAUCHARI — Driving across the border with Chile into the northwest Argentine department of Susques, you may spot what looks like a black mass in the distance. Arriving at a 4,000-meter altitude in the municipality of Cauchari, what comes into view instead is an assembly of 960,000 solar panels. It is the world's highest photovoltaic (PV) park, which is also the second biggest solar energy facility in Latin America, after Mexico's Aguascalientes plant.

Spread over 800 hectares in an arid landscape, the Cauchari park has been operating for a year, and has so far turned sunshine into 315 megawatts of electricity, enough to power the local provincial capital of Jujuy through the national grid.

It has also generated some $50 million for the province, which Governor Gerardo Morales has allocated to building 239 schools.

Abundant sunshine, low temperatures

The physicist Martín Albornoz says Cauchari, which means "link to the sun," is exposed to the best solar radiation anywhere. The area has 260 days of sunshine, with no smog and relatively low temperatures, which helps keep the panels in optimal conditions.

Its construction began with a loan of more than $331 million from China's Eximbank, which allowed the purchase of panels made in Shanghai. They arrived in Buenos Aires in 2,500 containers and were later trucked a considerable distance to the site in Cauchari . This was a titanic project that required 1,200 builders and 10-ton cranes, but will save some 780,000 tons of CO2 emissions a year.

It is now run by 60 technicians. Its panels, with a 25-year guarantee, follow the sun's path and are cleaned twice a year. The plant is expected to have a service life of 40 years. Its choice of location was based on power lines traced in the 1990s to export power to Chile, now fed by the park.

Chinese engineers working in an office at the Cauchari park


Chinese want to expand

The plant belongs to the public-sector firm Jemse (Jujuy Energía y Minería), created in 2011 by the province's then governor Eduardo Fellner. Jemse's president, Felipe Albornoz, says that once Chinese credits are repaid in 20 years, Cauchari will earn the province $600 million.

The Argentine Energy ministry must now decide on the park's proposed expansion. The Chinese would pay in $200 million, which will help install 400,000 additional panels and generate enough power for the entire province of Jujuy.

The park's CEO, Guillermo Hoerth, observes that state policies are key to turning Jujuy into a green province. "We must change the production model. The world is rapidly cutting fossil fuel emissions. This is a great opportunity," Hoerth says.

The province's energy chief, Mario Pizarro, says in turn that Susques and three other provincial districts are already self-sufficient with clean energy, and three other districts would soon follow.

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