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Ruben Vardanyan

social investor

On the future, isms, Moscow and three types of self-evaluation

On the Noôdome community
I don’t like the word “club” when it comes to Noôdome: I’d rather say “community.” We’re all very influenced by associations, and the word “club” conjures up either a stuffy English club where everyone wears dinner jackets and you can’t talk loudly or a crowded nightclub where everyone’s dancing and having a good time.

With Noôdome, we’re talking about a contact point: a place where there’s collaboration happening between completely different cultural, social and economic groups in one space and where people who want to change the world for the better come together on interesting projects at the intersections between culture, business and many other fields.
If I took a passive approach I could teach at a university or relax and write my memoirs
Integrating diversity
My dream is to have an integration point right in the centre of Moscow, in Romanov Dvor. It will be similar to the one we created at our educational cluster at the Dilijan college in Armenia, where children from more than eighty countries are studying or like Troika Dialog was in its day, drawing together and creating an investment, financial and business community in Russia. It’s really all about same thing – how to integrate diversity while remembering that we’re all very different, and how to find points that link us.

I’m convinced that it’s joint projects that will be responsible for the success of a space like this, because in the twenty-first century capital is not what’s most important. In industrial society, capital was the foundation of everything. In the twenty-first century, the age of ‘talentism,’ people will be key. Business start-up costs – I’m not talking about resource rent but about new businesses – have fallen from $5 million to $500,000. That is, while there is such inflation and the money supply is growing, money plays a smaller role in success than it did before. This means that having a concentration of bright, creative, and interesting people who come up with things together will be key.

This is exactly the role that the community we’re forming should play and I hope that all the projects – social, commercial and philanthropic as well as public – will happen specifically at places where people connect; I hope that by mixing they will find some interesting common themes. It’s one of the aims of a space like this that people will be able to find kindred spirits among those they least expected to: poets among engineers and businesspeople among architects. For this, it will be important to have the right facilities as well as interpreters and translators who will help people hear and understand each other. If there is trust within this space, there will be less of the misunderstanding that can happen even when people speak the same language.
On Moscow and its energy
Moscow is a huge megacity. There’s a fantastic concentration of resources here and they’re not just political – they’re also economic and physical. It’s a huge city on a world scale. We don’t always recognize this as we should, but for a megacity like this the social environment is a key one. For me it’s always been important that Moscow is more than just the political and business centre of Russia. It’s absorbed all the very best of the cultural and social scene because these things can’t live without each other.

In this sense it’s very important for Moscow to have the dynamism of a contemporary cultural and social centre of Russia. For me the creation of places such as the Polytechnic Museum and GES-2 is very significant. These are symbolic projects, because they are entry points to the energy in the centre of Moscow – not just for political or business projects but for social and cultural ones too; these are playing an equally important role in the twenty-first century, and perhaps an even greater one. The opportunity for cross-over between business, technology, art and philosophy is extremely important.
On kindred spirits and working in isolation
I’ve never believed that one person can change everything. However, it’s a different story if that person brings a number of kindred spirits together around an interesting idea; that’s when unique projects happen. All our projects – the Aurora Humanitarian Initiative, the projects in Armenia and Russia such as Philgood and PHILIN, for example, the SKOLKOVO business school and the Atlanta business forum which Mikhail Voronin and I run – are about work that’s done together with a lot of people who think the same way. This work changes the environment and area – more in some places than others. Sometimes the effect is local, sometimes it’s large-scale.
Online versus offline
The effect of the pandemic is very interesting: on the one hand we’ve all ended up isolated in our own homes, which is strange, but on the other, thanks to Zoom and Skype it’s suddenly been possible to bring together people from all round the world.

During the pandemic many people have basically become aware of how dependent we are on what happens in China and the United States. In this sense the pandemic has played a few tricks on us. Firstly, we’ve grasped how dependent we are on what happens globally. Secondly, we’ve recognized the importance of our families and communicating with them. Thirdly, we’ve suddenly discovered that the online is a good thing and convenient but that it doesn’t quite meet all our needs. Ultimately, it’s obvious that there needs to be a balance between the online and the offline. I think the balance will change sharply: online will account for about 60-70% of what we do but definitely not 100%. People will need offline experiences that are very specific – not just restaurants where you go and socialize with your friends but somewhere where you feel secure in the widest sense of the word: part of this is about the atmosphere and the chance to meet with people you feel comfortable with. On the whole, the world will become more polarized and the number of people with extreme points of view will increase. In that sense isolation and integration will run in parallel with each other.
“Isms” that divide the world
I’m still in favour of trying to integrate rather than divide. Throughout the thirty years I’ve worked in business, I’ve been engaged in trying to integrate Russia into the international arena. You know, we used to have a joke when people asked why Troika Dialog had such a strange name. I used to say it was very simple: in a dialogue between two people, you need a third person who will help them understand each other. You need an intermediary between people who need money and people who have it, who can bring them together.

I’m completely convinced that despite the trends of the last few years the long-term existence of the world and of the Earth in general will be impossible if iron curtains – physical or virtual – come down again and divide the world into “isms.” It doesn’t matter whether it’s capitalism or socialism, as it was in the twentieth century, or other “isms” – technological, religious or some other kind. It seems to me that with the number of people we have in the world today and with the technological development and weapons that we have, this is simply impossible.
On his attitude to life
If I took a passive approach and didn’t care what was going on, I could teach at a university or relax and write my memoirs. I could probably have decided to relax for the next ten years and write my memoirs without worrying about anything else. But since I’ve got a proactive approach, I realize that it’s better to take a proactive stance here than somewhere else where it might seem a little easier.
I’m living a very full life today, trying to do everything I can to make the world better. If I’m wrong then at least I won’t regret it, because I won’t have been sitting here tearing my hair out or getting depressed. I’m trying to do something positive, even if it’s infinitesimally small. In this sense I get a lot of pleasure from life, because I look at the agenda positively. I am worried about what’s happening in the world, in Russia and Armenia, about what’s happening in the region, and with technology – with everything. I do worry, but it would be very hard to live if I just worried and thought about how terrible things were going to be.
Social, commercial, philanthropic and public projects will all happen specifically at places where people connect
Three systems of self-evaluation
I must say that my father taught me one very important thing that sometimes plays a nasty trick on me. Still, it helps me not to compare myself to anyone else, because there are three ways of evaluating what you do. What you do is compare yourself against the past and see whether you’ve become better over the last year. The second system of evaluation involves comparing yourself to others and asking whether you are better or worse than them; this gives you the motivation to catch them up and overtake them. With the third you have an absolute standard that you strive for. You know you’ll never achieve it in your life, but that doesn’t matter from the point of view of what’s around you. The main thing is that you know what the highest quality is, whether it’s beauty, proportion, or love.
My father was an architect, and in that profession it’s very difficult; your aspiration is unattainable. You understand that you’ll never achieve it, but there’s the advantage that you’ll never compare yourself with anyone else. My father was a very rigid person, but my mother was very open. The combination of these two individuals allowed me to absorb my father’s rather long-term view without being as rigid as he was.
On the world in twenty-five years’ time
I can’t picture the future twenty-five years from now. What I say is simply this: If today we have a, then b, c, d and e will follow. If there’s red, there will be blue, black and yellow. That is, there is a sequence of reasoning. Let’s say I suppose that if technological polarization leads to a tech war between China and the United States and we’re going to live with further polarization then a chain of events will probably lead to a space station being built that ten thousand people will live on. These space stations will orbit the Earth, and people will be living under communism on them. Everyone else will be working on the Earth in more complicated and probably harsher conditions.

Futurology is about understanding what doesn’t exist at the moment. You’re imagining a completely different model, which does not yet exist. I’m more interested in what this model will lead to if it develops. That’s a completely different level of abstraction; it’s the level of ideas. I don’t know if we’ll fly in drones, if we’ll have helicopters, or whether taxis will be driverless, but I understand that we’ll move towards a society where the divide between different groups of people is harsher than before, because polarization is happening in different areas. What this is leading to is also clear because it’s happened before, historically.
The role of the state
I’m not a libertarian who believes that the state is an evil. I believe it has an important place. The state needs to be smaller than it is today, but it plays an important role. It’s important for the state to have special forces and to think about the national interest and national security. At the same time, it’s essential to have a private sector that can focus on developing and doing what it does best in its own fields. This is possible in many sectors in Russia. Generally speaking, a sensible balance between the state and the private sector is a pillar of success in any country.
Preserving the human race
The world in general is becoming worse and not better from the point of view of living standards, life expectancy and so on, and from the point of view of fundamental humanitarian values and the existence of key imperatives. Humans are important and unique creatures who are in fact destroying themselves and the world around them. Recognizing the importance of what’s going on around us and taking responsibility for it is therefore a crucial part of preserving our planet.

I’m thoroughly convinced that the human race will inevitably have to come to an understanding that this world hasn’t been given to us to use as we please. We are a tiny part of the Earth’s ecosystem; we play an important role in it and we could be responsible for unleashing destruction not just on ourselves, but on everything that lives on the planet.
Продюсер:  Марина Васильцова
Редакторы:  Антон Маняшин, Иван Николаев
Интервьюеры:  Татьяна Арно, Антон Желнов
Фотограф:  Владимир Васильчиков
Стилист:  Каролина Трактина
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Xenia Frank
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Artem Filatov