The Good Council: Annika Weis and Angelina Davydova


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Intro: Hello, and welcome to The Good Council, the podcast of the World Future Council. In each episode, we’ll highlight current challenges and policy solutions. And we’ll also take you on a journey of inspiring stories. Listen in to another of our intergenerational dialogues from around the globe.

Annika: Hello, everyone. My name is Annika, I’m working at the World Future Council. In this episode, I’m speaking with Angelina Davydova, a renowned journalist, civil society expert, educator, and changemaker with more than 20 years of experience in Russian and international media, international non-governmental organizations, think tanks, and academia. She is regarded as an expert in Russian climate and environmental policy, green civil society initiatives, and grassroots movements. She currently writes for publications such as Kommersant, the Thomson Reuters Foundation,, the Science Magazine, and she’s also the main editor of the journal Ecology and law.

Hello, Angelina, thank you so much for being here today with me, it is a real pleasure for me to speak with you and to get to know you a little bit better.

Angelina: Hello, Annika. And thank you for having me.

Annika: Because our listeners and readers probably don’t know you yet: I was just going to ask you if someone wrote a biography about you, what would it say who you are and where you come from?

Angelina: Well, I come from St. Petersburg, Russia, which was called Leningrad at the time that I was born. And I like making this joke saying that I was born in the city and I was born in a country which does not exist anymore. So I was born in Leningrad, Soviet Union. And now it’s in Petersburg, Russia. I studied economics. But then I went into journalism, and I worked many years in journalism. And I still do that now as a freelance author for a number of publications, which you mentioned. But other than that, around 12 years ago, I discovered the topics of climate change and sustainable development, and environmental cooperation. And I felt like those were very important topics for me personally, but also for the world, on a global scale. And I got very interested and I get very excited. And when I get really interested in something, I just go and explore the field. And this is what I did.

And so at this very moment, I’m active in a number of sectors, which you mentioned, I write, I speak, I educate, I’m active in international cooperation programs. I’m trying to learn many things about the world and trying to learn the way the world is in various diverse aspects of this world … problems, solutions, what we can do, what has been done already, what works, what doesn’t work. And then I’m trying to pass this information along in various forms, in form of educational materials, or media products, or something else, like, our conversation is probably also one of these formats. And I’m also connecting a lot of people together to speak about, I don’t know—maybe my life’s mission, I always feel like, if I’m being asked about how is that I see myself, I would probably say, on one hand, I’m really learning about the world and spreading this information around. On the other side, I’m also someone who connects a lot of people, like, I know a lot of people and many people know me. So I feel like it’s very important to get people connected, but also somehow to make the whole communication smoother. So to moderate the meetings, talks, be it offline, or more often online now.

Annika: How is your childhood? And how has that made you who you are today?

Angelina: Well, I grew up in a country, which was changing on a daily basis. Like something which we believe to be true one day was not true, the next day, and I believe we had to adapt to these changes. And on one hand, I feel like I was growing up thinking, nothing is forever, and everything will change tomorrow. So, you have to be flexible, you have to be resilient. I didn’t know the word resilient then, I guess it didn’t exist in my world. And you have to—I don’t know—be able to change. On one hand, it does bring a lot of flexibility. And I feel like, say, I’m always learning. I’m always learning something new. On the other hand, it certainly brings along issues of trust. Like, who do you trust and what do you trust? Do you trust any institutions at all? How do you trust people? Those are still very important issues not only for me personally, but I feel like many people in my country and especially people of my generation all around. So I would say those particular historic conditions obviously shaped me into the way I am now.

Now speaking more about personal experiences, I’ve always loved reading. And I used to read a lot when I was a kid. I also used to invent a lot of stories; we actually used to play that game with my mom when she would start a story like a fairy tale. But those would be sometimes a fairy tales about, I don’t know, various very practical aspects of life, for example, a fairy tale about a plumber, who we saw out of the window. And so she would start this story, and then I was encouraged to continue the story and think of something happening. And I still love that. Even though I don’t write fiction and I don’t produce fiction—well, maybe one day I will—but it’s still something which I enjoyed a lot. And then I also remember in our summer house, like our dacha, outside of Leningrad, we also had a lot of world maps where various countries and continents were portrayed. And I would travel through them with my eyes thinking, “Oh, my God, maybe one day I’ll go to Africa or to South America and elsewhere”, because I was out there somewhere up in the north, in a little spot. And I’m very happy that until the COVID [pandemic], I got the chance to travel to many continents, and many places in this little round planet and get to see with my own eyes the way people live.

Because even though I work in journalism, I very often realize how international journalism is somewhat limited in the portrayal of the ways of life of people, like common people like you or I, or that plumber who we can see out of our window. It’s very often that we tend to read stories about important people, presidents, Queens, celebrities, and not enough stories about just the way people live, what makes them happy, what their regular life is built around. And this is very often, you can only really see with your own eyes when you come to a place. And then when you speak to the people you see there. And then you build your own story. It might not be a 100% true story, because you only see and you only get to know particular aspects that you’re interested in. And then you still frame them with your brain, which might also have stereotypes or frameworks that you prefer to use. But it’s still feel like it’s an enriching experience.

Annika: So I take it, you’ve visited many, many countries, do you have a rough idea how many?

Angelina: Oh, actually, I didn’t count them. I don’t know, maybe something between 30 and 40? Around 30? I guess. Yeah.

Annika: That’s really impressive. So how does—how does today’s Angelina look back at child Angelina? What has come true? And what were your expectations? And did you think it would ever be – it would be like you think it would?

Angelina: Well, when I was a child, I even thought that the year 2000 is not real, you know, it seemed so far away. In a way, I don’t feel like I was making plans, or I was planning my future in a very distinct way. I thought that there are things that I want to do. There are things that I’m interested in. But I guess I didn’t have very specific plans like I want to grow up and be that. Actually, I didn’t know who I want to be. Even now, it takes me quite a while to explain what is actually that I’m doing because I’m doing so many things. Maybe there is no word for my profession. Maybe the whole idea of the profession is going into the past, and we are now being defined by something else. So yeah, I feel like I didn’t have any specific plans. Looking from my childhood experience to the way I am now, I would probably say, I’m happy with where I am. I mean, there’s still a long way to work on myself. There’s still a long way to explore me and find out what new things in life I’m interested in but also find out new ways of taking care of myself and yeah, exploring this world. But in general, I would say looking at the little girl which was out there in our summer house—in our dacha—and if she were to talk to me now, I believe that would have been an interesting conversation and mutually encouraging and happy conversation.

Annika: That’s really, really lovely. And I’d love to come back to some of the things you addressed. One of them is that you say you’re still perhaps searching for what it is that you want to be doing, and doing with your life. You did study St. Petersburg University, economics, and finance, but then you switch to journalism, is that maybe another facet of always reinventing yourself and looking for something else, or was there another reason how you came to become a journalist?

Angelina: Well, at that time, I was not framing it that way. Now, maybe if I look back, I would use exactly the same wording, like you just did. With me, I was somehow always following my inner call, I would say. I was always someone who could not spend, who could not imagine spending a year doing something which I would not enjoy. So for me, I was always like, there’s nothing that I should be doing or must be doing. There’s only something which I want to be doing. And that has pluses and minuses. Now that I think about it. [laughs] I mean, I never worked in hierarchical structures. I never don’t believe in hierarchies, I believe in teamwork. And I believe in partnerships. I never really worked like 10, nine to five jobs, or 10 to 8, or 10 to 6, which is more common here. I was always someone who felt like I want to define what I do and how I do, and I want to if I get passionate about something, I do that. However, that also has another side, which means the whole division between work and non-work disappears. In a way, I work all the time. Well, I don’t always define it as work. Like for example, what is it that we do now? Right? Is it work? Is it not work? I enjoy it. It’s interesting. Luckily, I have a colleague helping me and we are here at the office of the [Bilona], which is an NGO based in St. Petersburg, and I’m working with them, and they’re the ones who publish this magazine, environmental law, which I edit. And I’m very happy I have colleagues helping me. So… but anyway, that leads to the fact that say, two days on this week, I was working until midnight, and some other days, I have to get up very early and do something, it’s always like there are, it’s very hard to say no to exciting things. But maybe I should start learning more. So the whole work-life balance is an issue, is an issue for my so to say the mode of life, which I shaped. So now I start to think more about the balance, more about other things because I want to do so many other things in life. I want to join the choir again. [laugh] It’s so many times in my life, and I just dropped out because sometimes when you have an event in the evening, what, you miss it, right? And people cannot rely on you. And likewise, I would love to do more dancing, I would love to do other things. But yeah, it’s not easy. But what I’m trying to just think and to feel how is it I can, I can change my life.

Annika: It’s very reflective, for me actually listening to you. It’s almost like listening to a mirror. I relate to so much that you’re saying. So since we just spoke a lot about work. And you also mentioned your work-life balance, what is it that you hope to achieve with the work that you do?

Angelina: Here, once again, I would say I don’t always have very particular goals. And this is probably one of the specifics of living in, in our times in modern times in Russia as it is like planning exists, but it almost never comes to life. So in a way, I feel like I’m doing what I can. And I’m trying to do it better and better. I’m also trying to learn something new, meet new people, develop more profound and more mutually interesting, exciting and beneficial working companionships with people and organizations. And I just see what comes out of it. Like one of the factors which suddenly worked over the last, I’d say 10 years is that I’ve been and I’m still one of the people who has been putting climate agenda in Russia forward. And I would say here—I would also say not only me but also a number of us, right, people who are part of the climate circles, as we say, in Russia, we really, we put that agenda forward. Now the climate is an important issue. Everyone talks about it, there is probably every week, there are like one or two climate and decarbonisation related events, probably, out there, there’s something like a very, very tiny percentage that I’ve contributed to that factor, by writing about it, by giving public lectures, by talking to people, by bringing all these people together and facilitating a conversation between them. So that would be like one of the things that I would mention.

And then another—another thing that I would also mention is that, as you said, in the beginning, I’m also very active in the area of international cooperation. And I believe in international cooperation. I mean, these days—probably it has always been the case, but I live now, so I speak about the present—there is so many bad news about international cooperation, political complications, economic sanctions, economic conflicts, many other aspects. And most of what we read in the media is about this. However, I still, I strongly believe that aside from that there are still tracks for other kinds of corporations because very often, it’s the government or political or economic elites, which bring countries into this. And they don’t take into consideration common people, they don’t take into consideration people like you or me, who are working for a particular cause or engaged in a particular area. And we do want to develop international cooperation in our fields, not about I don’t know, military aspects, not about many other aspects, but about the areas where we’re working. And I feel it’s still important to sustain that level of cooperation, no matter what, it’s still important to talk to each other and try and think about, what is it that we can do?

Annika: That’s really important, especially right now, as you said, when it almost feels like international cooperation is somewhat going, going downhill almost. But this again ties in with you, the networker in a way, the person who brings people together, and who looks out for new contacts. And I guess one of the new sort of networks that you’re part of now, is the World Future Council. You’re a very recent Councillor, you joined just, I think, at the end of last year, 2020. What brings you to us? I mean, we’re super excited to have you and I’m super excited to learn from you today. What brings you to us?

Angelina: Well, first of all, I would like to say it has been a great honor when I have been invited to become a Councillor. And I looked up at the list of the current Councillors, and I looked up at the events and other activities of the Council. And I realized, wow, it’s such an amazing institution. It’s very interesting what they do. They bring together many exciting people. I like the level of discussions, the level of publications is indeed very professional. And I want to be part of that network. So I’ve been invited. I said, yes. I joined. And I’ve participated in a number of events, which were organized, I believe, with so far, we just had one big talk among all councillors. And the next one is coming soon. And I look forward to our real meeting, hopefully, in the fall, in Italy, if I’m not mistaken. And yeah, I mean, so far, all the activities which have been done by other councillors, the ones I read about, the ones I listen to. I’ve been to a number of events like online events, organized by other councillors and I also regularly read all the papers and research projects produced by other councillors and that’s all sounds very exciting to me.

I’m about to launch my podcast, which will be called [poslezavtra], so “the day after tomorrow”, that podcast is supported by the Goethe Institute in St. Petersburg. And for one of the podcast episodes, which is due to come out in late April and early May, I’ve actually interviewed Hans Herren, one of the councillors, and one of the World Future Council members. And that has already been very exciting cooperation outside the usual meeting track. And I look forward to furthering cooperation with other members. And yeah, it looks like a very interesting institution, it looks like a very interesting track. And a very interesting forward-thinking organization. I’m somehow very well I can, I can probably say, I don’t know if the word “progressive” is positive these days, I would call myself someone who very much likes looking into the future, thinking what the future could be, what is the future we want to be? And I feel like engaging in these kinds of conversations about the future is always something which excites me, I like thinking about the future and I’m a very, like, future-oriented person. So yeah, it’s an amazing opportunity. And I’m very grateful that I’ve been invited. And now I’m now part of the World Future Council. Oh, my God, that sounds so serious as well.

Annika: I really look forward to listening to your podcast when it’s out. Just briefly, maybe how is it that you look to use your skills and ideas and your work within the Council, and how can also the World Future Council help you amplify your work and achieve your goals?

Angelina: Well, I feel like it’s still being formed like there is no set-like forms of cooperation. But from what I’ve seen so far, and I have heard and read so far, I would be open to engaging in public events organised by the World Future Council, which are dedicated to my area of expertise, I would be open to any sort of bilateral or multilateral cooperation projects with other councillors, I am sharing everything I do through the council’s mailing list. And sometimes I think maybe it’s a bit too much. [lauhgs ]But I’m still doing it. And I like learning about what other members are doing. So in a way, a lot of exchange a lot of cooperation, very particular, educational and public awareness projects that we can do together. I’m always happy to speak at the World Future Council events and share my expertise and my knowledge of the areas and the region where I’m from. So I look forward to many forms of engagement. And I believe, right now, with the times when most of life and activities are online, we’re kind of have to rethink what international cooperation is in these difficult times. And many new forms can appear. And we’re watching them appearing and being born.

Annika: Wonderful. And there’s one thing that I’d really love to ask you about, which is since you’re a journalist, the other huge thing, obviously, is that nowadays, almost everyone can become a journalist. Right? And I mean, specifically social media and fake news. What does that do to you? And what do you think about the phenomenon that everyone can just pick up a microphone, write about something they’re interested in, and put it out there? Whereas journalists really go through all the motions and fact check, make sure what they’re saying is accurate.  What do you think about that?

Angelina: Well, I see both positive and negative consequences of that trend. On the positive side, it did become much more democratic in a way and inclusive in a form that everyone can now be a—I mean, they used to say this, like civic journalism, a few years ago, I believe now they don’t use that term that widely nowadays, but yeah, everyone now can be a civic journalist. Like, with what you do is what you’re writing in social media, with what you post or repost, like creating media content or sharing media content, you’re already contributing to the global media world. And it’s good in a way. Now the negative consequences are obviously like the ones you mentioned. And that it’s very often that people now and audiences now find it more and more difficult to differentiate between professional media specialists and non-professional media specialists. And people just say things like, oh, it has been written on the internet, or, like, I saw it on Facebook or on Twitter. And not many people really go deep down about where this information appeared. Who was the origin of it? How do I make sure it’s correct? How do I make sure it’s authentic? Like, what are the proofs? What does the other side say? So in a way, all these questions referring to fact-checking, to bringing proofs of your information, to bringing opinions of the other sides—that’s not always there. And in a way that changes the way people consume information, because now we have so much information in various forms around us. There’s a lot of noise, so to say, right, informational noise, and there’s a lot of buzzing around. And it’s really hard to pick out particular news outlets and pick out particular media products, which you can trust. I mean, nowadays, like for us, media professionals, it might be a bit easier. But I often think about people who are not that experienced also with social media, and they tend to believe many things which are written or said or otherwise represented in various social media formats, and then it’s really difficult to differentiate, it’s really difficult to find out what’s really happening. So yeah, I would say both positive and negative consequences of that.

Annika: And does it have any direct impact that you feel it has on your work?

Angelina: Well, on one hand, I feel like I need to promote my work. And now promotion of what you do is as important as creating an original media product. So, the times when you write an article, and then it was like, wow, and everyone read it and everyone paid attention to it. Again, I mean, unless you probably write about some really important political issues. But if you really want to bring the attention of the audience to your subject, you have to invest—either you or your colleagues, someone has to invest a lot of in promotion. Like you really have to knock on your audience’s door and say, look, this is an amazing story. I very often try and do it through my personal attitude, saying, look, it’s me, I do this, I came to learn about the story, I did this research, I spoke to those people and to those people, and I went there, maybe, and I produced the story. And but yeah, so you have to react. And you have to promote a lot of what you do. And then you also—another open question is, to what extent should you really react to everything happening in social media and engage in conversations? I actually a few years ago, I used to be much more active on social media, like Facebook and Twitter, like posting my materials and answering all the comments and engaging in long conversations or then writing my general thoughts about what’s happening in the sector that I’m active in. And then after a while, it became so much, it just became too much for me, and I realized, I want to do a bit less of it. And probably now I’m handing it more professional way, and I’m engaging in fewer conversations in social media than before, simply because I did not have enough time, like 24 hours is certainly not enough for that.

But it’s still an open question, especially if you don’t work for a large professional media, but you work for a number of media, and you are the one who has to do everything. I mean, say in case of our magazine, luckily, there are professional people who do this. But then sometimes when I write for other media, and I want to publicize my stories for a more general audience, I have to invest a lot of time and energy in promoting it and also engaging with the audience. And this is this very time-consuming. I mean, on one hand, it does bring you closer to your audience. On the other hand, yeah, time, time, time is the greatest resource of our lives now.

Annika: Yeah, that’s true. And I guess that also ties in again with the work-life balance that you mentioned before. Social media has almost made it even more difficult to sort of have that clear separation between the professional and the private life and there’s just always something to be done. Like around the clock, I guess, especially as a journalist, you must be feeling that.

Angelina: Right? Even when I come to a party or like to dinner, and I meet new people, and they don’t know what I do. As soon as I mentioned this, they start asking me questions about recycling, or waste management reform, or forestry, or wildfires. And I feel like, people, honestly, I came here just to