16.02.2024 Author: Yuliya Novitskaya

Sofia Kogteva: “We popularise Russia, Russian language and culture and give promotion to Russian business”

Sofia Kogteva

My interlocutor today, Sofia Kogteva, is one of the founders of the Business Women’s Association. That is why our conversation was devoted to the role of women in the modern world, politics and business. Sofia spoke about her co-operation with the First Lady of the Republic of Zimbabwe, Auxilia Mnangagwa, her recent trip to the UAE, and what the main challenges are for investors from Russian regions when implementing projects in African countries.

– Dear Sofia, women are a tremendous force. I really like Margaret Thatcher’s quote, “If you want something said, ask a man. If you want something done, ask a woman.” The saying is certainly controversial. I propose to omit the first part of it and talk about the second part. Recently, women are beginning to play an increasing role in politics and business. In your opinion, how can this be explained?

– Yes, Julia, I agree with you, the expression is interesting and very relevant nowadays. Women’s agenda, women’s influence on the course of political and social issues in all countries of the world is more active and popular than ever before.

And I would paraphrase the quote as follows: where a man cannot reach an agreement, a woman can always do it!

Women’s communities are supported by the Russian government and have incredible power – as Mrs Valentina Matvienko always says. This is also happening now in other countries. We ourselves travel and see that many high government positions are held by women. Women head large companies and corporations. Women’s business communities want to meet, communicate, share experiences and interests to improve themselves and the world around them. And they can do it.

We are in no way competing with men, we complement them. Men are our defence, support, our strong shoulder in business and in life. But nowadays, the women’s agenda is really strong and relevant.

– The Association unites ladies who live and run their own businesses not only in Moscow, but also in Siberia. Are you planning to expand the geography of the participants?

– Our Association is a community of women entrepreneurs who have already achieved success in their business, in Moscow, Siberia, and other regions, in various business spheres, and who wish to share their knowledge and experience, improve and gain momentum, and promote their business on the international market. That is why we are already actively co-operating with a number of friendly countries of the African continent and the Middle East. We organise business trips, participate in international conferences and forums to bring Russia and other countries closer together in trade, economic, medical and social issues. Our Association co-operates through soft “women’s” diplomacy, being a bridge between countries. In this way, we primarily popularise Russia, the Russian language and culture, and promote Russian business.

– You are working with the First Lady of Zimbabwe, Mrs Auxilia Mnangagwa, founder of the Angel of Hope Foundation. Charity is something that can unite all women, from the housewife to the businesswoman to the wife of the President. What else, in your opinion, can unite ladies?

– Yes, indeed, we are in active contact with the Zimbabwean women’s community, with the office of the First Lady of the Republic of Zimbabwe, who is very much in favour of the health and welfare of her compatriots, children and young people. The Angel of Hope Foundation, under the leadership of Auxilia Mnangagwa, promotes education and medical care for poor families and assists women in difficult situations.

Over the past year, we have travelled to this beautiful country several times on business missions, participated in international trade conferences and round tables, representing Russia and its potential.

In Moscow, we give delegations from Zimbabwe’s Ministry of Tourism and Ministry of Trade a warm welcome, organising meetings, lunches and excursions, accompanying them and simply chatting as friends.

– I know you are now working with them on several tourism and education projects.

– We are currently preparing for a business trip to Zimbabwe, which will take place in March this year. It will be organised for Russian women entrepreneurs from various fields. We are planning a round table and b2b meetings with relevant businessmen, VIP lunches with women from ministries, embassies and the Zimbabwe Women’s Association, to which the First Lady will be invited. Of course, we will combine our business mission with a cultural programme and recreation: we will visit Victoria Falls – one of the wonders of the world – UNESCO heritage, parks with wild animals and the unique nature of the country. You can read more about this trip on the website of our Association.

– Your Association works with countries in Africa and the Middle East. Just the other day, you returned from a working trip to the UAE. Are you satisfied with the results?

– We are very pleased with the results, as we managed to bring together business representatives from several continents on Arab soil. We had business meetings with businessmen from Mali, Bahrain, Russia and the UAE. We also met with businesswomen from the Arab Emirates, who are very interested in Russian cosmetics and the services of Russian cosmetology specialists. As a result, steps were outlined for the creation of a joint Beauty Clinic.

– The women’s agenda has become an integral part of the business programmes of all large-scale international events, including the Second Russia-Africa Forum in St. Petersburg. Your Association took an active part in it. A few words about the atmosphere on the margins of the summit.

– At the second Russia-Africa Economic and Humanitarian Forum 2023 Summit in St Petersburg, we were involved in accompanying a delegation from the Ministry of Agriculture and the Ministry of Climate, Environment, Tourism and Hospitality of the Republic of Zimbabwe. We were also involved in organising a round table with their participation, and several other important meetings.

Speaking about the atmosphere… You know, for us, communication with Africans is always on a very friendly, relaxed note. They are very much like us – very deep and sensitive people, childlike and trusting, but they always feel the mood of the interlocutor. They have a sense of humour and self-irony, they, like us, extremely appreciate peace and freedom, both internal and external.

This is the point at which we understand each other on some instinctive, I would even say spiritual level.

– Co-operation with the African continent is becoming increasingly important for Russian business. What are the main challenges for investors from Russian regions when implementing projects in African countries?

– It is no secret that African countries are very fertile and rich in resources. This attracts the Russian businessman. There is a great desire on the part of African countries to work and be friends with us, to develop, to buy and use exactly Russian products. Africa’s relations with the Russian Empire, then with the USSR and modern Russia, existed only in a friendly way. Now Africa is one of the most promising regions for foreign investment. But at the same time, there are concerns on both sides: fear of distances, a different culture and mentality, some difficulties in payment and logistical issues. But everything is in our hands and if we are willing to co-operate, we can always find a mutually beneficial solution, which is what we are trying to promote.

– Sofia, and to conclude with our traditional question. You have been to Africa and the Middle East a lot. What is your Africa like, what attracts you to it? What fascinates you about the Middle East?

– In the Russian consciousness, Africa is associated with backwardness, with poverty, with hunger. This image is absolutely wrong. Africa has global potential. It has unique natural resources and rapid development. It is natural beauty and kind, open and responsive people! You will see that in a couple of years, having made a “frog leap” – there is such a notion in economics – these countries will reach a high level!

The Middle East mesmerises with its articles and wealth, love of luxury, spicy oriental bazaars. It is truly an oriental fairy tale, with its own peculiarities and mores, history and culture.

– Dear Sofia! Thank you for such an interesting and relevant conversation. I wish you and your Association fruitful work, development and prosperity.

– Thank you! We will do our best. Our main mission, as a society of Russian businesswomen, is to unite such different countries, people, their business and friendship. And with every step, with every good deed, with every joint activity and event, we make our world kinder, more beautiful and richer.


Yulia NOVITSKAYA, writer, journalist-interviewer, correspondent of the “New Eastern Outlook

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