I’ve visited Moscow a few times over the years, but this was the first time I’ve got a real taste for the entrepreneurial spirit of the city.
I was in town raising funds for our entrepreneurial foundation Virgin Unite, and sharing my experiences with 20,000 people at the Synergy Global Forum. I do around 20 charity speaking engagements each year and love to pass on what I have learned to fellow entrepreneurial people, and hopefully make them smile too. Held at the remarkable Olympic Stadium, this was among the biggest ever audiences for one of my speaking engagements.
Before we went onstage, the moderator Oskar Hartmann told me how he felt Russia was slowly becoming more entrepreneurial, but needed more forward thinking entrepreneurs looking to work with the global market. A thriving entrepreneur himself, he has started businesses in everything from fashion to motoring.
Entrepreneurship was also a hot topic during a fascinating few talks I enjoyed during the visit. These included dinner with my fellow Virgin Hyperloop One investor Sergey Gordeev; and an interview with the esteemed journalist Vladimir Pozner, on his renowned show Pozner at the home of Russian broadcasting Channel One.
Vladimir quizzed me on my new autobiography Finding My Virginity, and about my adventures in entrepreneurship. We spoke of how the slide towards a Cold War frame of mind between Russia and America is just too sad for words, and of how entrepreneurs can play a big role in changing business for good and breaking down barriers where politicians may be putting up obstacles.
We also talked about the need for Russia and many other countries – including the United States – to treat drugs as a health issue not a criminal problem, as the Global Commission on Drug Policy calls for. It comes back to entrepreneurship again. If you consider the war on drugs as a business, it has been failing for 50 years. I would have shut it down 49 years ago and trialled other approaches proven to work elsewhere, taking the examples of countries like Portugal.
I’m hopeful that Russia and the rest of the world will come around to this way of thinking. And I’m still hopeful that the East and West can work together and get back onto far more positive terms. We estimate there are more than 15 million entrepreneurs in Russia and this number is on the rise. So in the meantime, the entrepreneurial community will keep identifying problems and striving for solutions.