“I was born and raised in Russia and was lucky to be born during a short democratic period. From an early age, I heard how important democratic institutions are, and for me, media was a way of doing public service to my community. When I joined the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP) in 2015, it still was quite a small organization, mostly covering Eastern European countries like Russia, Ukraine, and Moldova — countries considered to be highly corrupt. However, our stories about international money laundering often showed that Western countries provided the necessary infrastructure for kleptocrats from countries like mine. In 2016, the OCCRP found huge success in its efforts as part of the Panama Papers, which was one of the biggest revelations showing how it works on a systemic level.
I spent seven years doing journalism, and I got frustrated because I didn’t see the fast positive changes I wanted to see. I observed how powerful propaganda might be. I felt like I could only reach people who already share my values and views, but not people from the other side of the political spectrum."Olesya Shmagun MPP ’23
We’re writing stories about powerful politicians who steal from the country, which should produce anger and energy to change something. Instead, there’s apathy. I burned out and began thinking there was something else I could do, some other tools to make the world a better place. Part of my desire to come to SPIA was that I wrote a lot about how government fails but didn’t actually know how it should work. When you write about such topics and break huge stories, people start expecting you to be an expert, and I felt like I need this expertise to make it a more productive discourse because it's easy to say what is wrong, but it's also important to know how to do things right.”