The American oil company Chevron is among the giants of the oil industry – sixth largest in the world. Since 1991 Chevron’s interests have been represented in Russia by Chevron Neftgaz Inc. From the very beginning of their presence in Russia, the company has been very active in charitable activities. Today, including only the larger, long-term social projects, Chevron is participating in 14 projects.
Unlike many US companies operating in Russia, Chevron has developed clear giving policies. Vera Sheinina explained to Galina what these are, how Chevron makes decisions about what programmes to support, and why she thinks abuse occurs in the Russian non-profit sector.
What is the driving force behind foreign companies which strive to help resolve some of Russia’s social problems? What are the motives behind their philanthropy? Vera Sheinina, public relations coordinator of Chevron Neftegaz Inc, maintains that for Chevron there was never any doubt as to whether or not they should engage in charitable activities in Russia. Having talked to the representatives of other foreign companies, she has come to the conclusion that such an approach will be shared by any reputable company.
The importance of a clearly focused policy
At Chevron in Russia, Sheinina explained, there are three clear areas of charitable activity: health, culture and education. The more specific focus of all three areas is children and teenagers — the company directors feel that these are the most important areas in Russian society for social investment. ‘In my opinion, it’s a wise idea to have general principles for charitable activity, which we – the employees of the company — are obliged to follow. For example, Chevron adheres to strict rules of supporting only non-religious social projects. This is due to the fact that in Russia people practise a variety of religions, and assistance to one group could be seen as prejudice against the others.’
Two other guiding principles at Chevron are not to support political parties or movements and to try to finance only purely Russian projects. Sheinina felt that it was better to have a Russian rather than a foreigner as your partner. ‘Russian organizations are much more aware of activities in Russia, the needs and the problems of the society. They know better how and where the funds should be allocated.’
Chevron’s longest-established programme in Russia is with the Russian National Orchestra, which it has supported for five years. ‘In that time, we have become such good friends that there are some new programmes that we carry out together. For example, our educational musical programme: a series of concerts-stories about musical instruments and the history of music. Our friends-partners from the orchestra have given presentations at a kindergarden for children with poor eyesight.’ According to Sheinina, Chevron doesn’t just send money: ‘Beyond that we try to maintain close relations with all those that we are helping.’
Do ethical dilemmas ever arising in deciding between projects?
Asked whether she ever encountered an ‘ethical’ dilemma in which people that she knows ask her to lobby for a project for which they need financing, Sheinina categorically denied that this ever happened. In any case, ‘lobbying’ on her part would be practically impossible since Chevron’s decision to fund one project or another is almost completely independent of her. ‘My role really is to choose from a mass of proposals those that are the most concrete, interesting and needed and then recommend those to the president of our office, Von Fitzpatrick. From there, I am asked questions about how those projects correspond to Chevron’s main requirements.’ Even Von Fitzpatrick doesn’t make the decision: all recommendations are sent to Chevron’s main office in San Ramon, California, for a final decision.
According to Sheinina, working in an American company, it is ‘simply not possible to do something illegal or something which doesn’t correspond with the company’s principles or regulations . . . Their mindset has a certain “firmness” about it: one should never violate the law. Short and sweet and not open for discussion.’
Why does abuse occur in the Russian non-profit sector?
Asked about the reasons for abuse in the Russian non-profit sector, Sheinina identified the newness of the sector as a key factor. ‘Simply put, the Russian third sector is still very young. Ethical norms, general principles and traditions are today being created all over again. Correspondingly, laws regulating the sector and strengthening these norms are likewise in their early stages of development and are being checked to a certain extent by trial and error. They aren’t always able to take into account all the possibilities that arise in practice and as a result aren’t always able to safeguard against abuse which, whether intentional or unintentional, is still related in large part to a lack of understanding.’
In America, for example, money can be transferred to a foreign bank only if the bank is located in the city where the organization-recipient is registered or where the organization works. If a charitable foundation is officially registered in Helsinki and its representative office works in St Petersburg, then Chevron can send money to a bank either in Helsinki or in St Petersburg. ‘If the organization requests that the money be sent to a bank account opened somewhere, say, on the Canary Islands, then Chevron will be forced to refuse such a request. Therefore, either open a bank account in St Petersburg, or . . .’
Chevron’s plans for the future
Sheinina was reluctant to talk about what is still in the planning stages, but she did reveal that Chevron has already decided to finance a new textbook on ecology for Moscow schools. ‘The teaching of environmental issues is very new for Russian schools. But very necessary!’ Protecting the environment is increasingly a focus for Chevron. ‘In fact, any large, self-respecting oil company devotes lots of their attention to environmental issues. So, in our new project, everything comes together: the traditional interest of Chevron in the field of the environment, education, and the relevance of the issue in the country in which the company is doing business.’