Neville Isdell and Ludmila Verbitskaya Honored at Second Annual Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis Awards Dinner
On Wednesday, December 3, the Woodrow Wilson Center's Kennan Institute honored Neville Isdell, chairman of The Coca Cola Company and the U.S.-Russia Business Council, and visionary educator Ludmila Verbitskaya, president of St. Petersburg State University, at the second annual Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis Awards Dinner.
The Davis Dinner aims to raise public awareness of individuals demonstrating outstanding corporate citizenship and public service in connection with the U.S.-Russian relationship, and has emerged as one of the premier Washington events dedicated to this purpose. The event was made possible through a generous grant by Kathryn W. Davis and her family, recipients of the Woodrow Wilson Award for Public Service in 2006. Proceeds will benefit the Kennan Institute, which works to improve American understanding of Russia and the surrounding states.
Neville Isdell, awarded the Woodrow Wilson Award for Corporate Citizenship, played a key role in establishing the U.S. Russia Business Council in the early 1990s. As its chairman, he has presided over the Council's emergence as a crucial lynchpin in the U.S.-Russian relationship. Under his leadership, The Coca Cola Company has consistently ranked among the highest-rated corporations in the world in terms of its accountability and environmental record, and The Coca Cola Foundation is one of this nation's most important grant-making institutions for education.
In accepting the award, Isdell observed that in dealing with Russians, we must understand how our words will be heard by the Russians themselves, adding: "This is not unique to Russia. I've lived and worked in 11 countries on 5 continents, and I've found that you must understand the history, culture, and motivations of the society in which you are operating." Isdell also stressed the importance of dialogue and the need to seek the right forums for that dialogue. "That's why institutions represented here tonight like the Kennan Institute and the U.S.-Russia Business Council are so very important. They build the bridges. They build the relationships. They create well-disciplined, well-informed discussions and create a level of trust that can move that dialogue forward. It is only when we engage constructively – but also critically – that we can together bring about lasting and positive change...These are the types of organizations that create those bridges. And in closing, therefore, I want to come to the Kennan Institute. I stand here really humbled and very proud to receive this award because I know that the Institute since 1974 has worked so hard – and so effectively – to build those bridges, to build those relationships, to build that level of understanding, to build for young people through education the bright future that they need to see ahead of them and they need to help build for the future of that relationship."
Ludmila Verbitskaya, recipient of the Woodrow Wilson Award for Public Service, is president of one of Russia's oldest and most distinguished institutions of higher education. Elected in 1994 as the first female rector in university history, she enacted sweeping reforms and added faculties in medicine and international relations to meet the challenges of the modern era. She is a nationally recognized figure in the reform of Russia's educational system and is a leader in integrating Russian academics with the broader international community. She also chairs the Russkiy Mir Foundation, created in 2007 by Vladimir Putin to promote appreciation of Russian language, heritage, and culture worldwide.
In her remarks, Verbitskaya said that her service at St. Petersburg State University is dedicated to the goal of strengthening international relationships among Russian students, academics, and universities. "For Russia, which had been isolated for over 70 years by the iron curtain, this is a complex process and immediate results cannot be expected. Nevertheless, since Russian universities began actively participating in international exchanges, colossal changes have happened throughout higher education in our country." Throughout her career, and today as Chairperson of the Russkiy Mir Foundation, Verbitskaya has worked to improve Russian language education at home and abroad. She emphasized the importance of such education and establishing personal contacts as the "key to harmonious development of relations between different national cultures, political systems, and religious outlooks." In this critical aspect of building academic and personal relationships, she added, "it is difficult to overestimate the role that the Woodrow Wilson Center's Kennan Institute has played" for over 30 years.
2008 Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis Awards Dinner Supporters
The Kennan Institute was founded as a division of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in December 1974. The Institute's mission is to improve American understanding of Russia and other successor states to the Soviet Union. For more than 30 years, the Institute has supported the research of hundreds of American and Russian scholars, journalists, and policy experts studying the region. In furthering its mission, the Institute has also organized thousands of conferences and meetings and its publications, from meeting summaries to books, have reached students, educators, and policymakers throughout the world.
The Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, established by Congress in 1968 and headquartered in Washington, D.C., is the living, national memorial to President Wilson. It is a nonpartisan institution, supported by public and private funds, engaged in the study of national and world affairs. The Center establishes and maintains a neutral forum for free, open, and informed dialogue.