On Thursday, October 1, 2009, the Woodrow Wilson Center's Kennan Institute honored George A. Cohon, Founder, McDonald's Canada/McDonald's Russia and Mikhail B. Piotrovsky, Director, State Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg, Russia at the third annual Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis Awards Dinner to benefit the Center's Kennan Institute.

The Davis Dinner was established through a generous donation from Kathryn W. Davis and her family, recipients of the Woodrow Wilson Award for Public Service in 2006, and is intended to raise public awareness of individuals demonstrating outstanding and enlightened corporate citizenship and public service in connection with the U.S.-Russian relationship.

Mikhail Shvydkoy, Special Presidential Representative for International Culture Cooperation, presented a congratulatory note from Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov to the dinner guests, which read in part:

"The expansion of bilateral economic and cultural contacts between our societies and individuals strengthens the friendship and mutual understanding among the people of Russia and the United States. It is difficult to overstate the contribution to this cause of Mikhail Piotrovsky, a leading cultural figure and the director of one of the world's greatest museums. For his part, George Cohon has played a key role in bringing to Russia a major symbol of American life and the fast, high-quality customer service that we all associate with McDonald's."

Mikhail Piotrovsky, awarded the Woodrow Wilson Award for Public Service, followed in the footsteps of his father to become director of the world-renowned State Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg. His decisive leadership has guided the museum through times of economic difficulty and opportunities for expansion with equal skill. His total commitment to cultural diplomacy with the United States includes expanding the museum to include more American artwork and hosting several exhibitions in recent years by American artists. He has been instrumental in providing materials for U.S. exhibitions, such as the Houston Museum of Natural Science's exhibit on Genghis Khan, that are educating American citizens about Eurasian cultural heritage. Finally, his work with the Hermitage Museum Foundation helps to deepen cultural ties between the museum and the American people. Although he has received awards and recognitions from many countries around the world, the Woodrow Wilson Award for Public Service was the first major distinction he has received in the United States.

In his remarks, Dr. Piotrovsky recounted the many different cooperative ventures the Hermitage Musuem has been pursuing with major American museums. Cultural relations between our countries, he emphasized, are enduring and have no need of a "reset." Those relations have deepened over time and led to an atmosphere of trust facilitating increasingly frequent and important exchanges of artwork and cultural artifacts.

George Cohon, recipient of the Woodrow Wilson Award for Corporate Citizenship, is the Chicago-born founder of McDonald's Canada who introduced the Soviet delegation to McDonald's during the 1976 Olympics in Montreal. That encounter sparked a fourteen-year odyssey that culminated in the opening of the first McDonald's restaurant in Moscow in 1990. In the waning days of the Cold War the remarkably successful launch of a North American icon in the heart of Soviet Russia was popularized as "Burger Diplomacy." Today, McDonald's Russia now boasts more than 220 restaurants in over 50 cities and has served more than 2 billion customers in Russia. With more than 24,500 Russians employed at restaurants, processing plants, and corporate offices, and more than 100,000 Russians employed by suppliers, McDonald's Russia was named Russia's Best Employer in 2006 by the Russian Chamber of Commerce and Industry and the Best Employer in Central Eastern Europe from 2007-2009 by Hewitt Associates, a global human resources consulting and outsourcing company. Cohon also established Ronald McDonald House Charities in Russia in 1995, which has become a vital source of aid and comfort to children with special needs and their families.

In accepting the award, Mr. Cohon recounted the long, often frustrating, and occasionally humorous process of opening the first McDonald's restaurant in Moscow. He singled out the advice given to him by then-Soviet ambassador to Canada, Alexander Yakovlev: "Don't give up, George – one day, the ideology will change." Years later, Mikhail Gorbachev would put Yakovlev in charge of ideology, and the ideology did change. Cohon closed his remarks by bringing to the stage Karina Pogosova, Tatiana Yasinovskaya, and Khamzat Khasbulatov. All three started in the first McDonald's in Russia—Khamzat as Manager and Karina and Tatiana as crew. They have worked their way up to high-level positions within McDonald's Russia, with Khasbulatov as CEO of McDonald's Russia as well as President of Eastern European operations. "McDonald's Russia is a Russian company, and these three are its future," Cohon told the audience.

Voice of America Report

2009 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.