ANATOLY AND IRINA SEDYKH
Anatoly Sedykh is Chairman of the United Metallurgical Company (OMK) and President of the OMK-Uchastie (OMK-Participation) Charity Fund. OMK is one of Russia’s largest manufacturers of pipes, railway wheels and automobile springs.
Irina Sedykh has been Chair of the Supervisory Board of the OMK-Uchastie Charity Fund since 2009. In 2011, she helped found the Art-Ovrag culture festival in the town of Vyksa (in the Nizhny Novgorod region) and now heads the festival’s council.
What does your philanthropic work involve?
IS: We are involved with several different types of philanthropy. There are social projects, which are implemented by OMK directly; there is the OMK-Uchastie Charity Fund, which was founded by the company’s shareholders and top managers; and there are also our personal initiatives.
The Fund’s activities are sponsored exclusively by donations from OMK’s shareholders, employees and friends – it is not financially supported by OMK, which highlights the personal desire of employees to support charitable activity.
AS: The OMK-Uchastie Fund is in its sixth year of operation. Its current work is systematic, structured and efficient. All the information on the distribution of the funds – how, to whom, when, and the impact of the aid – is made available to all donors and the staff of our company. It has always been of key importance to us to provide assistance to those who really need it, especially children. More and more company staff in Moscow and at the factories – including both employees and top managers – are responding to the Fund’s initiatives, rather than just the top management.
What prompted you to establish the OMK-Uchastie Charity Fund and focus on working with children?
AS: There was an incident which influenced our decision. We saw a piece in a magazine requesting help for a child who needed emergency surgery. We tried to find the child’s mother and help pay for the treatment. When we found her, it turned out that she was not even sure whether the child needed the operation or not, although the ad specified an exact figure and kind of operation. Neither the communication with the doctors nor the fund through which we tried to help yielded any results. No one had clear information. After this, our whole family, including our sons, decided anyway to help children in difficult situations. Irina agreed to work on organising the Fund. We have been engaged in this type of work for six years.
IS: There are five people, including me, working at the OMK-Uchastie Fund today. One staff member works in the town of Vyksa in the Nizhny Novgorod region where Vyksa Steel Works (VSW), OMK’s largest asset, is located. Another three members are based in the Moscow office. I have constant admiration for these people. We have tea together from time to time, and we speak not only about work, but communicate in a friendly way and share our experiences. I was very happy to hear one of the staff say that she gladly goes to work. She knows that she’s likely to worry about the children we deal with, but at the same time she realises how important this work is. She says she feels very happy and that staff really care about the things they do.
What are the objectives of the Fund and what do you hope it will achieve?
IS: Over the past few years, we have developed a number of strands to our work. We help people who urgently need help, be it treatment or medical consultations. We work a lot with children who are ill – who require special care – and also with local kids and teenagers.
Our second strand of work is education and tutoring. We cooperate with prominent tutors who have their own interesting methodologies. For example, we have worked with Mikhail Kazinik [a violinist, tutor, lecturer, writer, actor, director and Nobel Prize committee music specialist], who has visited Vyksa many times and worked with local teachers. Teachers need special knowledge, skills and methods to work with children, especially those who require special care.
We have also been cooperating with Maria Dreznina, an artist and art therapist who educates children with special needs, as well as with teachers in Vyksa who use their own unique methods aimed at helping children express themselves so they become stronger and more confident. Not long ago, the Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts, where Ms Dreznina teaches, hosted an exhibition of works by these children.
We have also realised that we need to help young people channel their energy into a good cause in Vyksa. There are music and art schools in the town, great sports facilities and sports clubs. However, as in any town with growing incomes, the threat of drug abuse has appeared. So the idea of holding the Art-Ovrag modern art festival was born. The project was generated by our Fund and we implemented it jointly with the company. The festival was held for the first time in 2011 and the fourth one has already taken place in 2014. It has received the status of a corporate charity project at OMK. The festival received acclaim from both the public and industry experts; for instance, last year, winning several special awards and competitions.
AS: The OMK-Uchastie Fund is a creative centre which generates interesting ideas. There are two projects in Vyksa, which have developed to become part of the corporate structure as they are important and socially significant for OMK. These are the Industria business game, which helps high school students choose their future occupation, and the Art-Ovrag festival. Vyksa is an area of intellectual and educational development. There are a lot of young people living here. To me, the town epitomises the spirit of modern Russia. The country’s economy and culture are going through a deep transformation and Vyksa has become one of the symbols of those positive changes. The Art-Ovrag new culture festival brings out the other Russia – the Russia beyond the boundaries of the capital city.
IS: Another significant project put on by our Fund in 2013 was the photo exhibition ‘One Day in the Life of a Child’. Our aim wasn’t to show unhappy children in an orphanage. We wanted adults to come and think about what we, as grown-ups, are doing wrong and how that is mirrored in our children. Don’t the troubles facing our children reflect the poor state of the adult world?
We invited four professional photographers to take part in the project and announced a competition for amateur photographers. A large number of applications were submitted to our website and we received over 1,000 photos. A very competent and respected panel chose the best amateur works and then OMK-Uchastie organised an exhibition in Moscow. The exhibition then travelled through several cities and towns in the regions where OMK is present. It even drew interest from the European Commission and we exhibited in Brussels. It was opened at a special ceremony by Henri Malosse, President of the European Economic and Social Committee. We didn’t expect that we’d be taking the exhibition abroad, so were very pleased that our idea was supported outside Russia.
Anatoly, how do you, as the Fund’s founder, get partners and staff involved in the Fund’s activities?
AS: It’s important that the Fund demonstrates that its work is efficient, effective and focused on a specific cause; that way people are more willing to participate in its work. As a result, the Fund helps change an individual’s culture and then the company’s culture.
We have organised a New Year’s celebration at the Circus on Tsvetnoy Boulevard for 1,500 children from orphanages and boarding schools for 11 years in a row. From the very beginning, we have been assisted by volunteers who are members of staff. Their numbers are growing every year. They come with their children and families, and bring groups of friends.
Here’s another example: two years ago, we organised a charity auction of homemade baked goods for St. Valentine’s Day. The employees liked it so much that the auction is now held in several offices with active participation from all staff, including members of the board. I would also like to mention the ‘Bring a Christmas Tree’ initiative to decorate the children’s department at the oncology center on Kashirskoye Shosse. In the two years since it started, the initiative has had such vast support that we can now make the celebrations last for two weeks for the children, including shows, exhibitions and other fun activities. Over 20 companies and a host of volunteers have joined this effort.
It is vital that the desire to be charitable comes straight from the heart. But it is also important for people to believe that it is efficient. Many are skeptical about charitable giving because they are aware of instances when funds have been raised with no real sense about what happened to them.
We speak about the Fund’s activities and jointly decide what it should do. It does not take much to help others and the emotional reward is very high, for both the donor and the recipient. So far, it’s mainly the staff at OMK’s central office that participate in the events. The culture is starting to change for the better and this is obvious.
IS: We held a poll in our company this year to find out what staff think about corporate and private giving. The majority of staff said that they are happy to know that they work for a socially responsible company which implements a large number of charitable and social projects. Now we must take the next step of instilling into the corporation the idea that helping others is the normal thing to do.
How do you pass down philanthropic values to the next generation in your family?
IS: Our sons volunteer for the Fund’s activities. Last year, they made some money and one of them gave it all to charity. It was a very moving moment.
AS: Of course, the example we set had a big influence on his decision. You can accomplish a lot more by doing something rather than just lecturing about kindness. However, it was his own decision. It was important for us that this desire to help others came from the heart and was voluntary.
What do you see as the current trends in Russian philanthropy?
AS: More and more companies are doing charitable work. It’s moving away from PR. People are helping each other not to appear on a cover of a magazine, but because they cannot do without it. This is a good trend. However, we seem to fall behind western companies. People there see charitable work as part of their lives and it’s natural for them to volunteer. They spend a lot of time and effort on that.
Russia used to have strong charitable traditions. Unfortunately, we went through 70-years of the Soviet Union stripping us of private initiatives and nationalising all endeavors, making the state responsible for everything. This led to living off others and eliminating the individual’s role in forming and constructing the foundation of society. Many people still think that everyone has responsibilities towards them, while they don’t owe anything to anyone. This mentality should be changed and we see that people are coming to understand that many things depend on the individual. More and more often people want to help someone who is in trouble. Efforts by many Russian charitable organisations undertaken in the last few years have contributed to the fact that this sector is starting to prevail, at least in a part of our society. I hope that our Fund, which has united many kind people for the last six years, has also contributed to this.
As a company, we believe that life should not end at the factory door. It is vital for us that our employees lead a dignified life, strive for self-realisation, organise their leisure and take care of their health. We offer them vast opportunities for this. The company funds health care, and sports and cultural facilities. Every year the budget for OMK’s sponsorship and charitable projects exceeds 500m rubles and over 1bn rubles is dedicated to maintaining the social sites. The development of the social environment and participation in developing our society satisfy our inner beliefs, which are shared by more and more of our employees. To a large extent, we created the company for this reason, to make the country and society better. The Fund and its programmes help realise this outlook on life more efficiently.