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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Ice Cream Man Peddles Values

APJerry Greenfield
Jerry Greenfield, the co-founder of the Ben & Jerry's ice cream brand, is in town to encourage Russian-based firms to channel part of their profits into socially responsible projects.

Greenfield, who founded Ben & Jerry's with Ben Cohen in 1978, introduced Americans to the idea that a company might donate a percentage of its earnings to support nonprofit organizations.

"[Companies in Russia] are very interested in finding ways to be involved in the community," Greenfield said in an interview Monday. As firms in Russia reap profits on the back of a seven-year economic boom, they are beginning to think of ways to give something back to society, he said.

Greenfield sits on the board of directors of the Vermont-based Institute for Sustainable Communities, or ISC, which has supported U.S. government-funded development projects in a dozen countries.

While acknowledging a greater interest in corporate social responsibility among companies in Russia, ISC president George Hamilton said: "The real issue is how to mobilize all these resources."

In a country where most people have until recently interpreted "charity" to mean a form of tax avoidance, finding ways for corporate giving still proves difficult. Although there is an established network of nonprofits, many companies still "don't know if they are trustworthy," Greenfield said.

Greenfield and Hamilton have already met with a dozen companies and secured a total commitment of $700,000 from aluminum firm SUAL, oil major TNK-BP, tech giant United Technologies and banker Citigroup. That money, along with a $1 million grant from USAID, is intended to jumpstart Russia's own nonprofit Fund for Sustainable Development.

Like ISC, the fund will promote such projects as energy-saving technologies and youth programs, said Oleg Fokin, the fund's executive director. Nevertheless, companies working in Russia are unlikely to adopt U.S.-style corporate social responsibility.

Greenfield bases his concept of a "values-driven" business on the idea that it is in a company's own interest to appeal to the conscience of investors and consumers. But in Russia, corporate social responsibility is still often seen as a result of political necessity.

Hamilton conceded that an increasing willingness on the part of companies to donate might be partially motivated by the their desire to stay in the government's good books. "They do feel some pressure," he said.

On the other hand, corporations around the world feel the same pressure, Hamilton said.

"Corporations operate with the permission of the countries or communities," he said. "They have to be seen as good neighbors because they want to be allowed to work there."