Lena Tchilingarian ’05 puts her business and non-profit management degree to use in her native Russia, working for the philanthropic arm of one of the most recognizable brands in the world.
Tchilingarian is Special Projects Manager for Ronald McDonald House Charities in Moscow, Russia. It might seem incongruous to imagine someone raising money in Russia for a cause associated with an American fast food giant, but spend a few minutes with Tchilingarian, and it begins to make a lot of sense.
“We are one of the biggest charities in Russia that is focused on helping the whole group of children with disabilities,” she says. “I feel that I have a responsibility to help these children and to encourage others to do the same.”
A Culture of Giving
Ronald McDonald House Charities is well known in the United States for its facilities at hospitals, which allow the families of very sick children to have a “home away from home” during extended hospital stays. It has emerged as a respected charity in Russia, too, where they also have the Ronald McDonald Center, which brings together hundreds of healthy and sick children each week for shared learning and play.
With the break-up of the Soviet Union only a generation removed, the very idea of charitable giving is still a new concept in Russian. Fortunately, there are bright, articulate and passionate advocates like Tchilingarian to make the case.
“During the Soviet Union, people were used to expecting the government to take care of everything,” she says. “But I tell them, you have to do something. Those of us who are fortunate to be healthy have to do what we can to help those who are not.”
Tchilingarian, who remembers waiting in line for three hours for a hamburger when the first McDonald’s opened in Moscow, notes that there have been McDonald’s restaurants in Russia for twenty years. That history helps her make the case for the charity she represents. After several years on the job, Tchilingarian says that attitudes toward charitable giving have begun to shift in Russia.
“It’s incredible that we get so much support,” she says. “People feel much better about giving to charities than they used to. I feel that they understand the importance of the work we do.”
An Olympic Opportunity
A new mother, Tchilingarian is currently on mandatory maternity leave, but she is doing part-time consulting work for McDonald’s, helping with marketing and public relations related to the company’s presence at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia. She is helping to prepare legacy documents about McDonald’s campaigns related to the upcoming games, and translating the text into English for the International Olympic Committee.
She will spend a week in Sochi during the games, and while she hopes to catch a little ice hockey or figure skating action, she offers the same caution that professionals everywhere give when they travel to popular locations for their jobs.
“I’ll be working,” she says with a rueful smile. “I don’t know if I’ll see anything.” Fortunately, Tchilingarian loves her work.
“This job is really a perfect fit for me,” says Tchilingarian. “I get to draw on my Earlham experience all the time and it helps me to work effectively with other people and the confidence to make choices.”