Interview with Marija Mitrović, Director of Philanthropy and Partnerships of the Trag Foundation
“Charity must be recognized and should be constantly talked about in public, in order to become an inspiration for others, in which the media have a key role. Also, in order to create a stimulating environment for donations, it is necessary to improve the legislative framework “, said Marija Mitrović, Director of Philanthropy and Partnerships of the Trag Foundation, which this year for the 14th time in a row awards the VIRTUS Award for Philanthropy.
The goal of this prestigious recognition is to highlight and support companies, as well as small and medium enterprises and individuals, which in 2020 did good deeds, initiated and supported philanthropic initiatives and thus contributed to the development of the communities in which they live and do business.
What does philanthropy mean for ordinary people, and how do companies perceive it?
When it comes to philanthropy, citizens usually help children, people with health problems and the poor. It can be said that their giving is deeply motivated by emotions and the desire to help someone. Companies direct their philanthropic activities more towards community development, giving is longer-term, targeting a larger number of users and are often related to their core business. It is worth noting that citizens are mostly oriented towards giving money, while companies, in addition to money, donate goods and services, as well as volunteer time and knowledge of their employees.
In which areas were there the most philanthropic initiatives?
When it comes to areas, health is in the first place, which is directly related to the fact that the most represented beneficiaries are donations from people with health problems. Health care is followed by support for marginalized groups, poverty reduction and education. Since the beginning of the monitoring of philanthropic giving in Serbia, the mentioned four areas are the most represented and the largest percentage of recorded shares goes to them – as much as 83.6%.
How much has the situation changed in the last 14 years when it comes to philanthropy?
When analyzing philanthropy in Serbia in the past few years, we can say that there have been positive developments. Philanthropy is increasingly recognized and practiced, and there has been an increase, both in the number of actions and in increasing the amount of donations. Aggregate data on benefits in 2020 are still pending, but we have no doubt that the next report, which we expect in the spring of 2021, will show that benefits have further increased and exceeded the € 34.5 million donated in 2019. which is, by the way, a third more than the amount of donations in the previous year. There have been some changes in the regulatory framework, and there are more and more different umbrella bodies dealing with philanthropy, of which we especially emphasize the Coalition for Charity and the Serbian Philanthropic Forum. The idea is to create a system in the future in which all actors will be effectively linked and involved in achieving a common goal, creating a better society for all of us.
Applications for this year’s VIRTUS Philanthropy Award can be submitted until February 25, and more information on the competition propositions, how to apply and the composition of the jury can be found at the following link: www.tragfondacija.org/virtus-nagrada.
What are the biggest obstacles to the development of philanthropy in Serbia?
When it comes to citizens, the most common obstacles are lack of money, general apathy, distrust in the initiators of actions, suspicion that they can contribute to solving the problem or that the initiative itself can have a positive outcome. For companies, limiting factors are reduced budgets for philanthropic projects, lack of transparency of initiators, lack of incentive legislative framework, insufficient media support, but also insufficient number of good solutions offered for priority problems.
One of the aggravating circumstances is the distribution of funds to organizations at the level of local self-governments. Namely, the procedures and selections in these procedures are very non-transparent, which opens space for abuse. Governmental non-governmental organizations, the so-called “Gongo”, but also other only formally existing associations that “out of nowhere” appear in such competitions, but they are still awarded funds. Since some of the organizations that are really engaged in philanthropy, among other things, are financed through these competitions, they are often left without funds due to the mentioned abuses.
The compilation of the list of media workers, non-governmental organizations and citizens’ associations by the Administration for the Prevention of Money Laundering, as well as the request for insight into all their transactions, sent to banks, also had a very negative impact. This move had very tangible and serious consequences for the development of philanthropy in Serbia, because the mentioned list also included important organizations that deal with the development of this area in our country. This undermines trust in these organizations, because such an act sends a message to the public that they are “problematic”. It is also believed that the manner of media coverage of this event further damaged the reputation of the organizations that, without a reasonable doubt, found themselves on this list.
What should be the role of the state in improving the environment for donations?
The state is expected, above all, to improve the normative framework and activate the mechanisms established by law that would promote philanthropy. Special emphasis is placed on the need for the introduction of tax relief for philanthropic donations and the abolition of VAT on food donations. It is also necessary to work on more consistent compliance with existing regulations in practice and stricter application of regulations. European countries are examples of good state practice in the field of philanthropy, especially in the context of tax relief and incentives, and such models could be applied in Serbia.
Should the role of the media be only informative or also educational?
The media play a major role in encouraging philanthropy, above all, in encouraging giving, informing citizens about this area and ensuring transparency about the activities carried out and the flow of donated money. According to the research of the Trag Foundation, citizens are obviously eager for good stories and the media should dedicate their space to them, instead of focusing on reporting on alleged abuses, in a sensationalist manner. Such media coverage has caused enormous damage to philanthropy, especially in the constellation where there is insufficient reporting on positive examples and results achieved through philanthropic activities. In addition, it would be good for the media to inform citizens about the opportunities to participate in philanthropic activities, offering them as specific information as possible, as well as to send the activities from start to finish.
Has Serbia passed the solidarity exam when it comes to repairing the consequences of the COVID-19 virus epidemic?
During the crisis caused by the COVID-19 virus, Catalyst Balkans collected data showing that from March 16, 2020 to January 31, 2021, individuals, companies and non-profit organizations in Serbia donated more than 21 million euros to repair the consequences of this pandemic. . The business sector donated the most – almost 64%. Of the total amount, about 80% was donated to health institutions. Most of the donations – almost half – were used for the purchase of medical equipment, about 40 percent of the funds were spent on the purchase of consumables such as masks and gloves, while the remaining part was intended for humanitarian aid.
The Trag Foundation, in cooperation with partners: the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, the KIA Foundation and the Balkan Democracy Fund, implemented the Active Communities: Solidarity Response to COVID-19 program, with the aim of supporting actions aimed at reducing the spread of the virus and facilitating the stay of fellow citizens. in quarantine. Within that program, 39 initiatives were supported with more than 13.7 million dinars. These experiences have shown us how agile and fast the civil sector has been in responding to the crisis and how effectively it has responded to some of the needs of the community, at a time when neither institutions nor large donors have been able to make quick decisions and redirect different types of assistance there. where she was most needed.
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