IT companies lead when it really countsSource: AmCham Perspective Magazine
Faced with a growing crisis in the care of newborn babies, Serbia’s Information Technology leaders and individuals rose to the challenge and revolutionized the country’s maternity wards through record-breaking donations.
The first donor gathering supporting the humanitarian campaign Battle for Maternity Wards raised €65,000 for babies and was organized by the American Chamber of Commerce in Serbia and the B92 Fund in March. Microsoft, the event’s initiator, was joined by other IT companies, AmCham members, whose donations helped purchase thirty-five CTG machines for fifteen maternity wards in Serbia, meeting the needs of maternity wards on the national level.
Responsible business leaders
AmCham’s Executive Director Maja Piščević took the opportunity to point out the role of a business leader in the community: “To be a business leader means to be responsible, dedicated and ready to identify and promote common values, to create a vision of a better society and to implement it in practice,” she said. “These days, when the morality crisis is much more dangerous and deadly than the global economic crisis, it is very important to focus on real values and raise both individual and corporate awareness of help and care for those who need it most regardless of the group they belong to.”
Piščević stressed that the best CSR practices had come from American and international companies, but that local Serbian companies had adopted their models with great enthusiasm and were among the most socially responsible companies in the country at the moment.
The Battle for Maternity Wards is a continuation of the Battle for Babies campaign that attracted great public attention, equipping maternity wards with incubators for prematurely born children. It united over seven hundred companies and a million Serbian citizens and showed how much we can achieve if we have a common cause. The B92 Fund initiated both humanitarian campaigns, the impact and importance of which was also recognized in the region. The campaigns are now being implemented in Bosnia and Herzegovina and are soon to spread to Greece.
Veran Matić, Chair of the B92 Fund Management Board, shed some light on the motivation behind these campaigns: “We in the B92 Fund have strived to promote the idea that all these inherited and acquired problems, the problems that we create ourselves, too, cannot be solved the way they normally are in stable societies. The entire community needs to make an extra effort. This gathering (the donor dinner) stemmed from of a great event called ‘Synergy’. The word itself describes how we operate. We tried to create a synergy of those who needed help and those who wanted to help, of those representing the institutions of a system that is still not functioning properly and of those who can help. We were creating a synergy of individuals, non-government organizations, companies, sports clubs, educational institutions and various associations – a great community able to solve problems that could not be solved in any other way.”
Matić added that the development of Information Technology had brought great prosperity, but also great problems, and because of that the IT industry had to give back to society as comprehensively as possible. “Allocating funds to help maternity wards is the easiest way to do that,” he said. The IT industry needs to be committed to preventing the spread of various pathologies that plague the Internet and put, primarily, children in danger, such as pedophilia and video-game addiction. This is why expert IT assistance is imperative: As Bill Gates said, corporate social responsibility is not just about maximizing profit for the shareholders. It is about making profits without harming the community. But if it does harm, then most of the profit should be spent on problem solving.” Matić concluded that donations are the simplest way to do that and that all of us should dedicate our professions, lives and daily work to resolving these burning issues because it is the only way to deal with the complex problems we are facing.
The donor dinner brought together IT leaders HP, SAGA, Intel, Oracle, OSA računarski inženjering, SBS, ComTrade, Aigo BS, eSmart Systems, and Extreme, providing an example of what organized corporate donor work is all about. It was the first event of the kind organized by AmCham.
An outstanding personal contribution
The donor gathering and the entire Battle for Maternity Wards campaign were supported by the Ministry of Health. Minister Slavica Đukić Dejanović expressed herself pleased with the response and how the campaign raised awareness among those who could really make a difference for those most in need of help. “Pessimists say that in hard times people should lie low, that they should survive and get down to work when things get a little better,” she said.
“Optimists disagree. They say that hard times are the best times for creative people, for those who know how to prioritize and make the hard times less hard,” Minister Đukić Dejanović said in her inspirational speech. There was no denying that the donor dinner attracted the optimists, she added. The facts that between two censuses Serbia’s population dropped by 4.5 per cent, and that in 24.2 per cent of settlements not a single baby was born in 2010 are worrying. There is no question what the priorities are. “The Ministry of Health must think about the equipment, the facilities and the staff of maternity wards, too. There is no excuse why our maternity wards are not equipped as they should be,” the Minister stressed. “But help makes the work of both government institutions and individuals easier. Raising government awareness and waking its conscience in this way is dignified, praiseworthy and gives us confidence that the next census will not be as negative as the last, which showed a decrease in population of 380,000. That’s Kragujevac times two.”
The death rate among prematurely born babies is over 60 per cent. Sixty-four days after the Battle for Babies had started, the objective was exceeded. The campaign helped raise €2,600,000 for two hundred incubators, meeting the needs of the entire country. The campaign got free media space worth €420,000 and PR space worth €1,700,000. The campaign’s media budget was zero euros, its total cost €18,000.
Among the contributions of 700 donor companies and over a million individual donations, one in particular stood out – a donation of over €1,200,000 from Milan Popović, the largest individual donor. Having faced the possibility of having a prematurely born son himself, Popović had a first-hand view of the state of Serbian maternity wards, which moved him in the direction of humanitarian work. “I suddenly felt that it was my time to join the humanitarian work in a way that suited me best: to invest the money I have earned in the past twenty years of doing business. This coincided with the birth of my own son and the possibility of his premature birth. I was able to experience the emotion of parents expecting a baby.” Milan Popović plans to continue his humanitarian work but he appeals to the government to facilitate donor work by providing tax relief.
United IT leaders
The objective of the donor dinner was to raise funds for life-support equipment for newborn babies, first and foremost reanimation equipment, and respiratory and monitoring equipment for neo-natal intensive care wards. The initiator of the event was Microsoft Serbia. Microsoft Country Manager Jugoslav Pirić stressed that the IT industry was contributing to the democratization of technology and world knowledge and provided every house with access to information. However, he said, the advance of civilization is impossible if we don’t look after new generations. “Inspired by the Battle for Babies,” he said. “our employees decided to support the Battle for Maternity Wards. I am pleased that IT representatives have united and responded to the initiative so quickly.”
The Serbian branch of Microsoft was supported by its parent company. Takuya Hirano, Microsoft Multi Country CEE General Manager reminded all present of what really mattered in life: “We can measure our lives in different ways - by year or how much money we create, but our ultimate legacy is our children. There are IT leaders in this room. I think we can agree that what we do today as IT leaders is mostly about people, and without people IT is nothing. It is all about enabling people to realize their full potential, and I think we can say the same thing about society. I am very proud of Microsoft Serbia and this first CSR which united Serbian IT leaders. I think our goal is social leadership through private enterprise, government and NGO working together. I think this is a way to go to grasp such an important cause.”
Hewlett-Packard, the world leader in the IT industry has joined the IT leaders in the charity campaign Battle for the Babies as well. On this occasion, director of HP in Serbia, Miloš Đurkovic said: "Beside involvement in successful business projects HP is constantly engaged in projects of special importance to the community. HP believes that technology should be available to all as an educational and working tool. To make this possible, HP is developing and participating in various philanthropic programs and partnerships that cover three key areas: education and connecting employees and the community. HP applies this to both global and local levels. For the past ten years, HP donated computer equipment, worth over one million and three hundred thousand dollar, to educational and health institutions in Serbia."
Numerous messages were sent by other IT leaders’ representatives promising support and help for those in need. This sort of gathering was just the first of many and a promising model for similar events. This is also a great example of how other industries should organize and unite their efforts to make the world a better place.