"Citizens are much more humane than data and trends show"
Veran Matic, President of the Board of Directors of B92 Fund, is interviewed for the CSR Leaders 2018 EditionSource: Business Info Group
“The citizens of Serbia are much more humane than the data and trends show, we want to make it more real and more visible”, Veran Matic said at the beginning of the interview.
At your initiative, Philanthropy Council was established in the Government of Serbia, you are co-chairing that body. Why was the Council established and what do you expect to change in the activities of the Council in the field of philanthropy?
VERAN MATIC: The Philanthropy Council was established by Prime Minister Ana Brnabic at the initiative of the Coalition for Charity, after years of work of a number of foundations and non-governmental organizations in the field of creating conditions for improving the conditions for philanthropy, CSR development, charity. The greatly gained experience of these organizations required a more serious step towards the realization of a series of proposals to improve the conditions for dealing with philanthropy. This was not possible with individual initiatives, but it was necessary to create a direct dialogue between the representatives of the relevant ministries and the Cabinet of the Prime Minister with the representatives of the non-governmental sector, foundations and the Serbian Chamber of Commerce, through a joint body within which the initiatives and proposals for legislative changes, changes in regulations and other solutions, which will create better conditions for the development of philanthropy at all levels. As there is great dynamics when it comes to supporting start-up business and innovative projects, we will strive to create adequate support for the development of incubators for charity, to create some balance between economic development and the development of philanthropy and socially responsible business, as there are more and more evident trends in which it is clear that good companies must also have good CSR activities, and that successful individuals measure their success through their influence on the society in the field of philanthropy.
What are the objectives of the Council and what do you want to achieve?
VERAN MATIC: “Harsh capitalism is largely based on greed and self-sufficiency. Adam Smith wrote in The Wealth of Nations that selfishness is good for the society. But he also wrote in an earlier book that: "How selfish soever man may be supposed, there are evidently some principles in his nature, which interest him in the fortune of others, and render their happiness necessary to him, though he derives nothing from it except the pleasure of seeing it.“
We want charity and philanthropy to develop much more intensively, to establish a culture of giving and solidarity as the most important element of social communication in Serbia, to reaffirm the charity that has been developed over a hundred years ago in Serbia through well-known examples of Nikola Spasic, Kolarac, Misa Anastasijevic, Weifert, etc... We identified a number of problems that significantly affect the lack of serious growth in the philanthropy sector, the volume of donations, and grouped them into several topics: the state does not have a system for measuring the scope of giving, there are practically no official data on giving for the common good (data available through Catalyst Balkans reports are based on monitoring media reports and company reports). Practically, from the forms currently available at the Tax Administration, it is not possible at all to get data on the giving of legal entities.
For years, we have been underlying that it is a very serious problem that there is no possibility of tax exemption for donations, and there is no possibility of tax deduction / relief for individuals, donors and philanthropists (Serbia is one of the few countries in the region and the world that does not allow these reductions and thereby destimulating individual philanthropy, that is, giving by individuals). It is very important to change the present framework for volunteering, offering time and your skills. Volunteering is one of the criteria that is important when it comes to making a world index of donations, and according to that index, prepared by the Charities Aid Foundation, we are at the very bottom of the list, when it comes to giving (last year we were rated 132nd, out of 140 countries surveyed).
What kind of assistance do you expect from the Government in this regard and what is the role of the state in the Council?
VERAN MATIC: At the first session of the Council, we adopted an action plan for the next 4 years with precise goals and stakeholders. It should be said that for these activities, a USAID grant is provided, so that practically for the work of the Council there is no allocation from the state budget. It should be said that members of the Council work pro bono - free of charge.
We have just proposed the establishment of mixed working groups that will work on these topics, which we have identified as the most important and most urgent: to improve the legal framework for the donation of surplus food, to improve the legal and fiscal framework for giving for the common good by legal entities and to improve the implementation of existing legal mechanisms and for the creation of a stimulating environment for giving for general purposes by individuals.
The groups will be composed of representatives of competent ministries, representatives of foundations and non-governmental organizations, as well as experts for the given field of work. Practically, optimal solutions will come through dialogue, the recommended solutions that the Council proposes will go to the government in order to make the necessary decisions, and of course, in the procedure in front of the National Parliament. By adequately tackling these problems, a good foundation will be created to have a steady growth of philanthropic activity, charity, endowment ...
What are the biggest problems in this field and according to current circumstances, in which fields is most money invested from charity?
VERAN MATIC: For the time being, we can only rely on the data that are being collected for years by Catalyst Balkans:
Since 2014, we have a growth in the number of marked campaigns, with a slight fall in 2017. We have a steady growth in the donated amount, this year by 15 percent.
In the first place, the most important donors are citizens who, through mass actions, campaigns, respond to the appeals and the like, but these are mainly the examples of ad hoc giving, and our goal is to have regular activities of giving in order to ensure stability in financing important projects, initiatives, actions...
The business sector, small and medium-sized and large enterprises take second place. Certainly, the capacity for charity in this area is much bigger and it is important that, through a series of changes planned by the action plan, we approach companies with a very challenging field of philanthropy, socially responsible activities...
When it comes to the best donated fields, healthcare, primarily assistance to patients, especially children for treatment, comes first.
Support for marginal groups, social institutions and organizations that handle and provide services to vulnerable groups, comes second.
Third place takes the reduction of poverty, assistance to individuals, families in a difficult financial situation. The problem is that there are very few giving for employment programs, start up initiatives, which could strategically improve the situation.
There is also education, where educational institutions are main targets of donations. Here we see a huge space for new initiatives and much higher level of giving, especially through scholarships and through the increase of scholarships, which should, in turn, allow increase of the taxable amount.
Although in terms of the number of campaigns, donations are most often addressed to individuals or families (those are donations for medical treatment, or assistance to the poor), when it comes to the amount of money, primacy is established by the state, that is, state institutions or local or national authorities.
When it comes to the total donated sum, in Serbia it is roughly around 30 million euros in 2017.
Through our project/projects, we want to apply as many examples of good practice as possible. Ambassador Scott has recently reported that in 2018 Americans gave charity in the amount of $ 410 billion, out of which 70 percent of that money came from individuals. Thanks to the developed culture of giving and numerous reliefs, Americans give about 2 percent of their annual income for charity.
What are the Council's plans and expectations, what is the time period needed for something to change in Serbia in this respect?
VERAN MATIC: The action plan we have made is fundamentally linked to the next four years, but our goal is to permanently establish new practices, new frameworks for stimulus, laying the foundation for the culture of giving through the educational system, which is an extremely important aspect (for example, thanks to the Canadian educational program Roots of Empathy, hundreds of thousands of schoolchildren have been taught empathic skills, the program has been extended to the UK), systemic giving, establishing a culture of giving as a permanent activity, setting up manifestations, recognitions, etc., which will enable us to permanently develop a society based on solidarity in which humanity, charity, philanthropy will be respected and appreciated, and the financial means that divide individuals and companies will be one of the significant elements of the development of education, culture, eradication of poverty.
On which campaigns B92 Fund works in 2018 and which vulnerable group is in the focus of the Fund this year?
VERAN MATIC: B92 Fund continues with numerous campaigns initiated several years ago, or even decades, and as far as this and next year is concerned, we are focused on children and women, their health and education as the most important conditions for progress in life. Through the action "Battle for Knowledge", we continue to work on equipping elementary schools with robotic equipment and encouraging young people, and especially girls, to advance in areas that will mark their future and the future of the whole world.
"SHEmpowerment" is the program of B92 Fund, which for the fifth year in a row, deals with the economic empowerment of women who have survived domestic violence, as well as those who are in any other social need - we provide participants with trainings of specific and motivational skills, as well as trainings on creating business plans for starting your own small business, and providing initial grants for the best women's business ideas, all with the help and trust of the United Nations Fund for the fighting violence against women and numerous partners in the non-governmental and governmental sector, as well as private business. Of course, we continue to continue with the campaigns Battle for the Babies and Battle for Maternity Wards, as well as many other smaller campaigns and projects.
A Coalition for Charity is also established, who are its members, and what are the tasks of joint action? What are the projects you work together on and do you have the support of international organizations?
VERAN MATIC: The Coalition for Charity was created, on the one hand, naturally, by the development of the sector, and when the limit was reached on the possibilities, then a coalition was created that wants to make new steps. On the one hand, to unite all forces, energy, experience, and on the other, to gain key players for the next steps, evolution. We gained support from those who have programs supporting philanthropy and charity ideas, such as USAID, and, on the other hand, those who can significantly contribute to these goals, and now they are working together. The Coalition was formed around the Ana and Vlade Divac Foundation, and it consists of the Serbian Chamber of Commerce, The Corporate Social Responsibility Council, which I initiated before the Coalition was established, the Trag Foundation, which for years promotes philanthropy from the basic local level to the promotion of philanthropy at the top level of the Virtus Awards, practically standardization of philanthropy and CSR, the Smart Kolektiv and the Corporate Responsibility Forum have made the same standards in the area of small, medium-sized and large enterprises, owners and managers, Catalyst Balkans, a regional player who has now established the only mechanism for tracking trends that develops new donation mechanisms on www.donacije.rs, etc., as well as Serbian a Philanthropic Forum that seeks to connect the non-profit and corporate sector and which established the National Day of Giving within this project (marked on October 9, Mihajlo Pupin's birthday), which was first under the auspices of Prime Minister Ana Brnabic, marked this year with the aim of supporting talent education through the campaign of collecting funds for a super machine for the lab of Petnica research station... This day is dedicated to the half-marathon, the Festival of Philanthropy organized by the Divac Foundation, etc.
In addition to these, we have a series of planned events that, through density and synergy, will be fully in the service of achieving the goals of the project to improve the delivery framework, the Coalition for Charity and the Philanthropy Council. I think that this year we have set the most important foundations that will guarantee a serious evolution of philanthropy and charity in Serbia and that we will prove that the citizens of Serbia are really much more humane than the numbers show.
Veran Matic, B92 President of the Board of Directors, co-chairing Philanthropic Council, Founder and Chairman of the Commission for investigating the killings of journalists, Member of the Permanent Working Group for Journalists’ Safety, Special Envoy to the President of Serbia in charge of the issues of missing persons with the Republic of Croatia, Chairman of the Board of B92 Fund, Chairman of the CSR Council of the Serbian Chamber of Commerce.
Except for his engagement in B92, Mr. Matic performs all other activities on a pro bono basis, and he regularly takes part in all the activities of other foundations, he is regular blood and thrombocyte donor, bone marrow donor, signed an organ donor card, etc.