I have been following the Philanthropy Posts for some time and what really interests me are the articles about the „new donors“ in our region. New donors are successful people who made their fortunes and decided to focus and invest part of it in the philanthropy. Of course, there are not that many Bill Gates around but I am glad to say that even in Slovakia we hear more and more stories about the people who switched their attention from the businesses to the social realm and public benefit. I would like to share some of their stories with you.
This story is about a highly business skilled and oriented guy who has found his happiness in helping children from foster homes. I believe that his example could be an inspiration for new donors in Central Europe, too.
Ladislav Kossar graduated from the Comenius University, Faculty of Law. His studies in Netherlands, Hungary and USA were focused mainly on international law, intellectual property and capital markets. He studied law and political science in addition to a public and private sector relations at Harvard. During his work for Deutsche Bank in London, Frankfurt and Tokyo he specialised in acquisitions, asset management and investment banking. Shortly after coming back to Slovakia in 2004 he founded a company VENVIVIS. VENVIVIS operates investments of the venture capital into the innovative companies in Silicon Valley and Slovakia. In 2006 he founded a civic association Provida and in 2010 also the foundation.
Do you remember your first gift? And the first major gift?
I don´t truly remember the very first one, certainly I donated to some kind of a large international collection when I was a student. I think I was about 29 years old when I bought bread bracelets for 1000 Slovak crowns (around 33 Euro) made by children from an orphanage. First major gift worth of a few thousands Euros I made for children adventure summer camp.
How did the idea of philanthropy find you?
Helping others has been natural in my family. My mother is a child immunologist and she is a co-founder and president of the Association of asthmatics. My father has a very good hearted, grandfather was also known for his generosity. I co-founded Provida civic association with my sister. Most commonly, people start to do philanthropy if they have earned enough not having to work anymore. For me it wasn´t the case nor it was any conceptual decision. After several successful business projects I began to feel that I earn much more than what the average income is. I began to think more deeply about the meaning of life and work, and my own responsibility.
How did you choose the subject of your support?
Perhaps the most accurate answer is that the subject chose me. After purchasing the bread bracelets from the orphanage children the foster home representatives invited me into their home to become more familiar with children and the overall issue. Once we understood what were the basic needs of children in foster homes, we gradually began to develop projects to fulfil these needs. It wasn´t a material or financial support, as you might think, but individual fellowship, progressive integration into society and employment assistance after they leave the orphanage.
Why did you decide to establish a civic association and even the foundation?
Establishment of the Provida civic association in 2006 was very spontaneous and related to the visit to the orphanage. We realized that what we wanted was to really help these children, not to help “as if” or temporarily. We had understood that it is the balance of their leisure time and development of their motivation and interest in various areas that was something very important and that´s why we organized the very first summer camp. The name of our association is inspired from the motto of Costa Rica people – Pura Vida. I happened to be there on vacation and I liked this motto very much. Pura Vida means a good life. Pro Vida means for life. For a better life that would be the best description of our motivation. The Foundation was established later in 2010. There were also legal reasons for founding it – it’s more convenient form of asset management for public purposes.
How do you want to make a social impact through your donations? What do you consider an effective giving?
A friend of mine likes to say: “Nothing happens by chance …”. Perhaps the fact that my first contact with orphanage children wasn´t just about the gift, should have meant something, what I didn´t know at that time. Donations are very beautiful gesture of humanity and compassion. But my experience and personal beliefs are much closer to the famous saying “when you give a fish, you feed for a day, but when you teach to fish, you feed for a lifetime.” There is often a small gift at the beginning, but there are too many people in the world who need our help and certainly we cannot help everyone. Therefore, we are always trying to find the way how we can help most effectively and most sustainably the most people. Of course, systemic changes are the most important but they are also the most difficult. Orphans, unemployed or disabled people do not need our compassion, but assistance to help them acquire the necessary skills to find a job or housing and thus to become a part of the society. Personally, I consider a very effective approach the support of individuals who establish “social enterprises” (my definition of this term is closer to “businesses with a human face”) – firms that employ disadvantaged and hardly employable groups, provide services or products and have a chance to be financially sustainable and not dependent on generosity and donations. In practice, this means that they move further from the third sector to the private sector but provide the added value – a positive social impact.
What do you think are the most common non-profits fundraising mistakes?
I am not the fundraising or marketing expert but so far from my experience I can see that sometimes non-profit organizations communicate their work too much through the emotions and there are some donors who are more interested in concrete, measurable results that are not addressed. I have also made this mistake. Once we are into something we all tend to communicate more through the emotions which of course is very important, but probably the best would be a combination of facts and emotions. If we want more people to be engaged, they should have the opportunity to meet those whom we help. It is better to experience once that to hear or read 1000 times. This is something what we are trying to achieve not only with our donors but also with students and young people whom we want to lead to a higher social engagement. It’s time consuming but effects are deeper and longer.
How does it feel to be the one who is asking for support with your own organization?
It’s funny – you are supporting meaningful projects on the one hand, on the other hand you are trying to gain support from investors and donors. As I drive the investment company which has various subsidiaries and a wide range of clients there are some similarities. The company also competes for capital, customers, employees or the best product. Working in the non-profit sector is a bit different, since success is not measured only by good financial indicators but also by social benefits. Achieving both is very difficult and you need a lot of attention, hard work, courage to innovate and to learn more.
Is there anything you have learned from your work for social benefit?
Certainly, more self-reflection and humility. I try to listen more, in what I not always succeed, but when working with a large group of people it´s very important. Every day I try to learn something regardless whether it’s of the homeless, a priest, a child psychologist, artist or a successful businessman. I was lucky to meet wonderful people who really inspire me and I feel the responsibility to pass as much for the benefit of others. My driving engine is to help others to achieve their life goal or try to alleviate their suffering. I think that the ability to help others is the most unique humanity except smile. I sympathize with Albert Einstein´s words: “You cannot change the world but you can change the world of one person.” I am very happy that I have found my inner happiness and meaning in life through the bread bracelets. A reward in the form of “thank you” or often just a smile in the eyes of those whom one helps is the most what one can get.
What is your biggest challenge in the social benefit area?
We have been working with children in foster homes for six years. During this relatively short period we have learned one thing – only a systematic, long-term and comprehensive approach can bring success. In order to reduce the number of new children in foster homes it is necessary to work on prevention with the families in crisis, to help children return to their families, to find foster families. These children with less fortune need to be given attention, friends, they need to learn how to manage money, to be understand what are their rights and what are their duties after they come from foster homes and last but not least to help them find a job. We have realized that such a comprehensive activity can’t be done by us alone. Therefore, we cooperate with other NGOs and foundations, student organizations, companies. We have also established various social enterprises. The whole initiative is tentatively called “5000” because that is the number of children in foster homes in Slovakia. We want to consolidate activities to create a synergistic effect of cooperation of several entities that are experts in various fields. We strive to ensure that all is “pulled in the same direction” and together we will achieve that fewer children will be coming into foster homes and at the same time more children will leave foster homes capable of the social integration. I would be very glad if Provida could help many people on their way to their happiness and may even in 100 years meet a variety of public objectives in Slovakia and other countries.
Milica Dankova is Development & PR Manager in Center for Philanthropy from Slovakia. More about Center for Philanthropy you can find on www.cpf.sk