The strength of any society lies in solid communities, and with joint efforts, citizens can contribute to their development. Community foundations have proven to be key drivers of local change, as their geographic focus and pooling of funds inspire people to unite and improve their local living environment through joint actions.
Their efforts showed how civic activism can contribute to solving numerous issues and creating a better society for all, as stated at the National Conference on Philanthropy, organized by the Trag Foundation, with the support of the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation.
“The fact that 850 community foundations operate in 22 countries across Europe confirms that philanthropy can generate approaches and solutions through local actions in a diverse range of topics. Community foundations also played an important role in periods of crisis, such as the COVID-19 pandemic, when they positioned themselves as reliable and efficient organizations that recognized a moment and had the capacity to use philanthropic resources for local and urgent needs. They are certainly an important element in building an efficient European philanthropic infrastructure,” said Nicola Bertolini, Head of the Cooperation Department at the Delegation of the European Union in Serbia, at the conference’s opening.
Shanley Pinchotti, Director of the USAID’s Office of Democratic and Economic Growth in Serbia, said: “USAID has always supported projects that contribute to the development of local communities. We are proud of the results of our cooperation with civil society organizations in Serbia and our support of their initiatives to achieve positive changes in their communities. We will continue to create necessary conditions for sustainable local development in the upcoming period”.
Biljana Dakić Đorđević, Executive Director of the Trag Foundation, pointed out the importance of united citizens’ endeavors for the benefit of their communities: “Three community foundations were established this year – in Niš, Pančevo and Stara Pazova, with the support of the Trag Foundation. These foundations have raised more than 45 thousand euros in donations to date. Trag has doubled this amount, and these funds are being used to support local initiatives – 67 citizens’ associations’ and informal groups’ ideas have been supported so far in various areas of activity: culture, education, sports, renovation of public spaces, support to marginalized groups, environmental protection, etc. Such initiatives restore the confidence of citizens that it is possible to influence changes in their environment and ensure its progress, but also the fact that citizens themselves play an important role in this”.
The participants had an opportunity to learn about the experiences and work of Romanian community foundations in the address by Stefan Cibian, Board Member of the Romanian Federation of Community Foundations and the Țara Făgărașului Community Foundation: “For more than half of the Romanian population, community foundations represent a concrete chance to strengthen and transform the lives of their local communities. Several years after the launch of the first community foundation in Romania in 2007/2008, we see a network of 18 community foundations, which have become active philanthropic centers with sufficient resources to drive community development. The chance for every individual to leave a positive mark on how society works is one of the most powerful engines for strengthening democracy. Community foundations bring this powerful life experience to an increasing number of citizens in Romania and worldwide.”
This year’s conference brought together more than 100 representatives of the civil, public, and business sectors, who had the opportunity to discuss the process of establishing a community foundation from initial idea to registered organization, the ways of citizens contribute to the community development, how community foundations can inspire local people to take action, why even small funds play an important role in major changes, investing and fundraising for women’s organizations and women’s empowerment nowadays, as well current and emerging philanthropy practices and trends.
The conference concluded with a presentation by Veran Matić, Executive Director of the Serbian Philanthropy Forum, who spoke about the future of giving for the common good: “Citizens have shown a high sense of responsibility and public interest. The ranking of Serbia on this year’s World Giving Index and the jump from 48th to 27th place out of a total of 119 countries shows that our fellow citizens have a strong sense of solidarity and humanity, which represents a good basis for further philanthropy development in Serbia.”
The conference is organized within the “Our local foundation – community has a say!” program, which the Trag Foundation launched in late 2019 with the support of the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation. The program aims to support establishment and development of community foundations in Serbia. Three community foundations have been established in Serbia so far. Besides Serbia, a similar program was initiated in Bosnia and Herzegovina in late 2020 with the support of the Porticus Foundation. The Trag Foundation team has since been dedicated to supporting three initiative groups from Bosnia and Herzegovina and three additional newly selected groups from Serbia in the process of establishing foundations in their communities in the near future.