Marija Mitrović, Philanthropy and Partnerships Director at Trag Foundation: Doing business and doing good

The question of corporate philanthropy in Serbia

According to the data collected by Catalyst Balkans, over 21 million euros were donated from March 2020 to January 2021, in Serbia’s national effort to mitigate the effects caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. More than 64% of the total amount was donated by the business sector, once again proving the importance of its role. In light of these numbers, let’s take a quick look at corporate philanthropy in Serbia and its potential beyond the current state of emergency.

Marija Mitrović, Philanthropy and Partnerships Director at Trag Foundation/Author of the photo: Aleksandar Crnogorac/Trag fondacija.

Why should businesses do good in the first place?

From the individualistic, market-oriented world of today, some might wonder why would companies want to contribute to the community at all. The answer is simple and blatantly obvious: because each business is an inherent, inseparable member of one community. What happens outside the office walls directly affects the way they operate, and common issues remain, after all, just that. Common.

What’s so special about corporate philanthropy?

Unlike individual philanthropy, which is often driven by the desire to directly help someone in need, corporate philanthropy takes a more strategic, long-term approach, includes a greater number of beneficiaries and aims at the development of the entire community. Furthermore, it goes beyond financial investments and provides additional support by donating time, goods, services and knowledge.

“The biggest leap in corporate philanthropy development in Serbia over the past 15 years came with the arrival of global businesses”

In other words, corporate giving is generally more diverse, enduring and impactful – all of which is especially vital when we go beyond handling emergency situations and approach the matters that demand continuous effort, such as environmental protection, infrastructure, education or culture.

How have the times changed?

The biggest leap in corporate philanthropy development in Serbia over the past 15 years came with the arrival of global businesses. They brought good practices and a clearer picture of what socially responsible business looks like, serving as role models to domestic enterprises. Over the years, smaller and medium companies followed their footsteps and found their own ways to contribute to the communities in which they operate.

Today, businesses strive to listen to the community and co-create solutions. They work together on mapping key issues and defining the most efficient ways to address them – be it through financial donations, corporate volunteering, knowledge sharing, or partnering up with local non-profits. And though this takes more effort compared to the “one-size-fits-all” approach, it also makes the partnerships and the impact that much stronger.

What still needs to change?

The legislative framework remains one of the key obstacles to the rise of corporate philanthropy. Some positive steps have been made in 2019 when the non-taxable amount of scholarships and grants for pupils and students was increased, which further encouraged companies to invest in the youth. This was followed by a Manual issued by the Tax Administration, that made the use of existing tax deductions on giving for public good much clearer. However, we still struggle with the lack of more substantial incentives and consistent implementation of tax deduction regulations which impacts the rise of philanthropic activities in a negative way. Corporate giving could be further instigated through more diligent media reporting on these efforts. They are still perceived as corporate PR activity hence we have little opportunity to learn about all the initiatives taking place around us.

What can we do?

We can inspire more future actions by highlighting what has been done so far and sharing examples of good practice. For the past 14 years, VIRTUS Award for Philanthropy presented by the Trag Foundation provided a voice to businesses and individuals who did good for the benefit of all.

While we’re waiting for the announcement of 2020’s winners, we can find our own corporate philanthropy heroes and perhaps, along the way, become inspired to make the greater good – our own business.

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