Philanthropy plugs the cash gap with creativity

Newsroom 13/12/2010 | 12:47

The economic crisis has meant budget cuts for almost everyone on the market, from big players to small businesses. CSR budgets were no exception, but this has not stopped NGOs and companies supporting good causes. Business Review investigates how environmental, health, education, social and cultural issues have been tackled through this year’s campaigns and what more can be done in the future.

Corina Dumitrescu

“In recent years, especially in 2009 and 2010, there has been a significant increase in the number of environmental and health causes supported,” says Florentina Loloiu, program director at Gala Societatii Civile (the Civil Society Gala), a project that promotes and awards the non-profit sector in Romania. However, social issues – such as social assistance and inclusion – have not been ignored, she continues. “On the contrary, this is a domain in which NGOs have constantly implemented either immediate-response projects, identifying certain needs at a given moment, or ongoing activity.” Educational projects have also been on the rise, adds Loloiu. Regardless of the field, projects that involve volunteering are the most successful, “since these projects use minimal financial resources and are, at the same time, the most transparent.”

Loloiu says, “The 192 projects submitted for this year’s Civil Society’s Gala, which were mostly implemented throughout 2009, have attracted funds of EUR 13 million.” All of the money has come from the private sector, the public sector and the EU. Self-supporting NGOs are also in the picture. According to the State of the Non-governmental Sector study carried out by Gala Societatii Civile with the support of Ursus Breweries, sponsorships and donations in the private sector are financing sources for 18 percent of the 174 surveyed NGOs.


Social initiatives? Yes, we can!

Regarded as one of the most creative countries in its region, especially due to its Latin origins, Romania’s social initiatives have begun to flourish with out-of-the-box ideas. Lecturi Urbane (Urban Reading), which encourages people to read more, began life as a modest initiative in Bucharest, through which a small group of people took to the subway daily to read, to encourage other passengers to follow suit. It is now a project of national proportions, taking place in over twenty locations across Romania, with young locals doing something that counts for their communities. The project, initiated in 2009 by Dan Dumitrescu, founder of Civika, a platform promoting social change, Andrei Rosca, creator of Bookblog, and Adrian Ciubotaru, blogger, activist and writer, is a typical example of achieving a lot with a little financial support, since the project mostly relies on volunteers and donations.

Street Delivery is another notable social initiative, aiming to return the city to its rightful owners, the people, through a three-day marathon of music, street theater, dance, open-air movie projections, water fights, sight-seeing, charitable events and NGO presentations, story-telling, cooking and socializing, among many other activities. Held for the fifth time in summer 2010, Street Delivery is a lobby initiative aimed at the Bucharest City Hall, calling for the widening of sidewalks across Bucharest, the creation of a pedestrian underground passage to cross Magheru Boulevard and the construction of multi-storey car parks. The event’s wide array of artistic activities takes place annually on Arthur Verona Street, which is closed to drivers, allowing access only to pedestrians and cyclists. Annually, Street Delivery attracts between 20,000 and 30,000 visitors.

Children, among the most vulnerable members of today’s society, are not neglected by local NGOs. The Christmas Trees Festival, the Save the Children event now on its tenth year, has managed to raise EUR 2 million for the benefit of over 10,000 children over the last decade. To counter school abandonment, which a 2009 report found has risen in Romania in recent years, Save the Children has launched the national program Centers for Orientation and Resources for Inclusive Education – Complex Educational Services. Co-financed with European Funds, it aims to help disadvantaged children learn more about the need to go to school. One program from the NGO this year is Crestem impreuna (We Grow Together), for children whose parents have sought work abroad. Children from flood-hit areas have also had help from the organization. In the first two trimesters of 2010, companies invested over EUR 350,000 in Save the Children NGO’s social programs.

In the same domain, UNICEF Romania did not solely focus on the needs of local children. At the start of the year, Haiti earthquake victims were also targeted, as were flood victims in Romania. The organization raised USD 750,000 for its Haiti campaign, while the USD 937,000 collected for the local initiative was used to fund the distribution of hygiene products in the affected areas, psycho-social and counseling for families, school and house repairs and the purchase of school supplies. Drawing on the same percentage principle, UNICEF launched an affinity card in association with Unicredit Bank, where one percent of each transaction is donated by the bank to UNICEF.

The social integration of people with disabilities is a priority for Asociatia Prietenia. In 2010, the association, funded entirely with private resources, collected RON 73,000 through the 2 percent of income tax that can be allocated to an NGO program. However, the organization needs a lot more to assist people with disabilities, says Daniela Laptoiu, project manager at the association.

Elsewhere, young people and children with seeing and hearing difficulties are Light Into Europe NGOs main concern. This year, through the Guide Dogs for the Blind program, the first trained guide dog in Romania now assists a visually impaired person and will hopefully be the first of many. Large-print books are also published by the NGO for the benefit of the partially sighted. Those with hearing disabilities now have their own manuals with the help of the organization. The creative development of all these children is encouraged through the workshops that Light into Europe organizes.

Corporate players have also got involved. Vodafone Foundation Romania has invested EUR 10 million in its 12 years of activity on the Romanian market. In 2010, over 30 social programs were started on matters concerning health, education, the prevention of family abandonment, as well as schemes for the young and elderly. This year, the Vodafone Foundation started its Voluntar de profesie program (Professional Volunteer), through which members of the public were invited to work as a volunteer for any NGO in Romania, with the foundation paying the volunteers’ salaries for the four months of the program. Of over 500 applicants, 12 were selected as finalists. Vodafone continued its partnership with the NGOs Habitat for Humanity, Hospice Casa Sperantei, Sfantul Stelian, SOS Satele Copiilor, Special Olympics, Motivation, Edelweiss Sibiu and others.

The United Way NGO has a similarly broad approach, dealing with issues concerning education, health, social and economic integration. United Way has raised RON 2 million as part of its November 2010-October 2011 campaign to date, says Veronica Guzun, resource development manager at the NGO. Compared to last year, “company contributions decreased by 29 percent while, paradoxically, individuals’ contributions grew by 7 percent, which makes us very happy,” adds Guzun. What the crisis has taught the NGO is that people need to be convinced that even the smallest contributions can bring important changes, she concluded.

Staying with the crisis theme, another timely issue is the reintegration of laid off workers. Petrom put up funds worth EUR 5.2 million for the re-employment of 25,000 and the training of workers active in conditions of high risk.


Going green

Clean the whole country – in a single day! is the slogan with which Let’s Do It, Romania! aimed to encourage as many people as possible to contribute to improving the environment. Inspired by the project that successfully turned Estonia into a waste-free country in 2008, Let’s Do It, Romania! gathered over 200,000 volunteers on national clean-up day, September 25, collecting over 550,000 sacks of waste and becoming one of the biggest environmental drives of recent years.

Another green initiative, Tara lui Andrei (Andrei’s Country) was started by Petrom in 2009, with its focus the planting of trees, as well as educating the public about environmental issues. In November 2010, 21,000 trees were planted in Bacau County by almost 900 volunteers, following the 25,000 trees planted in April by 500 volunteers in Ploiesti. The educational component consists of a camp on eco-civic themes, in which 600 pupils participated this year, winners of a contest which 5,600 entered.

MaiMultVerde NGO, founded in 2008, focuses on environmental awareness, cleaning up and tree planting, as well as encouraging the use of bicycles. According to a study by the NGO in 2010, in collaboration with Gfk, 29 percent of young Romanians have been involved in volunteering (compared to 13 percent in 2004), of whom 54 percent chose environmental activities. In 2010, MaiMultVerde had a total of 3,000 volunteers involved in projects that saw 32,500 trees planted and 18.5 tons of garbage collected.


Education for all

Education is an issue of concern for children from Romania in financial difficulties. 2010 was the second year of Ovidiu Rom’s public awareness campaign Scoala te face mare (School Makes you Big), emphasizing the importance of early education for all.

The campaign stresses the right of every child to a good education and also encourages people in general to be more proactive when they know of children who are not attending kindergarten or school, says Leslie Hawke. She started the Ovidiu Rom NGO with Maria Gheorghiu, “for the purpose of addressing the wide gap in educational attainment between impoverished children and other children in Romania,” as Hawke puts it. “The most exciting thing we did this year was to invite mayors in Romania to apply for funds to get every child in their community in kindergarten. We got over 100 applications and ultimately we selected 13 communities to participate in Fiecare copil in gradinita (Every Child in Kindergarten),” she continues.

The Halloween Charity Ball is Ovidiu Rom’s only fundraising event. At the ball, 188 donations from individuals were received, twice as many as last year, raising over EUR 500,000 for the benefit of 1,200 children in need.


Steps towards a healthier society

It does not take a prominent and well funded NGO to raise awareness of a good cause. One example of a health issue promoted by an individual is Iulian Vacarean’s Pasi catre viata (Steps towards life) initiative, which consists of a series of cultural-urban events taking place in unconventional spaces, all for the benefit of child cancer sufferers at the Marie Curie hospital. At Street Delivery, for example, Iulian calls himself a professional lemonade maker, and the lemonade that he and his colleagues make is sold for RON 7 (around EUR 1.5), with proceeds going to the children at the hospital. In 2009, EUR 2,400 was raised for Iulian’s cause – building a sterile room for the pediatric oncology department at Marie Curie hospital – a small, yet significant part of the required EUR 20,000. On December 15, at Kulturhaus club in Bucharest, a charity concert will be held as part of Vacarean’s Pasi catre viata initiative, for the same purpose.

Health was also of major interest to larger companies. To provide assistance and financial support for vulnerable sectors of society, in May 2009, the Rompetrol Group launched the CSR platform Energy Comes from the Heart, which includes the national program Together for Each and Everyone and timely projects in the healthcare and environmental protection areas. Together for Each and Everyone is designed for NGOs, local authorities and public-spirited individuals who want to get involved in the development of the local communities they belong to, by proposing and implementing healthcare or environmental projects (with full financial support from Rompetrol). As a result of the project, in 2009, eight medical units (seven in rural areas) were refurbished and equipped with medical equipment.

The budget of Energy Comes from the Heart was USD 400,000, of which Together for Each and Everyone projects used USD 170,000 and the communication of the CSR platform the other USD 230,000. In 2009, Rompetrol allocated a total CSR budget of USD 1.75 million, USD 1 million of which went on implementation and USD 750,000 on communication and marketing.

The topic of health was of concern to fellow energy firm Petrom, too. This year, it launched the Respect pentru viata (Respect for Life) program, in collaboration with the Ministry of Health, aimed at the development of emergency telemedicine in Romania. Through this project, Petrom invested in connecting the Floreasca Emergency Clinical Hospital to 16 other locations across Romania, adding to the seven linked up in 2009 by the Ministry of Health. The project, which began in November 2010 and will be finished by February next year, consisted of a total investment of EUR 410,000, says Mona Nicolici, CSR communication manager at Petrom. This year, Nicolici estimates that Petrom invested a total of EUR 3 million in social responsibility programs, a similar sum to previous years.


Cultural projects take center stage

Medieval Monuments of Bukovina, a collection of images of Bukovina, has been released in aid of the promotion, conservation and restoration of heritage monuments in the area, eight of which are UNESCO listed. The book was launched at the National Art and Medieval Civilization Symposium in Suceava, at the end of November, by the Art Conservation Support publishing house. The NGO was set up in 2009 to benefit the cultural heritage and includes restorers, art historians and chemists, as well as heritage supporters. In the words of the NGO’s president, Anca Dina, such an initiative is important for the Romanian people, as the preservation of historic monuments brings a better understanding of the nation’s history.

Fundatia Calea Victoriei (Calea Victoriei Foundation) is an alternative school for children and adults alike, organizing workshops and events on cultural themes such as Bucharest’s history, anthropology, design, architecture, art history, costume history, cinematography, theater, philosophy, photography and creative writing, among others. Using funds that the foundation raised in 2010 through its courses and events, 150 students received scholarships to follow courses. The most notable event of 2010 organized by the foundation was Balul Bucurestiului Interbelic (the Interwar Bucharest Ball), held in May, and structured as a time trip through Bucharest’s history. Major cultural figures attended the event.


What lies ahead?

Taking an overview, is there a secret to philanthropic campaigns? “Companies seek most to involve employees in their CSR activities and projects, but especially communities and project beneficiaries, as well as non-governmental, non-profit organizations. I think that this is the ‘success formula’, if we may call it that, that an NGO needs, and with which companies cannot fail when it comes to social responsibility,” suggests Loloiu.

She also recommends companies put more focus on fundraising activities and promotion. According to the State of the Non-governmental Sector study, “31 percent of the responding NGOs did not have a dedicated fundraising department and 12 percent did not have a PR department through which they can communicate their activity”. When it comes to raising money, the most important aspects are relevance, translated as the way in which the project responds to issues in the community, the cost-benefit analysis, which involves obtaining good and durable results with low resource consumption, the project’s impact and the originality of its approach, outlines Loloiu.

“In many of the projects submitted in 2010 to the Civil Society Gala, financial resources have been replaced by volunteer work, material resources, products, services, expertise or know-how, found at the basis of the partnerships, especially with private sector players,” says Loloiu. And the most important issue that NGOs active in Romania are faced with? “Inertia due to a sense that nothing will ever change,” answers Leslie Hawke bluntly. The above-described cases show, however, that change is emerging locally and positive signs of social involvement are appearing on the horizon, albeit slowly.

The above is by no means an exhaustive list of philanthropic activities undertaken by companies or NGOs this year. Numerous worthwhile projects, campaigns and causes have been omitted, on account of space limitations, but all are doing their bit in a society seeking more involvement from all of its members.

Picture by Stelian Pavalache, from MaiMultVerde NGO at Bikewalk campaign

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