Pontis Foundation celebrates 18 years
In 1997, we established the Pontis Foundation for a Civil Society, later succeeded by Pontis Foundation.
We established the Foundation for a Civil Society, a Slovak branch of the American Foundation for a Civil Society, which focused on the development of the civil society in Slovakia and on solving organizational problems of local non-profit sector. The foundation in its infancy successfully completed a four-year grant program – Democracy Network (DemNet), with the budget of 3.3 million USD, which introduced the concept of citizen participation in public affairs to the Slovak society. Through this program, we have gained the experience in building democratic institutions and economic development while also focusing on environmental issues. We also supported reform programs in the area of social affairs.
Thanks to many experts involved in the assessment of grant applications we had received, we could have become one of the first institutions in Slovakia that introduced a model of transparent distribution of funds. This model is still being used by other grant foundations in Slovakia till this day. We carried out the first volunteer project – Venuj hodinu svojho času (Dedicate an hour of your time), and also the first survey on the institutional maturity of nongovernmental organizations. It was a survey of more than 200 Slovak nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), which were evaluated by their degree of organizational development. We provided forty of them with individual consultations in order to strengthen their capacities.
Based on the need for development of corporate philanthropy in Slovakia, the foundation prepared the Code of Ethics and Donor Bill of Rights and organized a series of Business Breakfasts that created a room for discussion among businessmen on the prospects for their support to NGOs in the communities in which they work. We started giving the Via Bona Slovakia award for the best projects in the area of corporate philanthropy and corporate responsibility. We also shared our experience of working with the corporate world with other Slovak NGOs.
We played a key role in defining the role of NGOs in the citizen mobilization campaign before the 1998 parliamentary elections as well as in handing international experience and donors. Along with 11 other Slovak NGOs, we formed a coalition called Občianska kampaň (OK) ’98 (Civil Campaign (OK) ’98) that coordinated pre-election activities of NGOs in Slovakia. The OK ’98 projects were aimed at increasing the awareness of voters and the number of people participating in the elections.
In 1997, we identified the potential in the group of the first-time voters and, cooperating with partners from California, we launched an incentive campaign – Rock Volieb ’98 (Election Rock ’98), in early 1998. We cooperated on this project, attractive to young people, with professionals from the Head 98 civic association. It’s very strong mission was summarized in simple slogans like ‘My vote counts’ and ‘You can choose this rock’. The project, considered a movement by many observers, significantly contributed to the highest participation of the first time voters in elections. Over 80 percent of voters came to the polling stations compared to the 26 percent participation rate in previous elections. Both the youth and elderly people participated in these key parliamentary elections.
We exploited the success of this project and acquired know-how not only in Slovakia, but they were also the inspiration for similar ‘get-out-the-vote’ campaigns that we carried out in cooperation with other NGOs from Croatia and Ukraine. This was the first project carried out abroad and was called Rock Volieb Export (Election Rock Export). Later, we carried out the Partnership for Democracy program in cooperation with organizations from Yugoslavia, Bosnia and Romania.
Throughout 1999, we continued in providing grants and trainings. We used the resources gained from individual donor philanthropy for the Program to Support the Roma Community that focused on the special needs of Roma people in Slovakia. The experience from this program made us realize the need for focusing more on the issues related to discrimination of all disadvantaged groups in Slovakia. The Same Opportunities program was aimed at work with opinion leaders. We prepared a manual for journalists and a media campaign that focused on education of the majority population on these issues.
We played a key role in Serbia where the Otpor! (Resistance!) movement benefited from our experience when they managed to overthrow the Milosevic regime in elections. Since 2000, we have been in active contact with NGOs in Belarus. Even before the Slovak parliamentary elections in 1998, we were dealing with organizations and issues concerning public affairs. We were focusing on model projects addressing the rights of disadvantaged groups in Slovakia. The fieldwork confirmed that Slovak citizens were trying to put pressure on their representatives and express their views freely but they always encountered a persistent lack of information on their rights and an incomplete understanding of their responsibilities as citizens. In trying to address this need, we prepared a program – Občan do vrecka (Pocket Citizen), inspired by the British model.
Foundation for a Civil Society was renamed to become Pontis Foundation. Thanks to NGOs in Belarus, we managed to pass on experience of mobilizing voters and creating coalitions before their presidential elections.
We organized Rock Volieb ’02 (Election Rock ’02 campaign) once again and participated in a program – Demokratizácia a rozvojová pomoc (Democratization and Development Aid).
Pontis Foundation granted its first loans to NGOs. This year, also first corporate endowment funds were established by such companies as Západoslovenská energetika (West Slovak Energetics), Východoslovenská energetika (East Slovak Energetics) and Tesco Stores. We also started cooperation with think-tanks and analytical associations in Belarus.
For the first time, Slovakia was also visited by a Cuban dissident, Oswaldo Paya. Together with People in Peril Association Slovakia (PIPA), we announced a public collection to help the wives and families of Cuban political prisoners from 2003 Black Spring and the women from the Ladies in White movement.
We established the Business Leaders Forum association, an informal association of companies that committed themselves to become the leaders in promoting corporate responsibility in Slovakia. We also organized the 1st Conference on Corporate Social Responsibility of Companies in Slovakia.
We established two youth clubs in Serbia, specifically, in Smederevo and Smederevo’s Palanka. We started an economic reforms project in Belarus and, for the first time, travelled to Cuba to hand over the money made in the public collection to wives and families of political prisoners.
We established the Slovak - Belarus Task Force. We carried out the 2nd survey on the public perception of corporate philanthropy in Slovakia expanding its scope to include the area of corporate social responsibility. Thanks to us and our collaboration with IRI, Slovakia was visited by Zhanna Litvina, an independent journalist from Belarus and the winner of the Sakharov Prize of the European Parliament. We organized the 1st competition for the best thesis on the Western Balkans.
We organized the 1st IDEAXCHANGE – marketplace of ideas for NGOs. We started a semester course on corporate social responsibility at the Faculty of Social and Economic Sciences at the Comenius University in Bratislava. We started offering the methodology of measuring community investments – Standard community investment. We co-founded the Office for Democratic Belarus in Brussels. We organized the visit of Alexander Milinkievich, the Representative of United Belarusian opposition, to Slovakia. We started first semester courses on the Western Balkans at two Slovak universities. We started the 1st year of Advanced Balkan Studies.
Within 9 grant programs of 7 companies, we awarded 222 grants totaling more than 19 million Slovak crowns and we allocated 266 refurbished computers. We organized the Serbian days in Slovakia event and the 1st year of the volunteer event – Naša Bratislava (Our Bratislava). This year, we organized IDEAXCHANGE, marketplace for NGOs, not only in Bratislava, but also in Nitra, Liptovský Mikuláš and Košice. Together with Nadácia Jána Langoša (Jan Langos Foundation), we awarded the first international Jan Langos Award. The university course on Balkan Studies gained accreditation of the Ministry of Education of Slovak Republic.
IDEAXCHANGE was renamed to become Trhovisko neziskoviek (Marketplace for NGOs). We organized seminars on corporate responsibility for small and medium-sized enterprises. We established a non-profit organization – Pontis n.o., and organized the corporate volunteering event – Our Bratislava. We also organized a volunteer event – Naše Košice (Our Kosice). We carried out our first training project on development aid. We organized the 1st Forum of Corporate Philanthropy.
We started a program for individual donors – DobraKrajina.sk (Good country), through which people in Slovakia can support NGO projects that are closest to them. We organized the 1st contest for the best essay on development aid. In accordance with the concept of the Our Bratislava event, we first organized a similar volunteer event in Žilina called Naša Žilina (Our Zilina). We introduced a new public web portal – Zodpovednépodnikanie.sk (corporate responsibility).
In cooperation with the Bratislava Municipality, we participated in the European Mobility Week by organizing a workshop and an evening cycle ride through the city.
We celebrated the 10th anniversary of the prestigious Via Bona Slovakia award that highlighted interesting and inspiring projects of socially responsible companies. Thanks to the support of the Business Leaders Forum members and their employees, children from the areas most affected by flooding could attend summer camps. We established a new working group – BLF Climate Change, and in cooperation with the Norwegian Embassy and Innovation Norway and we organized the Modern Company in Modern Society Conference with the participation of His Majesty King Harald the 5th, of Norway.
On the Car Free Day, the Evening Cycle Ride through Bratislava and Bratislava Inline events were accompanied by the Evening Cycle Ride through Žilina that was organized in the partnership with a non-profit organization – Mulica. We also continued in organizing seminars for small and medium-sized enterprises in Banská Bystrica and Košice, which focused on energy efficiency. We started a new project of development cooperation in Kenya that was aimed at the development of computer literacy of Kenyan teachers and students. We carried out the 1st corporate volunteering project – Hlavy pomáhajú (Helping Heads).
We carried out the 1st corporate volunteering project – Helping Heads. In 2011, we started an initiative – Advokáti pro bono (Pro Bono Attorneys), in Slovakia. It was a free legal assistance to non-profit organizations that involved about 70 Slovak lawyers. We also started a successful charity program – Srdce pre deti (Heart for Children), in partnership with the largest publishing house – Ringier Axel Springer, which aimed at helping children with severe disabilities and in need. DobraKrajina.sk once again presented itself in one of the biggest Slovak festivals, Pohoda, and the Our City event was held not only in Bratislava, Žilina and Košice, but spread also to Hlohovec, Galanta and Sereď, what enabled us to engage a record number of 4.000 corporate volunteers.
In 2012 we successfully continued educating small and medium-sized enterprises in Slovakia. We organized several events on CSR topics and for the twelfth time we awarded Via Bona Slovakia prizes for the best projects in the field of responsible entrepreneurship and corporate philanthropy. In the spring, the Pontis Foundation and the Business Leaders Forum organized the ninth International Responsible Entrepreneurship Conference. Member companies of the Business Leaders Forum initiated the establishment of the Fund for Transparent Slovakia. Its main objectives are to develop ethics, transparency, democracy and a healthy business environment in Slovakia by institutional support of watchdog organizations. In the project Our Town 11 Slovak towns, 150 organizations and almost 5000 volunteers from companies as well as from the public participated. We were developing corporate philanthropy through 14 corporate funds. We also organized the first International Development and Democracy Conference, whose aim was to point out current trends in development cooperation. The conference also took place under the auspices of the Slovak Ministry of Foreign Affairs. We realized development projects in the Western Balkans, Belarus, Moldavia, Kenya and also in Tunisia. We also play an active role in development education, particularly for students at universities interested in development cooperation topics. We published three books about development topics and we made our e-library available.
We were co-founder of the Association of Corporate Foundations and Funds (ASFIN), which together with the Centre for Philanthropy unites eight of the largest corporate foundations and endowment funds in Slovakia. The goal of the association is to improve ethical and transparency standards in the area of corporate donations and to make the use of the 2% tax more efficient. For the first time we organized an on-line fund-raising campaign entitled “24 hours for the Great Country” in which 9 organizations took part. In just one day the sum of €5530 in total was collected.
We organized the largest CEE CSR Summit in Central and Eastern Europe with 150 participants and 29 speakers from 9 countries. For the first time, the public were also able to take part in the Corporate Responsibility Week. We prepared screenings of documentary movies and informal discussions for them. Through 16 endowment funds we supported the activities of non-profit organizations which are of immense importance in our society. In the event Our Town a record was set with the participation of more than 6000 volunteers in 11 Slovak towns.
We also started to become engaged in Russia, where we realized a project with the goal of strengthening institutional and management capacities of the chosen local NGOs that are leaders in civil society in Russia. We continued with our activities in Kenya where we expanded our project to 10 high schools. In cooperation with the Ministry of Foreign and European Affairs we organized a two-day international conference entitled “10 years under the logo of SlovakAid: The Vision of Development Cooperation for a Changing World.” The conference was held on the occasion of the 10th anniversary of SlovakAid.
The charity project and the public fund-raising campaign Heart for Children was realized for the fourth year running on the web portal DobraKrajina.sk. In those four years we have helped more than 17 500 children directly or by buying hospital equipment and providing services within the Heart for Children project. The Business Leaders Forum, a non-formal association of corporations, celebrated its 10th anniversary. On this occasion we organized a meeting of the director generals of the participating companies. Memorandum 2020, a new version of the Memorandum on corporate responsibility of the Business Leaders Forum, was signed at the meeting. It is an answer to the Europe’sEnterprise 2020 Initiative.
Also the programme Pro Bono Attorneys was run successfully in our foundation. In this project attorneys help to solve legal issues of non-profit organizations for free. During that year attorneys helped 32 non-profit organizations in 41 various legal cases. Within Pro Bono Attorneys, we started a pilot pro bono project consisting of a work group of experts orientated on systematic aid in solving the problem of homelessness in Slovakia.
Our projects abroad are carried out in Kenya, Moldavia, the Ukraine, the Balkans, Tunisia, but also in Russia. We engage ourselves especially in the priority countries of Slovak official development cooperation.