The Pontis Foundation celebrates its 25th anniversary
We have implemented dozens of projects that helped make Slovakia a better country for everyone and connected important stakeholders in crucial topics. How do its directors, Martina Kolesárová and Michal Kišša, who have been leading the foundation together since 2019, perceive it?
The Pontis Foundation is celebrating its 25th anniversary. The two of you have been its directors for more than three years. What were your beginnings at the foundation, and what has changed since you became the directors?
Martina: I came to the foundation after spending four years abroad. I jumped into the work pace very quickly. I first worked on an event for people from the first Social Innovator Map. I had the opportunity to get to know the team of the Pontis Foundation very quickly since I stayed at work for quite a long time every day. At the same time, I also got to know the Slovak civic sector and business innovators better. It was a very intense time for me, but Pontis then and Pontis now are still somehow the same. It is a welcoming, respectful, friendly atmosphere. I felt at home here from the beginning. As if I should have always been a part of Pontis. I think that in more than three years of “directorship,” we have learned to work better with the team. We have created a robust framework of the organisation with a targeted weakening of the hierarchical structure, following the vision of the Team of Teams concept. I think internal functioning is more professionalised, which is necessary for growth. At the same time, we still maintain a friendly and informal atmosphere. My feeling about Pontis goes hand in hand with great respect for the team we lead and, at the same time, a great sense of responsibility to ensure that Pontis maintains its good reputation and remains a strong, relevant, and constantly evolving organisation.
Michal: I came to the foundation somewhat by accident. My career could have taken a different direction if I had accepted a position in the domestic editorial office of Hospodárske noviny (exp. economic newspaper). However, I liked the idea of working in a civic organisation dedicated to improving society, so I decided to join the Pontis Foundation. One of the first things I saw in the office was the Ro(c)k the Vote campaign posters. I was a part of its target group in 1998 and experienced it firsthand. Perhaps it was meant to be. I joined in 2007. A total of 12 people then worked at the Pontis Foundation, and we had Christmas parties at someone’s house for several more years. However, we worked on improving causes that were not small – support for political prisoners in Cuba, help with the transformation of post-communist countries in the Balkans, or projects in Belarus. We were also looking for ways to start working on responsible entrepreneurship, corporate volunteering and corporate philanthropy in Slovakia. We have always been, and remain, an organisation that ensures we do meaningful things professionally.
Since its establishment, the Pontis Foundation has implemented hundreds of different projects. Can you highlight any specific activities that make you proud the most?
Martina: When I meet people who don’t know Pontis, I often start with the story of Pontis in the 1990s and its role in shaping democracy and promoting active citizenship in the decisive elections of 1998. The Ro(c)k the Vote election campaign and support for the transformation towards a functioning liberal democracy are in Pontis’ DNA. Besides, I also emphasise activities in the field of responsible entrepreneurship and the establishment of the Fund for Transparent Slovakia. I think Pontis significantly shaped and continues to shape how we perceive responsible entrepreneurship in Slovakia and gives it meaning. Of the newer activities, the Generation 3.0 programme is clearly the first accelerator for social innovations in Slovakia. We went through a five-year process of spreading innovations from below. The programme has helped dozens of high-quality organisations in education to be able to disseminate their solutions to Slovak schools.
You have undergone several changes in recent years. How is the Pontis Foundation different in 2022 compared to the Civil Society Foundation of 1997?
Michal: The spirit of doing meaningful, relevant and beneficial things remained. The professionalism and enthusiasm of the people for the causes they work on also remained. And what is most important to me is that there is a friendly atmosphere, a culture of freedom of decision-making hand in hand with accountability for one’s projects, supporting and helping management, and looking for the best joint solutions, regardless of who proposes them. In my opinion, this forms the basis for us working on things that make sense and are mostly successful.
One of the core values of the Pontis Foundation is its people. What are the people like at the Pontis Foundation?
Michal: Pontis has always attracted intelligent people with liberal democratic values, regardless of whether they are conservative or liberal. In interviews, we often hear that people admire our work and therefore want to join us, which makes us very happy and obliges us. We still do things because we want to make a difference, not to make a lot of money or make a dizzying career. That is why we meet people with very similar mindsets. And if we are united in these essential things, then it is much simpler to pursue the same goal.
What is your vision for the Pontis Foundation for the next 25 years?
Martina: The vision of the Pontis Foundation is to be a constantly learning organisation that draws on its experience but, at the same time, continually reacts to the needs of society and looks for ways to bring about real change in the areas we venture into. These will change over time as society changes. Still, the Pontis Foundation and the people who make it up, along with the vision, will remain faithful to the values of a free, open and empathetic society. I believe in the power of Pontis, the network that surrounds us, and I see Pontis of the future as an even stronger organisation that plays a crucial role in the upcoming inevitable transformation of the Slovak civic sector.