Central and Eastern Europe: Fresh voices in international philanthropy

Thursday, 5 September 2019 17:01 GMT

Hungarian Red Cross provide food for migrants walking towards the Austrian border in Hegyeshalom, Hungary, early September 27, 2015. Tens of thousands of migrants, most of them fleeing war and hardship in Syria, are trying to reach Western Europe. REUTERS/Heinz-Peter Bader

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Will the growth of private wealth in Central and Eastern European usher in a new era of charitable giving and philanthropy?

Dominika Kulczyk is founder of the Kulczyk Foundation and a philanthropist with a focus on projects that support global development 

It is not that long ago that former Soviet Union countries were the recipient of aid themselves.

But could we now be entering a new era of opportunity for Central Eastern European (CEE) countries to engage more with global charity and philanthropy and influence how this evolves?

High government aid spending in Britain and New York’s role as home of the UN mean conversations around charity and philanthropy are dominated by Anglo-American voices.

However, with Britain preparing to leave the European Union and CEE countries growing in global influence, we now see an opportunity for these countries to increase their role in conversations.

As Brexit looms, some NGOs based in London are strengthening their presence across Europe in order to maintain access to EU funding. New offices have already opened in countries like Germany and the Netherlands as a result.

Meanwhile, the growth of CEE countries continues to outstrip the rest of the EU and suggests an opportunity for new funds to open up as private wealth in the region increases.

George Soros opened the first international foundation in Hungary in 1984, marking the first globally focused organisation in the region.

Soros’ global philanthropy – supporting programmes outside of Eastern Europe itself - was revolutionary for its time in the region. Thirty-five years later, it is really only now that we see institutionalised global aid and charitable giving truly beginning to emerge.

The region’s historically insular view of charity and philanthropy has in part been shaped by local media which has traditionally included little reporting on international humanitarian issues.

However, there is now a growing interest in stories from beyond CEE countries’ borders and we see national and international media investing their time in reporting global issues, drawing attention to where support is most needed.

Looking at Poland as an example CEE nation, research by Polish polling institute CBOS has shown a growing culture of charitable giving. In 2006 only 49% of Poles donated money to a charitable cause. In 2017 this had increased to 71%. 

Without media and newsgathering, we won’t be able to continue to engage the public in the global narrative on aid and progress the evolution of institutionalised giving in the region.

That’s why in 2014 I started to work with a private Polish station, TVN, on developing a series of documentaries focusing on humanitarian and economic crises around the world. National media and international correspondents have an important job to do in shining a light on global issues as the region continues to increase its role in global development.

As the giving culture develops further, I believe we also need the region’s view on giving to evolve from one-off charitable giving to long-term philanthropic projects.

If charity is thought of as a short-term immediate response providing rescue and relief, this is where CEE countries have primarily played to date.

Philanthropy’s long-term, more strategic approach to addressing issues is only a growing idea in the region. This is where we now need to get to in order to create sustainable change and have our voices treated as equal.