Humaneness, Solidarity and Empathy are Most Needed Today
19. Mar 2020.
The Serbian Philanthropy Forum has concluded, after reviewing the list of priorities, that donation of medical equipment is most needed at the moment, as well as support to doctors and medical and non-medical staff at healthcare institutions, said Veran Matić, executive director of the Serbian Philanthropy Forum and chairman of the Management Board of the B92 Fund.

‘When equipment is concerned, ventilators are certainly at the top, protective surgical masks, Covid-19 diagnostic test kits, contactless thermometers, shoe covers, FFP2 and FFP3 filter masks, protective face shields - goggles, hoses and filters for ventilators, disposable overalls, monitors for ventilators, disinfectants…’, said Matić. Therefore, he sent an appeal to all companies and individuals to be humane.

‘Anyone who has these products can either donate them or offer them at production cost. They should be offered, and the money will be raised once it is known that these products are available for purchase’, he said.

Matić said that the Serbian Philanthropy Forum and the B92 Fund act as a link between donors and institutions, seeking to resolve the issue of product shortages.

‘The Serbian Philanthropy Forum, as well as the Coalition for Giving, have tried to engage their members in actions to help the community in the last ten days. We don’t have records on the donated amounts, in general. I believe that there were some… and that the public will be informed about it, either by the donors or by those who received donations’, said Matić. He also says that it is difficult at the moment to see if the number of individual or corporate donors has increased.

According to his words, the specificity of this situation is that gradually, slowly, we are becoming aware of the size of the problem and the needs, and because of that, the room for solidarity actions is being recognized more slowly. ‘I am certain that charity activities will increase with the right information about the needs. We now have experience from surrounding countries about what may happen to us, so we can make an estimate of our future needs’, he stated. Matić said that there are already examples of good deeds worth mentioning, so that others would be inspired to donate as well.

‘One international company immediately offered to raise funds to purchase ventilators, and now we are trying in any way we can to find it in the market’, he said and expressed hope that the pre-existing partnership with a German manufacturer when purchasing incubators and other equipment for maternity wards within the action ‘Battle for Babies’ of the b92 Fund, will help with the orders and faster delivery of the necessary equipment. He added that other manufacturers from China or other countries that can react urgently will be contacted, if there are donors.

‘McDonald’s offered 100 meals every day for doctors and medical staff, and starting tomorrow, these will be delivered to some of the clinics at the Clinical Centre of Serbia, as needed. MK Group reacted quickly to the needs of the Torlak Institute by donating six million dinars, and by thier readiness to help with their product range where needed’, said Matić.

He also stated that Telekom offered their door-to-door salesmen as volunteers for support to senior citizens or for other needs.

One company, he added, offered hygiene products which will be sent to healthcare institutions, as well as the services of the application already in use by more than 100,000 students from fifth to eighth grade as a remote study platform to be used on mobile phones.

‘Masks and other equipment, primarily for health professionals, constitute a special problem. One of the companies offered one million dinars for purchasing priority items, so we found a company that can produce 20,000 masks for medical staff in the next five days and we made the order at production cost’, Matić provided details. At the moment, he pointed out, the entire Coalition for Giving (Ana and Vlade Divac Foundation, Trag Foundation, SMART Collective, Responsible Business Forum, Serbian Chamber of Commerce, Katalist Foundation) is completely devoted to these challenges’.

‘Citizen initiatives have started with the coordination and synergy of activities of the civil society within their response to the crisis, while our B92 Fund is way ahead in communication with companies ready to help in different ways’, he said.

Matić also indicated that the Hemofarm Foundation is informing the public daily via social networks about the coronavirus, protective measures at work, at home, public areas, by posting blogs on psychosocial support written by experts, psychologists and psychotherapists, and they are also preparing an online panel discussion with participation of renowned psychologists at the topic ‘How to Preserve Mental Health in the Time of Coronavirus?’.

The Coalition for Giving has prepared a set of initiatives which will be implemented soon, from socially useful messages by the leading donors to concrete actions. ‘We think that it is very important simultaneously with adaptation of companies and individuals to the existing situation, to offer resources of individuals, non-government sector, and companies, to strengthen the healthcare system so that it can overcome challenges, but also to react to all other needs of citizens’, emphasized Matić and indicated that the Serbian Philanthropy Forum is at disposal for helping with priorities and implementation. He also said that resources are not just money for social responsibility of companies but also all skills of employees that can be used, such as individual engagement outside the corporate one.

‘At one company, employees quickly raised 20,000 euros by individual donations of employees for the most pressing needs’, said Matić. He thinks that it is most important to act in a coordinated way, and that everything donated ‘should be required as well as adequately distributed’.

‘I think that it is important to show solidarity with our older citizens. The key word should be: care. It must be our concern. Not just our family, because everyone is our family now and we have to care. We have to care about older citizens and people with disabilities and all those who suffer. Kindness and pleasantness need to be the first things we show’ indicated Matić.

He also said that through the Philanthropy Council, within Office of the Serbian Prime Minister, he proposed establishment of a compensation fund for donations, ‘as we are aware of the fact that it is not possible to change the VAT law, so that donations can be exempt from this duty’. ‘ We proposed the experience from Ireland and Denmark with compensation fund formed during the budget planning to return the VAT once the implemented humanitarian and socially responsible project is established’, he said.

Matić said that perhaps a formal decision on establishing the fund cannot be adopted at this time, but he is convinced that donor community deserves an announcement that it will be done when possible.

‘Not because it could be a pre-condition for donations, but as a part of encouragement to donate even more. We missed the opportunity to do this during the catastrophic floods when benefactors had to pay VAT on renovation of schools or building of houses for the victims, and donations of food and disinfectants’, he reminded everyone. He indicated that we couldn’t afford the luxury to miss the opportunity now to eliminate the situation ‘of bitter taste after charitable gestures’.

‘Let it be clear once again, all of those who donate, don’t do it because they will not need to pay VAT, but it is unfair to pay it on donated goods, when irreplaceable contribution is made to the community and the state’ said the director of the Serbian Philanthropy Forum. Matić thinks that the reality we live in is constantly changing, which causes all of the current different reactions to the events concerning the epidemic and the state of emergency.

‘The first reaction is predominantly selfish. I believe that there will be more empathy once new facts are accepted and when all of us face them. It is clear that the virus is very dangerous and that we can make a difference primarily by keeping ourselves away from others, and then keeping others away from ourselves, while at the same time building a culture of helping. How are we to survive, if we don’t help?’ asked Matić. He thinks that ‘we must abandon the culture of power where I have hundreds of masks, while others have none, and I have toilet paper to last me ten years, while others have as much as they need now or none at all’.

‘The point is in details. A different world we are entering requires us to understand that by helping others, we help ourselves and that this is the new key for survival of humankind. I think that it is a priority to infect the society with the virus of empathy, put on someone else’s shoes and do everything to share, help, put ourselves at disposal, from a phone call, virtual socializing to actual solving of what seem to be small problems that are perhaps someone’s matter of life and death, to participating at the level of neighbourhood, municipality, town, state, the world’ he said. As he pointed out, you need to make others feel better than you, and there should be no boundaries in solidarity.

‘Humaneness for the sake of humaneness itself, because it is the right thing to do, and not for showing power. It is very important to start living solidarity and empathy, to be constantly active in it, and not just when disaster strikes’ Matić pointed out.