Philanthropy Festival Opening Remarks

Madam Prime Minister, Director Majić, dear guests and partners.

It is a great honor to be here with you today to open the first-ever Philanthropy Festival in Belgrade and Novi Sad.

A few weeks ago, the Government of Serbia and Serbian civil society organizations inaugurated Serbia’s first National Day of Giving — a day that promotes a culture of giving, draws public attention to issues of social concern, and mobilizes people and resources to collectively and systematically address problems.  This initiative seeks to harness the tremendous potential of philanthropy in Serbia, and reflects the efforts that my country is making as part of a Framework for Giving project supported by USAID, and implemented by the Coalition for Giving, a group of civil society organizations led by the Ana and Vlade Divac Foundation.  Alongside the Prime Minister, they are working to identify reforms and policies that will create an environment that supports and nurtures philanthropy in Serbia.

This Philanthropy Festival is part of a campaign to demonstrate the power of giving by raising funds to support causes we all hold dear:  education, youth, and innovation.  In particular, the campaign has raised and continues to raise funds for the Petnica Science Center, supporting the mission of this great institution and underscoring how much Serbians value it.

I want to give special thanks to Prime Minister Brnabić for her support and dedication to this vital cause.  It is a great example of how government, civil society, and the private sector can work together effectively to help Serbia and its people.  I also want to thank civil society and private sector partners — particularly UniCredit, who is an invaluable member of the Serbian Philanthropy Forum and who graciously opened their facilities for today’s event.

Government, civil society, the private sector and individuals all have a large part to play in making philanthropy work. And when it works, it can be breathtakingly powerful. I see this in my own country, where Americans gave $410 billion to philanthropy in 2018.   Let’s put that in perspective: That is an amount of money larger than the GDP of countries such as Ireland, or Denmark, or Finland.  Believe it or not, seventy percent of all that money came from individuals just like all of you in this room today.

Americans are proud of our culture of philanthropy.  And while it is engrained in religious and cultural values of helping your neighbor, we also have policies in place that incentivize and support this culture of giving.  We provide tax incentives for corporations and private citizens who give to charitable organizations.  If a supermarket gives produce or groceries to a local food bank for the poor, they can offset the value of that contribution from their profits.  Taxpayers can deduct charitable contributions from their calculation of taxable income.  And employers often take extra steps to make it easier for their employees to give.  For example, the federal government allows me to make biweekly contributions to a charity of my choice and covers all the administrative procedures involved.  By giving just a little every two weeks, it adds up by the end of the year.  In fact, since this process began, federal workers have given over $8 billion to charity.  All in all, Americans give nearly 2% of their annual income to charitable causes.

Serbia already has a good basis for further developing its culture of giving.  According to Catalyst, Serbians gave approximately $32 million in 2017. That is despite the regulatory and policy framework in Serbia, which unintentionally, I believe, often discourages a culture of giving.  Just imagine what this number would be if  Serbia’s tax system actively encouraged charitable giving.  My guess is that the power of Serbia’s generous culture would be harnessed to a far greater degree, with more and more Serbians stepping forward to support initiatives to improve their country and their communities.  This is exactly the goal behind USAID’s Framework for Giving project.

Serbia’s National Day of Giving was established on the birthday of Mihajlo Pupin; and its first campaign focuses on supporting Petnica.  What a perfect date, and a perfect cause!  Pupin embodies both science and philanthropy.  He was a brilliant inventor whose contributions transformed lives globally.  He was also dedicated to giving, and giving back to his community.  And he helped bring America and Serbia closer together during World War I — raising my country’s consciousness to the sacrifices being endured by the Serbian nation, collecting money and recruiting medical teams to support his beleaguered homeland.  It was his efforts to give back to Serbia and to bring our peoples closer that helped convince  U.S. President Woodrow Wilson to fly the Serbian flag above the White House in an act of solidarity between our two countries.

With that in mind, I am confident Pupin would be proud to see Serbia and the United States gathered together today to encourage philanthropy and support scientific endeavors through the Philanthropy Festival.  I hope that this festival will inspire all of us and foster a culture of giving and engagement.

Thank you for your time and dedication to this worthy effort. Because nothing can be more worthwhile than investing in Serbia’s youth and its future scientists.