Hemofarm Foundation has been a part of the community for 29 years. Through daily support to health, education, culture, and other vital areas, they invested more than 13.4 million euros in the development of its community. Hemofarm Foundation marked its 29th birthday by donating a ton of food for soup kitchens in Šabac and Vršac. Their "Unbreakable" campaign to support mental health marked 2021 and received the VIRTUS award for the most innovative project.
The importance of the development of philanthropy and contribution to the common good to this Foundation is shown by the fact that the Hemofarm Foundation is a member of the Serbian Philanthropic Forum and the European Philanthropic Association - Philea.
In the last seven years, the Hemofarm Foundation has received as many as 36 awards for its work, and in 2017 they were named as the leading Foundation in Serbia.
Suzana Djordjevic, director of the Hemofarm Foundation, told us how important these recognitions are, what the 3-decade-long support for the community looks like, why social responsibility is imperative, and how trust is built, and what plans will be implemented in the future.
How has the mission of the Hemofarm Foundation developed over the past 29 years, and what moments/events would you single out as key points in that development?
Suzana: Concern for people's health and well-being has been the focus of the Hemofarm Foundation's work for 29 years. Our commitment to people and health is reflected through 2,250 implemented actions worth 13.4 million euros and through the support we have provided for 3,660 young people, many of whom are our colleagues today. We realized the most activities in Vršac, where the Foundation was founded and where we had our headquarters until 2015, and in Šabac, where Hemofarm has its factory. We were with people during the wars of the 90s, during the bombings, floods, and the COVID-19 crisis, helping where it was most needed, investing in the health system through various donations of medical equipment, and thus raising the quality of life in local communities. We have pointed out issues that are not easy for society through our work - from the importance of organ donation and transplantation to maintaining mental health, depression, and stigma. Our task is to inspire, connect and build a society of responsible individuals to change the community for the better together.
One of the recent recognitions you received was the VIRTUS special award for the most innovative project for the "Unbreakable" campaign. How motivating are these recognitions for Foundation's work? Are they motivate you to be even more committed to your community?
Suzana: We are very grateful for the recognition we received because they say that, despite all the difficulties that life brings in modern society, deeds are important and can change the course of reality. Each award reflects the desire to build the society we want. For us, it is a call for even more decisive action to respond to the challenges of the 21st century, among which the most important is to preserve and improve human health.
In addition to the VIRTUS award, the "Unbreakable" campaign has received several other international and domestic awards. Did you expect this kind of success, given that mental health in the Balkans is still primarily a taboo topic? To what do you attribute this success of the "Unbreakable" campaign? What, in your opinion, is its most significant value?
Suzana: Being able to help someone, mainly to save someone's life, is a success in itself, especially when it comes to the "Unbreakable" campaign. The messages we receive every day speak best about how much it means to people. From gratitude that this campaign was launched, statements they feel they are not alone, to thank doctors who answer citizens' calls on the SOS line, because those conversations, they say, saved their lives. "Unbreakable," as you know, was launched during the COVID-19 crisis, when anxiety, stress, and depression were very pronounced due to fear of illness and lack of social contacts. Even before the COVID-19 crisis, depression was among the leading diseases in our country and the world. Depression does not choose; it is often invisible, has no smell and taste, and does not know skin color, nationality, religion, and boundaries; it already affects everyone. The seemingly happiest people can be the most lonely, depressed, and suicidal.
When we launched the campaign, our main task was to educate people about the importance of mental health care, but also to provide them with psycho-social support through the SOS line 0800 001 002 and e-mail email@example.com, where experts, psychologists, and psychiatrists from four special hospitals for psychiatric diseases in Vršac, Kovin, Novi Kneževac, and Gornja Toponica work. Professional support is free, anonymous, and available 24/7. During the year of this campaign, more than 10,000 people received help, and throughout its duration, we encouraged people to talk about how they felt and said that our experts were there to listen to them and encourage them.
In which direction will "The Unbreakable" develop further?
Suzana: "Unbreakable" has grown into a movement of citizens fighting against depression and stigma, and today it numbers more than a million people. The greater the number of individuals, organizations, and institutions in the movement, the greater the chance that mental health will be discussed openly and often because that is how the destigmatization of society is done. Our SOS line will continue to provide psycho-social support to people who need this kind of help. We are developing a sub-campaign that focuses on providing additional support to people struggling with various forms of mental disorders and stigma.
How do you choose the topics and areas that the Hemofarm Foundation supports through its socially responsible activities?
Suzana: We have become recognizable for dealing with topics that are not popular in the community - from organ donation and transplantation to maintaining mental health. Health and humanity go hand in hand, and that is exactly our role - to make Hemofarm and its Foundation, a reliable partner that people can count on.
How important is a social responsibility for the business of a company? What are the biggest challenges socially responsible companies face in their environment and operations?
Suzana: All research shows that there is no successful business without social responsibility. In that sense, the last "Edelman Trust Barometer 2022" is very interesting, which indicates that "social leadership has now become a fundamental function of the business." The younger generation has long opted for brands concerning their social responsibility. At the same time, the public expects businesses to clearly and unambiguously express their views on the most important social and political issues. And that is the recipe for a responsible and sustainable business of the 21st century.
Have the successes and activities of the Hemofarm Foundation influenced the company to have a more positive image in public and, as such, to enjoy greater trust from consumers, associates, and partners?
Suzana: We have contributed to the fact that the company Hemofarm has become recognizable for its socially responsible business, in addition to the exceptional experts who work in it and it's quality products. Our CEO Ronald Zeliger often says that "business can be good and profitable and at the same time responsible." Successful, attentive, and sustainable. A record, and humane." And the very humanity of the business reflected in the relationship that Hemofarm has with employees and the community represents the good face of our company and what sets it apart from others. The heart of our business has always been people, and their good health is the purpose of our work.
What is the role of the Hemofarm Foundation in the Serbian Philanthropic Forum?
Suzana: Hemofarm Foundation is one of the founders of the Serbian Philanthropic Forum. Our role in this association is the role of all other members, which is the fight for a better society. I am happy that the number of members is growing; today, more than 40 of us come from the for-profit and non-profit sectors. I would like us to succeed together in abolishing VAT on donations because, in that case, we would collect more aid for the most endangered. I have been advocating for that for many years, and I don't think any meeting of the Forum will take place where I am not interested in what else we can do. I am glad that there is an opportunity to hear different opinions and openly discuss and raise issues in the public interest. We have proved that we can overcome differences and fight for the common good, and that is mainly seen through the work of the Coalition for Charity and National Giving Day.
What does your engagement with the European Philanthropic Association look like, and how did it come about? How does the Hemofarm Foundation, through its activities in Philea, contribute to the development of philanthropy at the European level?
Suzana: Thanks to the Catalyst Balkans, which opened the doors to the Serbian Philanthropic Forum for membership in the DAFNE organization (Network of Donors and Foundations), the Forum proposed that I engage in strengthening partnerships with that organization. Late last year, DAFNE merged with EFC (Center for European Foundations) and became a PHILEA association that today brings together more than 10,000 for-profit and non-profit organizations from 30 countries in Europe. My goal is not only to present the activities of the Serbian Philanthropic Forum, its members, and the Hemofarm Foundation but also to report to the membership of the Serbian Philanthropic Forum on activities at the European level in the field of legislation, good practices, new initiatives, connecting members and partnerships.
What idea was the Excellence Award established with, and what is its significance?
Suzana: We established the Excellence Award on the occasion of the 25th birthday of the Hemofarm Foundationaiming to point out exceptional individuals who live and work in our environment and whose work is often invisible to the general public. So far, four awards have been presented. The winner for 2021 is prof Dr. Lazar Davidović, vascular surgeon, dean of the Medical Faculty of the University of Belgrade, and a foreign Russian Academy of Sciences member. As we meet the jubilee - the 30th birthday of the Hemofarm Foundation next year, we plan to present three awards to individuals whose work has left an indelible mark on health, education, and culture.
In what ways do you feel the community gives you back for everything you give it?
Suzana: By participating in our actions, coming to the forums "Coffee with a psychologist," daily communication within the project "Unbreakable," and the interest of various individuals, organizations, and domestic and foreign institutions to cooperate with us. From the British Alliance magazine, dedicated to philanthropy and social investment for 25 years, and invited us to write about "The Unbreakable" for their March issue, to the Emerging Europe 2022 Awards, where we were nominated in the Health and Social Care category.
What activities are you most focused on at the moment? Are there any new actions that the Foundation is planning for this year?
Suzana: We are involved 24/7 in the "Unbreakable" campaign; we care for our doctors and users. We are constantly working on improving the customer service, SOS line, and e-mail support; we are creating topics for the forum "Coffee with a psychologist," which is an integral part of the campaign and is held once a month at Dorcol Platz. In parallel with this, we work with our fellows and their mentors. So far, we have organized "2021/2022 scholarship generation"Mentoring day with Hemofarm experts." In cooperation with the Serbian Society for Molecular Biology, we realized several lectures -"Sunday with the Nobel laureates."
Dr. Bruce Alberts", one of today's most successful cell biologists and the author of a world-renowned textbook in molecular biology called" Molecular Cell Biology," was the lecturer. We are currently preparing an Internship Program for Hemofarm Foundation Scholars with our experts in Vršac and, immediately after that, an Internship Program in Germany. Since September, we have been slowly preparing for the 30th anniversary of the Hemofarm Foundation.
What would you name the most significant successes that the Hemofarm Foundation has achieved in its work so far, and what do you still want to achieve?
Suzana: I am grateful that people and the community recognize our work and good intentions and that they approach us with much trust. That is the most significant success for me.
*Photo credits (cover photo): Nebojša Babić