Support for the local communities in Serbia: When there is a will there is a way?


by Tanja Radović Krstić

Hosting a social charity event, donating products or services, volunteer work, charitable donations, cooperation with local non-profit organizations are just some of the ways in which IT companies can support the local community.
Numerous IT companies in Serbia take part in responding to the needs of the community and are very creative in doing so.

For OLBIOS, we spoke with two ladies at the positions of Employer Branding Manager in the companies Ingsoftware (from Niš) and Levi9 ( Novi Sad, Belgrade). What does giving back to the community look like, Mirjana Panin and Jelena Vasilev Novčić shared their experience on this topic.

OLBIOS: Demonstrating commitment to the community affects the company’s reputation, but it also makes it easier to recruit and retain employees. Research has shown that CSR can be linked to greater employee satisfaction. Is this your company’s experience? To what extent can the stated claims relate to what you observe in your company?

Jelena Vasilev Novčić (Levi9): Companies are part of systems and contributing to the community should not be dilemma. For Levi9 IT it was always part of business philosophy, ever since the beginning in 2005. In 2022 Levi9 Serbia gathers more than 700 IT professionals and lots of activities have CSR as focus. Caring for the environment and climate change is one of the top priorities for millennials and representatives of Generation Z, according to data from the latest global survey conducted by Deloitte (2022). Two-thirds of respondents, from both generations, believe that the world is at a turning point when it comes to response and actions on the topic of climate change.

The trend of young people’s interest in making a positive impact on society and the community was also noticeable in the previous Deloitte survey, where caring for society and the community is as important as the ambition to buy their own house or earn a high salary, and it is even ahead of the aspiration to start a family. These are not just global trends, this is the situation in our country as well, at least from my experience in the IT industry.

Mirjana Panin (Ingsoftware): We have just started implementing bits and pieces of CSR activities at Ingsoftware (or just Ing :), and have realized that it contributes to the sense of pride for being part of a company that is making an effort to do good and give back to the community, but it is also a great way to connect our people, for example in case of volunteering activities.

This becomes increasingly important in the remote working conditions, that we have embraced as one of the options that our employees can choose from, as we have a flexible working model which allows people to work from our Niš office or remotely (from anywhere) or to combine those two, as it suits them. However, we have not yet carried out any research in this regard, so this observation is based on a gut feeling at the moment : ) We will have a staff engagement survey closer to the end of the year, so this will be a chance for us to test and validate whether this is true and to which extent.

OLBIOS: How do employees get engaged in the company’s CSR Strategy? Do you support charities chosen by your employees? Or do you give employees paid time off to volunteer?

Jelena Vasilev Novčić (Levi9): Let me mention just few CSR actions that happened in 2022 – charity bazaar where company items were on auction and all the bids went directly to humanitarian organizations by Niners personal choice; Movement event where Niners were creating houses for dogs, birds & insects and donating them to NGOs that are active in fields of animals support; big tech conference #9Inspiration that is taking place on 1st of October in Belgrade, where IT community can learn, share and connect and ticket is donation to NURDOR.

At the moment of speaking, we have already raised 500.000 RSD for NURDOR and there is still time before the conference so we believe IT community will recognize and support even more. Niners are often active about computers donation, by nominating school and educational institutions for donation of IT equipment.

Mirjana Panin (Ingsoftware): It is still early for us to talk about a CSR Strategy, however, we do support various initiatives that come our way, provided that they are in line with our Marketing and Employer Branding Strategy (and our budget of course). For example, we participate in various humanitarian sport events organized by other companies in Serbia (such as CS:GO Tournament, Serbia Business Run, Race for Little Heroes, etc.) and donate used computer equipment to educational institutions in Serbia which are in need of it.

Just to give you some background, when the pandemic started most computers at the company were desktops and we couldn’t use those in the remote working conditions that we had to switch to, so we organized ourselves swiftly and bought laptop computers for all our employees, and decided to use the desktops for humanitarian purposes. So yes, we have asked our employees to propose institutions that might be the recipients of these donations and are in the process of contacting them and realizing this activity in 2022.

OLBIOS: When it comes to social and community engagement what are the actions in which your company participated or initiated in the previous period, of which you are proud? And what are the company’s social aspirations in the future? What issues would you like to address?

Jelena Vasilev Novčić (Levi9): Learning programmes are huge field where Niners are active too, and this year we repeated successful cooperation with “Dečje selo Dr Milorad Pavićević” providing practical learning experience to children.

Going beyond regular standards and supporting community is something that runs our actions, and we are proud to see results of this action. We are not talking to much about it but are always happy to help. We would like to address green factor in the future and take more action about our environment. We made a strategic partnership with NGO Be Activist with a goal to be active part of green business community.

Mirjana Panin (Ingsoftware): Apart from the activities mentioned above, we just initiated something that we call the Legacy Project (#ingLegacy), which represents our long-term CSR initiative that we want to implement in the minimum 10 years ahead of us. Since Ing is based in Niš and is one of the biggest and oldest local IT companies (it was founded in 2009), we wanted to emphasize the significance of our city in terms of the legacy left by the former Electronic industry (Ei Niš), and everything that Niš represented while Ei existed, not only for the former country but for the entire region, as well as world-wide. We just began doing that through supporting one local civic initiative – Citizens’ Association MEDD and their Ei Summer Club Festival which was taking place during the summer of 2022, in the space where the Ei factory used to be located.

The specific activities that we sponsor through this cooperation are three workshops involving Niš-based artists, designers and all sorts of creatives. At the first workshop, an Ei Mural was made, the second activity entailed submissions of artworks representing retro-futuristic views of how the Ei would have looked today if it never ceased to exist, and the third and perhaps the biggest endeavor that these young creative people are undertaking as a part of the Legacy project, is the last workshop where an art installation was built from electronic waste, with the participation of students from various Niš faculties (architecture, media, design, art, etc.).

The final exhibition took place on September 10 in the premises of Niš Architects’ Association with participation of three professors from the Belgrade Faculty of Fine Arts/Applied Arts, who participate in a panel discussion during the event.

In the future, we would like to include more companies and institutions into this project, and scale it up in order to achieve the Legacy Vision to position Niš as one of the biggest IT centers in the region and beyond and increase the number of engineers in the city. More computer donations, open days in our Niš office for students interested in programming, more thematic murals in the city and fundraising events for specific purposes are some of the ideas that we have in this regard, and we’ll see where it takes us in the years to come.

OLBIOS: The impression is that an increasing number of IT companies are getting involved in actions aimed at supporting the local community. Can you name an action that you heard about (and liked) that was implemented by an IT company rather than yours?

Jelena Vasilev Novčić (Levi9): I would like to highlight Green IT initiative that Niners joined last autumn in Novi Sad. Idea was to make kindergarten greener, by planting the trees together with colleagues from IT industry, initiated by Vega IT.

Mirjana Panin (Ingsoftware): We really enjoyed being the first company to join a CSR activity initiated by the FatCat Careers, entitled “Support IT Education in Serbia”. Namely, they were collecting computers for a high school in Smederevska Palanka, where there are many talented pupils with an interest in IT, but which lacked adequate computer equipment that would enable these young people to learn in a quality way. The end result of this activity were 38 computers and monitors collected and handed over to the high school, and they are now having their second activity as a part of this project – collecting computer equipment for a high school in Požarevac.

It is impressive how well organized this initiative is, it even has its special web site and the people from the FatCat Careers are really handling this well in terms of logistics and distribution of information. Maybe the best thing about this initiative is the fact that the company is working on connecting different IT companies and uniting them around a common (good) cause, where we don’t look at one another as competitors but rather as partners and friends who share a joint vision.