Czech Philanthropy on the Rise

Local millionaires increasingly want to make a difference, not just money

A year ago he would have bought a new car or a luxury holiday in an exotic country. But now Martin Hausenblas has decided to do something different: he will donate 750,000 crowns to charity. "Staying abroad gives young people new perspectives," says the 37-year-old entrepreneur, explaining why he decided to donate the money to a special fund that sponsors young people from the north Bohemian town of Ústí nad Labem to go on foreign study programs.

The 10 percent of his annual income he has promised to the fund should guarantee it a long and beneficial existence. "I want to dedicate my time to this project as well as starting up new ones," says Hausenblas, a young-looking man wearing a pair of plain jeans and a sweatshirt. "Right now I'm planning to build a horse-breeding farm for local children."

"I made so much money, which I don't need, and the time has come for me to start thinking about others too," he adds.

Hausenblas is typical of the growing number of young Czech entrepreneurs who are turning to philanthropy.

"Until recently I thought about nothing but my business -- I dedicated all my time to achieving better economic results," he says self-critically. Adler, his trading company, had a turnover of over 300 million crowns last year. "The moment I realized it was an unsustainable pace of life was when I fell asleep in the car while driving on the highway and narrowly escaped tragedy." That incident also changed his perception of money.

"I used to spend my money totally uselessly," he confesses. "I bought new eaves for my neighbor just because I didn't like his old ones. Then I realized that money can be spent in a more practical way."

A growing interest in philanthropy has seen a number of Czech millionaires volunteer to manage charities.

"Instead of ordinary charitable activities, [Czech philanthropists] push for changes in society," says Pavlína Kalousová, head of the Forum of Donors (Fórum dárců), an umbrella organization monitoring charities in the Czech Republic. "Instead of just helping an orphanage, they subsidize an NGO that lobbies for amendments to family care legislation."

"Along with patrons of cultural activities and environmental protection, we come across philanthropists who want to support anti-corruption activities," says Petra Krystiánová of Nadace Via (Via Foundation), which coordinates local philanthropists' projects.

Long-term process
Philanthropy is not solely a matter for Prague millionaires. Similar charity projects run by well-off Czechs exist in other regions too. Ústí, Hausenblas's hometown, hosts the oldest Czech charitable organization consulting on how to use rich people's wealth in a meaningful way. Tomáš Krejčí, the head of Komunitní nadace Euroregionu Labe (Community Foundation of the Labe Euroregion), began the organization in the 1990s to help the socially marginalized. To attract new donors the foundation organizes various activities and targets the region's richest celebrities, offering to cooperate with them. But it can be years before they respond and become involved.

Krejčí's foundation's experts don't redistribute the donated money but invest it in funds and banks instead.

"We use only the profit from these transactions to subsidize charity projects," says Krejčí. The organization has collected around 50 million crowns from some 40 donors.

The number of similar organizations is growing. Currently there are six across the country and experts predict that there will soon be Czech bankers who specialize in charity fund management -- something that hasn't happened here yet. There are currently over 15,000 Czechs who earn much more money than they need for themselves. "Dozens of them have been engaged in philanthropy," says Krystiánová of Nadace Via. But that number will surely keep growing.

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