This year marks the 20th anniversary of the Smart Kolektiv. On this occasion, we spoke with Neven Marinović, the director of the organization.
What thoughts and feelings does the 20th anniversary of the organization evoke in you?
The feelings are quite mixed, first of all because twenty years somehow suggests that I too have grown old (laughs), and there is also a kind of questioning whether we have done enough. Thinking about this, I also remembered the many positive things we have done, and how much has changed for the better in the domain of the subjects we deal with – not only thanks to us, but largely thanks to us. Twenty years ago, the topics we dealt with were completely unknown, and today they are part of the mainstream.
What was the inspiration for founding the Smart Kolektiv?
Like all important things in life, it happened quite spontaneously and unplanned. First of all, I was quite active in the 90s in various activist organizations and groups, and after 2000 I thought I was done with that involvement. Since I got married quite young and became a parent, I decided to try my hand at marketing as that industry is more profitable than the culture, which is my profession. However, it didn’t fulfill me as activism, and that’s how we came up with the idea of connecting those two. My friend Aca Miloradović had a girlfriend, Agata from Poland, who started an organization there called the Foundation for Social Communications, and we were thinking of starting something similar, only much more practical. The two of them, Ljubica and I brainstormed how it should look and that’s how the Smart Kolektiv was born. SMart, as an acronym for social marketing artisans, because we wanted to deal with social campaigns, and the “kolektiv” (collective) because we envisioned acting on a regional, ie Eastern European level, and the collective reminded us of the experience with organizations (OURs, SOURs) that existed in the region. Very quickly we started to deal with these campaigns that we have remained faithful to in a way, even though we have gone in a different direction.
How different is what you do today from the original idea in 2003?
It differs to a great extent because the marketing also differs to a great extent. 20 years ago, when we were developing campaigns, we relied more on some street actions, posters and the like, there were no social networks and all new forms of advertising. However, what was interesting to us from the very beginning is not marketing as such, but the possibility to connect business tools with a social mission. And actually, while we were learning how business, with all its tools, capacity, knowledge, resources, can be used for some social good, we also learned something about the concept of CSR. Then we started to think how to involve the business sector to contribute even more to society, not only through social campaigns, which we still do and have remained faithful to, but to focus on the bigger picture and influence some transformative processes.
Could you name some successes of the organization that you are proud of?
I think that one of the biggest things was when we managed, as very young people gathered around a young organization, to mobilize some of the biggest companies in Serbia at the time, in a way on complete trust, to share our mission with us and form the Responsible Business Forum, today the Business Leaders Forum. Through this network, we managed to transfer the entire CSR movement to the business sector, to institutionalize it through the active participation of business, as well as to point out the great potential of cooperation between business and civil society.
Another thing is social entrepreneurship, which we actually started to work with by chance. With the aim of increasing the positive impact on society, we worked on strengthening NGOs by connecting them with businesses to develop their business skills and capacities. Some organizations stood out with certain innovative models, being more agile, more prepared for risk, and also, they developed some income-generating activities. We wanted to present them to business as a novelty that should be supported. That’s how we started to work with social enterprises and somehow learned what that concept represents. We are proud to have supported a really large number of such organizations, but also to have launched the “Good Bag” (Dobra torba) in our house as a model of social entrepreneurship and supported the development of Liceulice, a brand that is today more recognizable than us. I am especially glad that we managed to create different innovative models of support, from some kind of incubator for social enterprises to the first fund that provides financial support to social enterprises and which is still the only one in the country.
Were there any moments of crisis for the organization and what kept the Smart Kolektiv on its feet despite them?
During all these years, of course, there were difficult moments and I don’t believe that anyone is protected from that. They can come at different stages of development, for different reasons. I think that we survived due to our unique model, as from the beginning we relied on the one hand on donors, and on the other hand on the business community both financially and in partnership. This is what provided us with a high level of independence and certain sustainability. Another thing is that we have always been driven exclusively by one very narrow mission, which has cost us a lot of various projects and additional funding, but again due to that we have created a kind of specialty and recognition in those areas. Thirdly, the people we gathered were also always dedicated to the topics we dealt with, they were loyal to the organization and ready to recognize the benefits they can have through the development of some expertise in which there are not many experts. In the end, the fact that Smart is my initiative and part of my identity further motivated me to endure in crisis situations and to do my best to keep the organization alive.
If you had the chance, what would you tell yourself 20 years younger?
I think one message would be: Try, the younger you, to create a better balance between work and private life. Although work is an important part of our identity, it is not the most important thing and it is not everything. Some things at work may be easier to make up for than in private life. Second, things cannot happen by force and you should not be upset when something does not happen, because what we have outlined is only one of the versions of how things can unfold. Third, take it easy. Now from this perspective it is clearly seen that it takes time for some things to happen and that our constant pressure and work, like water that hollows out a rock by dripping, have resulted in time. Also, I would tell myself that no matter how many challenges and disappointments there will be, as long as what we are doing makes sense to me, I should persevere no matter how unfavorable the circumstances seem at that moment.