Issue 6, 2013. December-January

   

RE-CREATING A CULTURE OF CHARITY

At the turn of the 20th century, philanthropy was an integrated part of Georgian life. Wealthy Georgians - and foreigners living in Georgia - gave to charities and the arts to support culture and education. The Soviet experience, however, put a stop to the practice. Today non-profits are working to rekindle the instinct to give


The culture of charitable giving is gaining momentum in Georgia, one tiny donation at a time. Despite wide spread poverty in the country, non-profits like the American Friends of Georgia (AFG) and the Salvation Army are seeing an uptick in Georgians' desire - and ability - to help those in need.

For B. Donald Ødegaard, the acting regional commander for Salvation Army in Georgia, Georgians' instinct to give is evidenced with every clink of a coin in a panhandlers' cup at the traffic lights in central Tbilisi.

Ødegaard, who served with the Salvation Army in Moldova before coming to Georgia, noted the legacy of the Soviet system - everyone is taken care of by the state, not the community - can be an additional obstacle for these countries.

"I think the only way that people, that you can change that culture, is when people have more than they need. So they have room to give. And I think it could take a generation," he said, adding, however that when people stop and give to panhandlers on the street, they are confronting poverty head on. The instinct to help is a natural one.

"I think it has to do, it has to do with teaching and changing the culture and I do believe that in this part it will take time,"Ødegaard said. Lena Kiladze, the country director for the AFG, said reintroducing the idea of philanthropy is part of her organization's mission.

"We are slowly starting to rebuild this tradition of philanthropy; this is one of the goals of the American Friends of Georgia. We are trying to provide some humanitarian help, to help the neediest and this is one of the directions - to restore the tradition of philanthropy in Georgia," she said.

"We - and I personally - believe that there are problems in the country which can be solved in the country, not by other organizations. Community and country and civil society are capable to solve them, it is just a matter of organizing."

Kiladze stressed that Georgians, especially Georgian businesses, are becoming more proactive - donating to charitable events. At AFG's main fundraising event, its annual gala, a Georgian company, Petrocas Energy, matched all the funds they received via the art auction - essentially doubling the amount AFG earned to help children and the elderly in 2014.

But even local artists, far from the richest members of society, are also stepping up, giving in kind by gifting their work for auctions and fund drives.

"I cannot say that people are not helping. Every year the culture of corporate giving is being developed more and more. Every gala shows more and more support from the companies," she said.

"I am very happy that more and more Georgian companies are participating actively."