United in the desire to make the Serbian community in New York work better, a group of professionals of Serbian origin got together in 2019 and in 2020 founded what is today the Serbian Philanthropic Association. Although founded not long ago, this association attracted significant attention and donors in the three years of its existence, mainly concentrated around the central annual event happening in November called Serbian Philanthropic Gala.
This year, representatives of the Returning point had the chance to attend the Gala event, which gathered many people, thus raising a lot of interest in the activities of the New York-based organization.
At the end of November 2022, we spoke with a member of the Serbian Philanthropic Association, Igor Mladenović, Treasurer and a Board member, who presented the Gala event from an organizer’s point of view.
The Serbian Philanthropic Association has existed for about three years. What makes the focus of your organization?
The Association has been founded in 2020 with the goal of creating a stronger connection with all other likeminded people with Serbian Heritage.. Currently, our most prominent event is the Gala evening, which is something we’ve become known for. It’s a formal event, a fundraiser directed toward projects that have a long-term influence on the economy, education, and ecology in Serbia. At the same time, we strive to maintain the connections with the Serbian community in the United States, to support Serbian culture and present it in the best way. We have about 16 members and we grow each year, which is something people in Serbia and in America see and support. The interest in membership is great and we look forward to this growth and the increased support we’re looking to get.
What does the Serbian community in New York look like today?
My acquaintance with the Serbian community in New York started in 2010 when I came intending to study and play sports so that I could get a US diploma and a job in one of the American corporations after. People I’ve met and with whom I associate myself, many of which are members of our organization, come mainly from the field of finance, but we also have lawyers, doctors, and other highly educated individuals.
There are 16 members in our organization comprised of enthusiastic, kind, and successful individuals. . All of us volunteer daily for the Serbian Philanthropic Association, for three years already.
How did the Gala event come into existence?
There was a Gala before, a formal event organized by the church, however, due to the internal reasons the church gala was discontinued. As we wanted to make sure that Serbian community has an event of this profile, inspired by the church gala, Serbian Philanthropic Gala was created. We wanted this to be something new and unique, something that will gather the people together, raise funds to improve lives of our people, promote philanthropy and celebrate our rich culture, and be characterized as apolitical and non-religious event.
When did the first event happen?
The first Gala happened in 2019 when we were not registered as a non-profit yet, and the event itself was a test of sorts. The response was tremendous, and the event went excellently – we managed to gather over 350 people. The first Gala became a benchmark for subsequent events, in which we’ve managed to raise over $220,000 dollars directed toward different organizations meant to support Serbian culture, education, and other fields of our interest.
How many guests attend the event each year?
Considering the spaces available to us, the Gala’s capacity is between 400-450 people. Curiously, if there were a hall large enough for even more people, we would be able to fill it. This year, for example, the interest was tremendous, and we couldn’t answer everyone’s wishes to attend, while the tickets were sold in record time – in only three weeks. In the end, we will explore an option to organize a slightly bigger event next year, precisely because of such a great interest.
A description on your website presents the Gala as a “high-profile Serbian networking event”. Would you elaborate on that?
We presented it in such a way because of our goal to focus on people who are professionals and are great at what they do and who also live in New York or elsewhere in America. We have guests from Chicago, Florida, Houston, Canada, and all these different American states. The event is known as a gathering place for eminent and highly educated people who can give advice or network. This is what we had in mind writing the said description.
Apparently, Ana and Vlade Divac Foundation supported your organization as well. Do you work with any other organizations as well?
That’s right, we did organize the first Gala with the help of the Divac Foundation, which gave us great support both financially and in marketing. The money raised that year went toward Divac Student Scholarships,. Luckily for us, the collaboration with the Divac Foundation was fantastic and in the end, everything worked out beautifully. The following Gala event in 2021 we organized by ourselves, in line with our goal to build our brand.
Every year, we select an organization to support and to which the raised funds will be donated. This year, the funds went to the Studenica Foundation.
The most recent Gala was held on November 4, 2022. What are your impressions?
The main impression and result of this event is the fact that we managed to raise more than $100,000 for the Serbian students under the wing of the Studenica Foundation. We are very happy we’ll be able to finance 67 Serbian students who don’t have the appropriate financial support, and are quite successful. This is the highlight of the entire event if you ask me. Of course, the whole experience was enhanced by the great Zdravko Čolić who supported us and made our evening even more wonderful.
Also, it’s important to mention that we presented an award, a recognition for the promotion of Serbian tradition and cultural heritage, which is something we do as an organization each year. This year, we awarded doctor Danica Marinac Dabić, who has been living in the States for a long time and is one of the founders of the folklore ensemble Opančići from Washington, D.C. We’ve awarded her for special contribution in the field of philanthropy, to support her work and demonstrate that being a good philanthropist in America bears fruit.
You mentioned that the interest in the Gala is growing by the year. Are there any concrete plans for the next year’s event already?
For now, we’re still summarizing our impressions as we discuss the previous event. The upcoming Gala is definitely on our radar and we plan to keep organizing it every year.
As I mentioned, the Gala is our only fundraising platform that supports the Serbian community for now, and we are planning other fundraising projects as well.
As far as you know, what kind of influence does the Gala exude onto the wider Serbian philanthropic community in America, as a central event?
Of course! We’re already getting calls from Chicago and Houston from people who would like to organize the Gala event there, in collaboration with us. People are happy and excited that such an assembly of young, successful professionals exists and they want to expand it to the cities in which they live. We’re naturally open to collaboration and we’re glad to have this kind of positive influence on people in other American cities as well.
However, I must mention that, because we’re so young as an organization, consisting of, basically, volunteers who have day jobs, these ideas will remain only a lovely idea for now. Since the organization of the New York Gala requires a lot of time and is a complicated process, we’re not able to promise our participation in a similar event at this time. But we’ll see.