Projects That Bridge Cultures

Erste Foundation honours CEE integration pioneers in Prague

Erste Foundation Awards

The prickly EFASI trophy | Photo: Erste Stiftung

Prague played host to 132 “country winners” of the 2011 ERSTE Foundation Award for Social Integration (EFASI) in a 3-day series of lectures, workshops and performances, capped by an Awards Ceremony Jun. 20 announcing 35 grants totalling €613.000 – thus, ending a two-year selection process that had reviewed 1,850 applications from 12 countries.

The top prize of €40,000 went to a project in Croatia for women and children who are victims of domestic violence. Known as the Autonomous Women’s House in Zagreb, the Centre has been influential since the 1980s, changing the legal system and enabling women to support themselves and their children.

Some 700 representatives from NGOs, government, business and media filled the world-renowned Barandov Film Studios, where the edgy gypsy carneval sound of the “Allstar Refjudzi Band” set the tone, capturing the members’ struggle as refugees: involuntary migration, racism and human rights violations.

The EFASI Trophy itself is somewhat of a challenge – a giant black sea urchin made of steel, designed by Sanja Ivekovic, internationally-acclaimed artist based in Zagreb. Andreas Treichl, chairman of the Foundation board and CEO of Erste Group, presented the spiky Trophy to winner Neva Tolle in gloved hands, symbolizing the beauty involved in social integration work as well as the care with which it needs to be handled. So far, the Trophy has gone to three women-run projects.

‘‘We believe in societies in which all members have equal rights,” Treichl emphasised. “But in order to create such societies, every one needs to contribute.”

The ‘‘Roma Press Agency’’ in Kosice, eastern Slovakia, that counters negative reporting and media ignorance, garnered the 2nd Prize of €30,000. The Agency also supports Roma education for media careers, thus empowering their struggle for equality in new ways.

Civil society groups continue to face real and symptomatic “Homelessness” so it is appropriate that the 3rd Prize of €20,000 went to “Roses of Saint Francis Homeless Shelter” in Rijeka, a vital resource especially in Croatia whose laws seem to ignore the problem.

All 132 country winners are entitled to a range of benefits starting with a dynamic social media cum website presence (, an interactive database of good practice projects of a variety of NGO partners in the CSE-region, the first of its kind in Europe. Winners would also receive capacity building with the support of professional PR consultants over two years to improve their public relations and social media skills, project manager Dejan Petrovic confirmed.

The screening of a video clip on the winning organization by Davor Konjikuvic elicited protest at the report that every third woman in Croatia suffered from some kind of domestic violence. A Croat businessman blurted out: “But who does that? I don’t, I know my brother doesn’t, and neither do our relations or friends!”

“That’s typical,” Petrovic commented later. “So many people do not know what NGOs have to deal with in their own countries.” EFASI is changing that, as Kristina Magdolenova from the winning Roma Media Centre attested: “Upon my return to Kosice, I got so many calls, even from those who had been ignoring us when we approached them for help.”

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