Propulsion Fund is unique. Established in close cooperation with the leading companies in the region, it is at the same time an agency and a foundation with a clear social mission. “We are a rare animal among agencies”, as Darko Soković picturesquely put it. This is not the first public engagement in his career, as he already discovered social activism during his university days.
“Today, Propulsion Fund has three production centres: in Belgrade, Sarajevo and Podgorica, and operations in Kosovo. More than 30 people design, write, record, produce mobile and web applications on a daily basis, create premium video, animated and television content, run campaigns on social networks and create unique communication solutions for about 60 clients a year. The pinnacle of our services are Propulsion Programmes, impact investment vehicles propelled and funded by leading corporations in the region. Investors include SBB, Erste Bank Montenegro, Sparkasse Bank BiH, AstraZeneca, Henkel, Apatin Brewery, Microsoft, Coca-Cola HBC Montenegro and Kosovo, Erste Bank Serbia, UNDP, UN Women, AmCham BiH and the Chamber of Commerce of Montenegro.”
What interest do large companies have in demonstrating their corporate social responsibility through Propulsion, and not, for example, on their own?
– According to the Truth About Youth Research (McCann Truth Central, 2016), around 90% of youth in Serbia consider CSR an essential part of every serious brand’s operations and would actively engage either physically or intellectually for a brand that is socially responsible. It is clear that there is a generation well aware that companies are the ones crucially shaping our societies, and the youth are ready to embark on that journey together with the corporate sector. Everything we do leads to one goal: building a strong, heterogeneous and relevant community committed to the company and society as a whole. This community is a powerful accumulated social capital of a company and can be deployed wherever the company wants. It is also a pool of future users, buyers, consultants, partners and innovators. At the same time it generates a capillary, outsourced innovation mechanism in a way that is not possible with centralized thinking in a small group. Our programmes reshape talented people into leaders, vague ideas into innovative projects and create a cohort of ambassadors of our partner companies’ values. In this way, we empower great ideas and their conceivers, and transform the region.
You were personally among the first in Serbia who worked on connecting, for example, students from Belgrade and Priština, when that seemed like an impossible mission, looking for what they had in common, and not what divided them. Can we say that the very idea of the Propulsion Fund for the work in the region is on that track?
– We believe that to deal with communication means, in fact, to actively work on change.That is why today we are the pioneers of the concept of the strategic corporate impact investment in the Western Balkans; the Propulsion Fund manages around 600,000 EUR of corporate impact investment funds per annum. We see ourselves as part of the first wave of new development of the region, led by companies that have understood that only by investing in the community can business itself advance in a sustainable and stable manner.
Exclusively, I am announcing the launch of the Propulsion League, an innovative internal talent development programme that will be open to all our alumni and associates to further develop their skills, start their projects, and for some of them even to be employed in the Fund
You say that you shape the future of the region – working with young leaders, which Propulsion Project would you single out as the one that best ‘shapes the future’?
– We know how to attract and recognise young people with valuable ideas, together with leading companies in the region, and then involve them in some kind of competition, during which they acquire valuable knowledge and, at the end, choose winners among them. Programmes such as Šampioni svaki dan, Živi svoju ideju or Superste.net truly set the golden standard for the social impact investment strategies of the leading companies in the region. In 2017 alone, more than 1,100 alumni benefited from the programmes, which also included 40 mentors with around 1,600 mentor hours. In 2017 our programmes received several awards, including the awards of UEPS and Virtus in Belgrade, Iskra in Podgorica and The Internationalist in New York.
Perhaps it is too simple to look at things through money, but the fact that companies invested about €600,000 in the Fund in one year says that business people have the need to follow your ideas to build awareness of democracy, respect for human rights, gender equality, and other goals you have set. Would you say that business people are more aware than political leaders of the need to shape the region ‘for the future’?
– In Serbia alone, companies allocate around €22 million a year for social welfare. With this money you can build, say, less than three kilometres of motorway on Corridor 10. But if that money is invested in brilliant young minds, we will create a new generation that will be able to build hundreds of kilometres of motorways, create new ideas in business, art, culture, innovation, education. The leading companies in our region are those who have the strength, knowledge and resources to transform this region. Together with them, we are building a region of leaders.