The FINANCIAL — Interview with Lena Kiladze, AFG’s Georgian Executive Director
In a Q&A session, Lena Kiladzeshares highlights from the annual Charity Gala event organized by the non-profit organization American Friends of Georgia (AFG).
Q. The AFG annual Charity Gala was held on 30 March, what were the results of the evening?
A. It is very significant that over the years AFG manages to unify around the idea of philanthropy many big and small corporations; companies; famous and emerging artists; musicians and dancers; wine makers and vineyard owners;the diplomatic community; as well as Ambassadors, and of course generous individuals.
Charity Gala giving creates a bond, helping to bolster relationships through a shared goal and raising more money than could otherwise be possible through single donations.The Gala for AFG is not just a means of raising money, but also a way to promote the message and goals of its charity.
Of course,what’s crucially important is the funds raised during the Gala, as the Gala is the biggest fundraising activity of the year. This year we succeeded in raising GEL 129,000 in support of two unique projects for Georgia –the Dzegvi Shelter community that is the only mixed shelter of its kind in the country, sheltering more than 80 former street children; disabled adults and the elderly;and single mothers with their children who have nowhere else to go. And the first hospice and palliative home-care programme taking care of more than 100 terminally ill elderly who have nobody to look after them.
Q. In comparison with previous years’ Gala events, in what way was this year exceptional,unique and successful?
A. This year we held our Charity Galain the newly and gorgeously renovated Sheraton Grand Metechi Hotel. For us it was symbolic –the Sheraton hotel was the venue where AFG first organized its Charity Gala in Georgia! Another exceptional aspect was also the season for the Gala. In general, for more than 10 years at any rate, AFGhas always held its galas in either the autumn or December. However, we made an exception by moving the date of the Gala forward in order to celebrate the arrival of spring at the newly-reopened Sheraton Hotel.
This year we had unique Ambassadorial support. The highlight of the event was the ‘flash mob’ dance by diplomats: the Ambassador of Turkey Fatma Ceren Yazgan, and spouses of Ambassadors, Mrs. Petra Benko (Austria), Mrs. Katrina Tiedestrom (Sweden), and Mrs. Mette Hartzell (EU), led by Tea Darchia. This was in addition to support for the art auction prizes donated by the Turkish and Dutch Ambassadors.
This year we also had an exceptionally diverse programme (music and dance) all performed by the most talented musicians and dancers. There were the Stanley Clark band member pianist BekaGochiashviliand his Jazz Band; Dean of the Conservatoire ResoKiknadze and his Jazz Quintet; and the God-given talented voicesof the ensemble “Shvidkatsa”.There were also the Georgian National Ballet Dancer Tea Darchia and her dance studio “Tedasi”.
I would like to emphasize the great role ofauctioneer Extraordinaire Honorary Consul of Canada in Georgia Cliff Isaak – our long term friend and supporter and generosity of Georgian and American artists who are every year donating their artworks for AFG Charity.
Q.What are the main problems you’re facing today in Georgia and how are you trying to resolve them?
A. One of the main problems we are trying to resolve and contribute to is introducing the idea of philanthropy. All across the world we see the importance of philanthropy because it focuses on solving social problems, not simply alleviating them in the short term.
We think that philanthropy goes a long way to solving many social problems that governments may not be able to reach. Private individuals who have gained wealth may want to give back to society and help others get a firm foundation for the rest of their lives. Philanthropy is not only sharing funds, but also sharing knowledge, expertise and time. So we think that it’s really crucially important for Georgia and that is why we started the Youth Social Platform – a pilot project that gives opportunities to the young generation to volunteer and express their goodwill to help the most vulnerable children and elderly of Georgia.
One of the crucial problems that we are facing is the law on charity. Unfortunately, Georgian legislation is not adapted to internationally recognized standards and norms that enables businesses to have incentives for charity activities. And we would like to highlight that despite this we are glad that we have so many corporations and individuals who are eager to do charity.
Q. What are the main projects that you are running in 2019? And what are the expected results for the end of a year?
A. The highlights of our activities of the last couple of years have been:the Dzegvi Shelter –which is the only free centre of its kind in the country of Georgia, where vulnerable individuals of all ages live together as one large family. Established in 2001, the Dzegvi Shelter Community provides crucial assistance to those with nowhere else to go, including individuals with mental or physical special needs, and adults and children coping with homelessness and other challenges.
For the last few years we have been raising funds for reconstruction of the Shelter’s building which will not only include residential facilities but will also meet the critical need for spaces for rehabilitation programmes. Expected results for the end of the year will be opening the reconstructed building of the Dzegvi Shelter and launching rehabilitation programmes. Another of our focus projects is the Mercy CenterHospice and Palliative Home Care Program –the first and only free programme of its kind.
There is an especially great need for hospice and home care for elderly Georgians who are chronically or terminally ill, as Georgian hospitals are not able to care for these patients. Through the programme, poor and terminally ill patients receive compassionate support and care in their homes in Tbilisi as well as the Hospice hosting live-in patients suffering from various severe and terminal illnesses such as cancer, brain infarction, Parkinson’s, dementia, and diabetes.
Our pilot programme that we started four years ago and is very successful is the Youth Social Platform – responding to one of the most critical challenges in Georgia – rendering assistance to those vulnerable and indigent. The programme seeks to develop the culture of civic activism, volunteerism, tolerance and empathy in young people, at the same time providing support and compassion to those who require it the most – the elderly and children.
Our Art Rehabilitation Project – involves the most vulnerable and needy groups of people:IDPs;the Dzegvi Shelter;Children suffering with leukaemia, etc, and aims to rehabilitate them through creative art activities.
We dedicate our efforts to improving education in the country through various educational programmes, amongst them a higher education grant programme that makes it possible for orphans and former street children from the Bediani Children’s Village and Dzegvi Orphanage to attend university – a crucial step in obtaining financial security and building a safe and independent life. The Javakheti Relief Fund is supporting the only Georgian language public school in the multi-ethnic region of Georgia – Javakheti, the region with an only 2% Georgian population. TheNikozi Art School and Community Center is located 1 kilometre from Tskinvali, where children learn important skills for future life and conduct an International Animation Festival once a year.
Q. How does AFG differ from other charity organizations?
A. First of all, dare I say that AFG supports unique projects – like the Dzegvi Orphanage (one of the first street-children orphanages) in the 1990s and now the Dzegvi Shelter. In 1995, when AFG first started operating in Georgia,street children were a shocking new reality, as far as the state had no experience. So AFG started supporting Dzegvi Orphanage, in addition to funding shared international experience. The same happened with the Hospice project that was expanded into also a palliative homecare programme after years as a result of need. It was also the first hospice – so sharing working experience has been crucially important.
Generally, AFG always support the projects that are beyond the attention of other big donors or the state. AFG always fills theniche of those in direst need.
Another significantly marked difference is that AFG is not only a funder but a long-term partner for all its supported projects. Our vision is programme-based involvement encouraging empowering partners for further sustainable development.
Q. What are your main directions?
A. Our vision is a society where everyone has a decent place to live, learn and thrive. To bring that vision into reality, we focus on the following directions – humanitarian assistance, education and social inclusion, healthcare, promoting Georgian arts and cultural preservation, and promoting the idea of philanthropy.
Q. What role does AFG and its Gala play in Georgian–American relations?
A, AFG fosters people-to-people caring by Americans for Georgians in need. It was established by Georgian Americans in the US (Constantine Sidamon-Eristoff) and Americans with strong interests in Georgia. Most of the former US Ambassadors to Georgia are serving on our Board. Over the years AFG has promoted Georgian culture and arts in the US, thereby getting more Americans interested in the country of Georgia.
Q. Finally, please evaluate CSR in Georgia, and how it has been changing over the years according to your observations?
A. 13 years ago, it would have been difficult for me to evaluate CSR in Georgia in its classical understanding, as I think that it hardly existed. But it should be emphasized that despite this we had partner companies who always supported our work. But as time passes the situation has been changing. It should be highlighted that from year to year corporations and companies are more and more active in CSR as it is actively implemented in their agendas. Through the years we created a group of leading corporations around us, who today are actively involved in our work – some ofthem became our advisory board members, some partners and friends, all of them dedicating their time, expertise and funds to AFG’s work.
We live in a world where social responsibility is a critical factor in where employees choose to work. Understanding the impact they have on the world around them has never been more important for large corporates. But more than that, in order to stand out in a positive light, they need to implement and commit to a programme of social responsibility activities. We are very glad that Georgian companies are taking on responsibility for social problems. We are a very small country and from my point of view we can manage to resolve and overcome some social problems together!
Finally, I would like to express our great gratitude to all corporations and individuals supporting us! It’s said that you should appreciate those people who find time for you in their busy schedule, but love the people who never look at their schedule when you need them. This is how we see all of your support to what we are doing!
By Eva Bolkvadze