Dear readers of NDF blog,
I hope you enjoy the variety of stories we publish.
I also hope you can learn something new from our articles and use the knowledge, advice and ideas in order to improve the quality of your life and the life of the people you know. This blog also motivates our team to work hard every day. We constantly read many articles and numerous studies, and trust me, we learn and discover these great new things together with you.
We don’t just dream – we dream BIG. That’s why we believe this blog can reach many people and create opportunities for improving lives of children, their families and thus the entire society.
A few weeks ago I announced on my twitter account that I would write a blog answering many questions regarding the issues I face while being executive director of NDF. In a very open and transparent way, I want to tell you what is actually happening in the process, what are our goals and motives, why all those charity dinners take place, what is the reason we invite celebrities, create and implement projects for kids…I am aware that many have been asking such questions. But, let me talk about the charity dinners later on. First things first, I want to share with you the details how everything started, and tell you what we had to do before we were able to organize such events.
I think that one of the greatest challenges I have ever faced with in my life is running a charitable foundation. It is a huge responsibility and very serious work. Thus, it cannot be, as some people may think, a mere hobby. I have spent months and months learning, researching, talking to experienced philanthropists… I have also attended countless meetings with lawyers, since it is important to know various regulations and laws concerning this issue… It was as if I had gone back to school again. I’m still learning, and that makes me very happy.
What I insist on, when talking to people, is to realize that charity is actually a TEAM WORK. One person cannot change the world. In fact, such a thing is possible only if there is a large number of people helping you, working day and night, thus achieving visible results. Fortunately enough, NDF has a great team who share the same vision. They all eagerly want to help children, looking up to Novak, respecting him for all the things he has done in his life.
When a child is born, the whole family gathers and tries to raise the baby in the best possible way. Our Foundation wants to help hundreds, and hopefully hundreds of thousands of children to have a better childhood. This cannot be done by one man only. Novak is a great inspiration for all of us, our guide and a true leader on this path. The things we learn from him we share with children, their families and teachers. On the other hand, this Foundation is much more than Novak, much more than any individual. I like to say NDF is the beginning of a small revolution – we fight for the little ones, for the future generations, for those who do not give up. Everyone is important to us!
Initial NDF team
I find it very important to tell you how all of this started. I took over great responsibility and a challenge that is not at all easy to bear. Running the Foundation of the world’s best tennis player and athlete, being in constant spotlight and pressured with expectations, where no mistakes are allowed, and where everyone is watching you – means you have a lot of work to do! But, I was ready and excited to face that challenge, coming fresh out of university with my masters degree – full of energy, eager to show knowledge in practice. My name has often been mentioned in the media, which is quite normal since I’m Novak’s fiancee (just recently we got engaged), but the rest of the team working in the foundation is equally, if not more important than me. You probably wonder what it takes to start running the Foundation? If you want answers, please, continue reading.
The very beginning
I was lucky to have Ryan Tarpley by my side. He helped me a lot in running the Foundation during the first year and a half. Ryan works for CAA (Novak’s former agency) and his job is to help clients begin their engagement in philanthropy if they want to do such a thing. We don’t work together anymore, but i will never forget his contribution to NDF.
At first, we have spent a lot of time just talking about Novak’s likes and dislikes, his passion, the things he wants to do in the future, how he wants to help others. Believe me, this was a very interesting part of the job, because Novak has a lot of interests. In the same time, he is well aware and informed of the problems Serbia and surrounding countries are facing. He loves his country tremendously and he can rarely say “no” to anyone (he remembers well how much every “no” hurt his family when they were asking for help). So, when we asked him “whom would you like to help” – he started listing everyone and everything! He wanted equally to help the old, the young, the ill, the healthy, libraries, museums, monuments, churches…It took us some time to narrow down his ideas, in order to come to where we are now. The moment we decided we should help the children, another challenge started.
I was very curious and excited, but at the same time I was afraid that I might do something wrong, or accidentally miss something important and thus put Novak’s reputation at stake. So, i started researching and learning as much as i could. I behaved like a little girl, constantly asking Ryan to help me and to answer my numerous questions: “how is that possible, why is that so?”… Patiently, he sent me tons of information, waiting for me to ask more questions after I finish reading new materials. And if you ask me, all these papers were not interesting at all. But I had to go through that painful process, in order to be able to run the Foundation.
With his help, we have rebranded the Foundation and registered it in the USA and England. It was quite a long and expensive process, I might say, but it was worth every penny.
More than two years ago “Novak Djokovic Foundation” operated under the name “Novak Fund”. It helped many children and families, towns, churches and monasteries.
Today, the focus of NDF is exclusively on education: we want to enable children from disadvantaged communities to grow up, play and develop in stimulative, creative and safe settings, whilst learning to respect others and care for their environment. We are doing this through our projects – they include renovating old and building new kindergartens and playgrounds, as well as providing funds for various programs and camps for children. We try to help them fulfill their childhood dreams. They will be able to achieve this if they invest in themselves and in their knowledge, if they respect others and care for their environment. Early childhood education gives a child a chance to return strongly to any challenge and become a winner in any field. At NDF, we believe in a world where all children have an equal chance to grow up and develop into productive, caring citizens of the world.
Why only a few people launch charitable foundations under their own names? Because it takes a lot of work to do and it’s a big risk, as well.
Just to be clear, managing the foundation is a 24/7 job – someone always needs your help, especially when you work for the children. You can forget about the weekends, there are no holidays, and you have to be ready to do all you can either during day or night. (BIG THANKS to the entire NDF team, for being available all the time!). Every foundation requires very long and expensive process of registration (only after that comes the managing). Law is very complex and therefore you need a lawyer and constant accountant services. At least, NDF are doing so – we want to be sure that there is nothing that might endanger our reputation. That leads me to the next point – there are so many ways you can make a mistake. There will always be someone to question your motives and to say something bad about you and your work. For others, you might not be on their top priority list, so your case or permission request will be just left aside – therefore you will not be able to implement certain projects in time as you have hoped (you have already promised people that you will implement something within a certain period of time, but since you cannot do it, you are in trouble explaining the situation to donors, children, the media…:( ). The affairs and problems in charity work can happen even though everything is powered with good intentions and genuine desire to help. This is possible because you can always come across something that can affect and twist your intentions and make it all wrong. Sometimes, it is hard to believe that some people are genuinely there to help, when being constantly on alert that somebody wants to cheat you and take what is yours. It’s a shame, but that’s true.
To cut to the chase, for all these reasons, the affluent people usually decide to donate money to a foundation of their choice and let it handle all the difficulties of managing, organization, fundraising, presenting the results and justifying the overheads and costs. It is so much easier than having somebody question your good intentions and maybe even turning them against you.
I was constantly worrying over how to organize work of the foundation and guide people who work for it in the way we had in mind. It’s amazing how many wonderful, selfless people work in the world of philanthropy. Ryan introduced me to many interesting and wonderful people from whom I have learned a lot. Dame Stephanie Shirley is one of them. Her story is very touching, and I invite you to read it. Her advice helped me create a vision of the Foundation in the right way, and how to unequivocally state it through our work and projects.
Soon after, we began to cooperate with UNICEF and Novak became UNICEF Ambassador for Serbia. Together we began to consider what are the exact problems that children are facing in Serbia and what is the area in which we could contribute the most. We used their experience, knowledge (they have been working for more than 20 years in our country) and help to select what organizations we would support. We were inspired by their efforts to support early child development, so we decided to do something similar – to invest in high quality programs which can make a difference in chidlren’s lives. Every day we have exchanged emails, ideas, experiences. At the beginning of the foundation’s work our research capacities were quite humble, and they have generously offered their help. UNICEF is still doing so. In addition, we have worked with them on a very large and important project for families who are at risk of relocation.
I have to mention Zorica Trikic, great woman with incredible energy who shared all her experience with me and the rest of the team. She helped in developing Schools of Life project that NDF today successfully implements in cooperation with Center for Interactive Pedagogy or CIP center. Since we are a very small foundation, we do not have so much experience in working directly with children, like CIP has. That is why they do this part of work, and, I must add, they do it in a fantastic way. Milica, Marija, Vuk… are part of the wonderful people from CIP we communicate with every day.
There is also our loyal NDF team: Gorana, Aleksandra, Marija, Nebojsa, Jelena, Jasna, Vlada, Lana, Rehana, Gordon, John, Moe, Ron, David, Alex… There are many others who contribute in various ways, and you can get to know them on “Who we are” page on our official website.
If you want my piece of advice: do not even think of going into adventure of helping others if you don’t have a team of people with a lot of integrity TO HELP YOU. I’m very grateful to every member of my team for the effort and energy they generously give while working for the Foundation, and I hope that our team will become even bigger with time.
To be continued on Friday…