Doraja Eberle: Giving Never Made Us Poorer

On April 25, 2014, the Forum 2000 Foundation in cooperation with the Austrian Embassy in Prague organized a working breakfast with Doraja Eberle, Chairwoman of the Managing Board of ERSTE Foundation. The meeting was part of the NGO Market framework and took place in the Residence of the Austrian Ambassador in Prague, H.E. Ferdinand Trauttmansdorff.

The main objective of the event was to assemble female leaders from the NGO sector in the Czech Republic so that they could share their experiences and best practices with their Austrian counterparts.

In his opening remarks, Christian Autengruber, Counsellor of the Austrian Embassy in Prague, has emphasized that he always considered it logical and natural to work closely with NGOs. He reasoned that NGOs offer the necessary insight and expertise that government institutions are often unable to provide.

After being introduced, Ms. Eberle stated: “Women are always taking the initiative in helping people. This event makes me feel I am not alone.”

When discussing the sustainability of NGOs, Ms. Eberle explained: “We have a lot of disappointments and setbacks, but we have to work together – this is my solution to problems.” Further into the meeting, she elaborated on her thesis: “If I have a truck in my garage and I do not need to use it at this point, why should not I lend it to another NGO that needs it?”

During her time as social worker in Bosnia, Ms. Eberle experienced the lack of cooperation between NGOs and decided to take a different approach with her own NGO (Bauern Hilfen Bauern, Farmers Help Farmers). “I wanted to be different. I decided that my NGO will be open to other organizations and share its resources – and I must say now that it works quite well.”

Ms. Eberle also commented on her engagement in politics. “The last thing I ever wanted to do was to go into government and politics. But when I was asked to go into politics to make it more ‘female, happy, and humane,’ I could not reject that.” She claimed that she kept independent in politics, and wanted to leave at her own discretion, and not when she had to. “I also learned to take advice, because we are never good enough to not have to ask others.”

For Ms. Eberle, the NGO sector is like a puzzle – the individual parts have to be engaged and connect to form the complete picture. “I see the NGO sector as a puzzle, but NGOs are shy to connect and open the curtains to further cooperation,” she asserted and added, “For me the most important value is honest cooperation – by honest I mean no hidden agendas. I also learned this in politics.”

The society is also a part of this puzzle, but the NGO sector has to approach everyone and make society witness to all its activities. “Others have no clue what we are doing. We must involve the most people, make them be the witnesses. How can we communicate, if the people do not know what is really going on? The world would be a better place if everyone felt part of the puzzle, but we need to take responsibility to convince them.”

The question of funding and financing in the NGO sector also came to the fore during the discussion. Ms. Eberle warned NGOs against excessive reliance on a single source of funding. “Austrian NGOs were supported a lot by the government. This was good, but on the other hand, the NGOs now have to adjust to new circumstances, because they receive less money from the government – and they have problems.” She mentioned that she is coping with a similar problem in the ERSTE Foundation: “When I realized that, through our funding, so many people are dependent on us for salary, I could not sleep.”

Ms. Eberle closed her inspiring presentation on a positive note, claiming that “Giving never made us poorer.”