We have talked to Mario Catasta, CEO of ERSTE Foundation, about the goals of the foundation and the Technology Scholarships programme.
Can you briefly introduce ERSTE Foundation to us?
Since 2003, ERSTE Foundation is a private savings bank foundation under the Austrian Savings Bank Act. In accordance with foundation statutes, it has to perform two tasks in parallel: to serve the common good and to have a permanent stake in Erste Group. In order to serve the common good, we invest part of the dividend from the Foundation’s stake in Erste Group in philanthropic projects in Central, Eastern and Southeastern Europe.
But long before we became a strong partner of civil society organisations in Europe we were a social business ourselves. In 1819, a group of Viennese citizens founded a private association to give common people opportunities for making provision for the future and establishing a secure and independent livelihood for themselves and their families. The association was run by dedicated volunteers in a poor neighbourhood, was innovative and obviously sustainable. It was called Erste oesterreichische Spar-Casse and was the “first Austrian savings bank” as well as the legal predecessor of ERSTE Foundation.
What are some of the main goals ERSTE Foundation is striving to achieve through its work?
As an owner, ERSTE Foundation protects the shareholder structure of Erste Group and guarantees that its assets remain relevant to its funding principles. As investor into society we empower initiatives for change, contribute to civil society development and regional progression. ERSTE Foundation has a clear role: it initiates and acts as innovative driver, connector, and knowledge disseminator in the societies. We aim at understanding and populating the public discourse about the right change we need. Thematically we focus on four goals: financial health for all, preserving a democratic Europe, empowering those who care and protecting contemporary culture.
Logo of the ERSTE Foundation is a bee. What is hidden behind this logo and what does ERSTE Foundation‘s bee represent?
The bee has been a symbol of life and growth for many generations and cultures. From the beginning it was also the symbol of the savings banks. You can see the bee or bee hives on savings banks buildings in Central Europe to this day. It stood for virtues such as thrift, provision, community spirit and diligence. It fertilizes flowers, which then ripen into fruits. Also saving has not only positive effects for the individual, but also for society as a whole. ERSTE Foundation continues the tradition of the bee. We have chosen the bee as our logo to remember the savings bank history and to honor a very valuable and really cool animal.
ERSTE Foundation is one of the supporters of Technology Scholarships project. What has been the motivation to support Technology Scholarships project at the University of Klagenfurt?
ERSTE Foundation supports several educational projects and scholarships. We are interested in programmes that give access to students from countries in the region where we invest to strengthen societies: Central, Eastern and Southeastern Europe. The Technology Scholarships are aimed primarily at students from countries in this region. Another aspect for us is that this project gives the University of Klagenfurt a more international focus. There is considerable potential for positive change in the qualification of young people who, ideally well trained, participate in their home countries in the further development of the economy and society. Actually, we don’t need extra motivation. This concept of support is part of our DNA. It is the very idea of savings banks to empower people by increasing chances and choices, also through education. Carinthia has its own role model of a successful savings bank foundation following this tradition: the Foundation of Kärntner Sparkasse. We are happy to work side by side with our local peers.
Is there anything you would like to say or wish to current and future Technology Scholarship holders?
There is a lot of change ahead of us. We need bright spirits, creative minds and empathic humans – also and especially in technology. Because technology is shaping society.