Change is always possible

Bystriny, Čierne diery, Kto pomôže Slovensku – there is one person uniting all these initiatives. People are looking forward to seeing what she will come up with next, and about which project she is currently excited and will invest her time in. At present, the Ministry of Fine Interventions (Ministerstvo jemných zásahov) and permaculture gardening caught her eye. Lucia Pašková named her presentation at Art&Tech days in Košice “Change by trust”.

The Ministry of Fine Interventions with a large impact. What did you mean by that?

Ondřej Kobza, the man behind the reconstruction of the Lucerna Palace in Prague (an organiser of urban projects who opened the terraces on the roof of the Lucerna Palace in Prague to the public – Ed.) came up with the original name. It was presented by Gábor Bindics – the head of the Old Market Hall team in Bratislava. The project dates back to our conversation about the possibility of renovating certain premises. As Gábor was involved in the Čierne diery project, we started to talk about industrial monuments. There are such places in Slovakia, and they need reconstruction. I am on the board of the Bystriny project. The Bystriny project collaborates with cultural and creative centres. We were aware that the monastery in Rožňava at that time was looking for ways to renovate one floor which they wanted to turn into an accommodation area. We used to go to the monastery often; it’s our favourite place because a group of fantastic people resides there. It is a creative-cultural hub creating a local synergy, while also promoting democracy. People in such places are able to react very quickly when something bad happens – they organise a discussion or a concert, express support for a cause, etc. At the same time, it is a place with potential, where people from the business sector, the state, the education sector, and the non-profit sector can meet. People mingle and come up with projects that focus on completely new fields within the synergy. When we arrived there, our colleague pointed out that it would be a nice place to offer accommodation. The architects from Sadovsky & Architects went there to check the place out because Oliver Sádovský’s wife is from Rožňava. It became a project dear to their hearts. And not only theirs but also ours. They designed what it would look like. They realised that the attic wouldn’t be quite the right place for accommodation because it was a bit cramped, so they chose different spaces and designed it. It looked wonderful. The works started just when the COVID-19 pandemic hit. It was a good time for renovation. It’s finished today and I think it looks beautiful. We just hope that it works well, that it takes off and that people will be happily coming back.

Foto: Marianna Bodnárová

The Rožňava project already looks like a success. What are the conditions that need to be met for this project to be successful?

I would say that we are trying to find a sustainable model that will work in the long term.  Originally, the idea behind it came from the fact that I used to work in a time-share company that sold holiday stays in Malta. It was only selling 2-week holiday stays but for 20 years in advance. What that means is that you pay a certain amount and then you can go there repeatedly. Instead of having to buy an expensive house, you’ve bought yourself any two weeks in a year. So we started talking about trying to do it this way. We would use this model but, instead of Malta, we would offer accommodation in Rožňava, for example. Over time, we would involve more projects. That’s when Bystriny came up and we started talking about offering not only accommodation but also experiences that can be found in this or that region. Each of those cultural centres is attended by beautiful, creative, and interesting people. That means that they can identify the types of experiences that people usually wouldn’t find at all. In the Slovak Karst, there is a Gothic path, the village of Brdárka and the permaculture gardens there. When the cherry blossoms bloom, a guided tour through the cherry orchards is organised. Very few people know that there are actually around four thousand trees that carry several dozen types of cherries. In fact, you can even find three to four types of cherries on a single tree! These are things you can hardly find anywhere else. We are not even aware that we have such unique things. Another example is the church in Štítnik. These types of experiences can be found around Bardejov, Liptovský Mikuláš, Žilina, Trenčín, Partizánske Piešt’any, and Banská Bystrica. There are communities of interesting people everywhere and we are connecting them to the business sector. These connections lead to the creation of new types of experiences. Or, conversely, communities inform and empower each other. (A similar approach has been taken by CIKE, which tries to involve the creative community in the revitalisation of urban spaces within the CINEMA project – Ed.).

Are people from certain communities in the east of Slovakia getting involved? Have they suggested that they would like to follow this approach?

We are currently renovating a house in the village of Brdárka. Actually, two houses. The house next to the church in the centre has long been very ugly and has spoiled the impression of the centre of the village. There is quite a large plot of land attached and there is an ambition to renovate it. Two other houses have already been renovated, and there is a guest house and a space where permaculture will be established. If we could connect the two plots, a permaculture garden would appear around the whole plot of land and a training area in the lower section. In the upper section of the property, a tiny bungalow providing temporary accommodation with a beautiful view of the valley could be built. The village of Brdárka is dear to my heart. I have been saying I like eastern Slovakia ever since I visited Brdárka for the first time about 12 years ago. I fell in love with the environment and the people. I believe people are gradually joining in. It’s not that we have a lack of requirements. It is important for us to have an existing community near the place to be reconstructed, and that this community is active and engaged in interesting activities, and we can support it. For example, we bought a house in the village of Brdárka and we are going to try out the idea that, over time, that community could buy it for a lowered cost, and try it out in a painless manner. So they will run the economy, they will see what the profit is, and therefore they will know whether it is worthwhile for them to ask for a loan and pay it back. So it’s a model that’s a bit distracting, but it could be very easily multiplied and scaled.

Foto: Marianna Bodnárová

We have now touched on the principle of an open economy. Can you describe in more detail who would benefit from such a system?

In my opinion, everyone. Let’s take an example of a family. Knowing about each other’s accounts leads to more open communication. Of course, it has to be voluntary but, as far as a company or any organisation is concerned, it is obviously a good system. As long as you act fairly. When someone introduces open accounting, they have to take into account that when certain noticeable transactions are made, someone will point it out to others. It’s a self-monitoring system. On the other hand, it forces the company director to ensure fair remuneration. Let’s illustrate how the economics work in a company: sometimes employees only see the amount of sales but they don’t know what is behind it. When they find out how much value-added tax is paid on the sales, how much the goods cost, how much is spent on logistics, on printing posters, etc., they suddenly see that the company itself is left with, say, EUR 500–600 out of the EUR 1,000, and suddenly they don’t feel that they should ask for EUR 500 more. It is a control mechanism. It works both ways. It’s not just about controlling that the director doesn’t squander money, but it also precludes unnecessary discussions. Having an open system cultivates trust. When people understand the entire economics behind a company, it makes more sense to them and, if it doesn’t make sense, they are free to raise objections.

You called your lecture today “Change by trust”. That means you consider trust to be the most important thing for change, and not only in the business sector. According to you, in this time of various changes and different societal influences, what potential do we have to change the mindset and transform it into reality?

There is always potential. Anyone who has grown up in a loving, accepting, intimate environment, finds it much easier to do this. This is the kind of power that we should be aware of because it is an advantage that we have been given without having to work for it. And we should treat it accordingly; that is, not take it for granted, not exalt ourselves over someone when they haven’t had it as easy as us. That, to me, is exactly what people who lead others should always be aware of.

Do you think the time has come for companies to look for partners in the non-profit sector?

It certainly has. It’s a much more natural environment for me, because – to be honest – the business aspect does not excite me any more. I think that this connection can lead to the two sectors learning a lot from one another. The non-profit sector can learn from the business sector in terms of better structure and more efficiency. And, on the other hand, the non-profit sector provides a huge space for improving culture, for improving such human empathy processes, and in general for perceiving certain topics that are usually either suppressed or not perceived at all by the business sector. Yet, when they are perceived, they can be absolutely key to significant change for the better, not only internally, but externally as well. Because customers today choose companies that seem to have a purpose that delivers something more. They are much more socially conscious than they used to be. Moreover, even the best employees are going to choose the companies they want to be employed by that will have that type of impact. It is certainly good for a company to start doing something like this. Basically, it gives you the opportunity to be proud of that company. It’s not just about being proud of yourself. You can also be proud of the fact that you work for that company and of their approach to certain topics. And what it does for others and why. It actually motivates people within that team to grow as humans.

Now we’re going to talk a bit on a personal level. You went on a sabbatical. How did this period benefit you?

The original intent of the sabbatical was to rest and think about what I was going to do next. In fact, I went on a sabbatical during COVID-19. We started the Kto pomôže Slovensku initiative at that time, and since the COVID-19 pandemic lasted for two more years, we spent a large part of that period dealing with the supply of protective equipment to hospitals, outpatient clinics, and social service homes. During the next wave, we provided psychological support and sent energy packages to hospitals. It wasn’t exactly a relaxing sabbatical in the true sense of the word. At the same time, I had a lot of time just for non-profit projects. People often ask me how I am able to keep up with so many things. My job allows me to do that. I am now working as a mentor of the new managing director at Curadente, which allows me a lot of free time. I have enough time to devote to these projects. Plus, as an investor in an AI project, which will again prove to be a very nice connection, I will have to work properly for a while. In terms of accountability and fairness to those projects, I am now leaving the boards of three out of four organisations due to the fact that I will be travelling a lot because I have to visit other countries and universities, so I will not be here that much. It would be irresponsible of me to promise something that I will then not be able to deliver.

You’ve gone from a managerial, executive position to almost a helping profession. How did it enrich you internally? How did you manage to get used to it? And was it even necessary?

I graduated as a teacher. The non-profit sector, and education in general, is much dearer to me than business. I would say that I am using exclusively my common sense. What I do is not some rocket science, it’s more of a passion for those causes. And I am also trying to make the people in the team feel good in order to transfer that energy. So the transition wasn’t dramatic for me at all. Actually, even in my role as a director of Curaprox, I used to be more of a supportive type because I’m quite a lazy person. I try to set up systems that work without me. My standard working mode is learning how to do something, then finding the person who will do it, and then helping them do it well. So I’ve actually been in the helping profession since the beginning.

And how would you define an ideal society, if I may call it that?

It should definitely be open, accepting, and kind. It should be a democratic society. It should be a society where being vulnerable and showing vulnerability is not considered a fault but, on the contrary, a natural part of living. It should be a place where trust is a catalyst so that we can spread sensitivity and kindness.

How can people contribute to it or start building it? What does it require?

First of all, self-reflection. Looking at oneself and starting from there. I have a daily ritual – every time I go to bed at night, I look back at my day and think about what I didn’t do well on a human level during that day. Because, honestly, I don’t care that much about the economic results, but if I have been in a situation where I have, let’s say, lost my temper, or been too bossy or insensitive, those are the moments that I go back to and I think about what I could have done better. I think that’s such a simple model when one is a believer. I’m an atheist, but I think this type of reflection was probably the original idea behind confession. I believe anyone can do it. They can even do it every day. The second thing is to say it out loud: yes, I made these mistakes and I’m not proud of it.  That doesn’t mean I’m not working on it. On the contrary, by being aware that I am making those mistakes, I am actually working on them. I’m trying to improve myself. I don’t think it’s super complicated.

This article was funded from the CINEMA Project. Project is co-funded by European Union funds (ERDF, IPA, ENI).

Share us on social networks:

You might be interested in