02 May 2017

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The Sisters Petrovic Help their Hometown

Jasmina Petrovic is lucky. Her job in Germany’s financial capital Frankfurt may be far from where she grew up, but it’s still close enough for a quick visit. So when she’s off the clock at Finance in Motion, one of the world’s leading impact investing advisors, Jasmina sets out for Pancevo, her hometown some 20 kilometers north of the Serbian capital Belgrade.

Jasmina (the brunette in the photo) enjoys the trips and hanging out with her sister Olivera. One day they were chatting about work, and Olivera, a chemistry teacher at Pancevo’s May 23 Technical High School, mentioned a daunting new challenge. In addition to her teaching duties, she had been tasked with the welfare and supervision of a class of some 30 students, a small part of the nearly 900 enrollees at the school.

All was not well with Olivera, Jasmina recalls. “She told me about some of the problems she had scheduling meetings with parents. One father couldn’t even afford a bus ticket to get to the school.” The sisters continued to talk, and Olivera revealed that poverty was keeping many students away, too.

Listening to her sister, Jasmina recognized the added difficulties facing kids lacking money for lunch, gym clothes or even a bus ticket to school. “I started thinking, ‘These are really basic things they can’t afford.’ ”

The sisters wanted to know more, and the numbers were sobering: one in five students come from a single-parent home, and nearly one-third live below the poverty line. “Serbia has a lot of problems,” Jasmina says, “but you don’t see that much poverty.” And when people work internationally, the negative aspects of life back home can easily slip one’s mind.

Talking to Olivera revived Pancevo’s struggles in Jasmina’s thoughts. The region still suffers from the closing of plants that produced metal parts, light bulbs, glass and, most importantly, salaries. The shutdowns hit the city hard, and the outlying villages even harder.

Jasmina Petrovic is lucky. She turned to her employer’s in-house charity fimshare for help. Fimshare has been set up by the company’s employees to support development projects around the world. The Sisters Petrovic prepared a project proposal with school officials and secured a fimshare grant. Now, scores of students from economically strapped families can focus on their studies for the next two terms instead of scrounging for money for daily commutes, food and sports shoes. The project even made the local paper.

When asked about what she has done for the high-schoolers in her hometown, Jasmina realizes the bittersweet nature of the grant. “There are many towns like this one – I’m just doing what I can to help.”

Again, Jasmina Petrovic is lucky.

This story first appeared in Agents of Change – Impact Investment Report 2016 from Finance in Motion.