Interview with our director: Helping is a basic principle of solidarityAndrea Najvirtová, director of People in Need, joined the organization after returning from abroad. In 2020, she took the director’s chair and has been leading one of the largest organizations in Slovakia ever since. However, by the time she became the leader of the organization, the world was hit by a pandemic. In the interview, Andrea talked about her beginnings, the direction of the organization, but also about why people should support the activities of People in Need. How were your beginnings in the organization? I lived abroad for 15 years and decided to return to Slovakia. I worked in the field of development cooperation and human rights in Kosovo and Serbia, specifically minorities, fugitives, the integration of excluded Roma and Roma women, etc. Then I saw a job offer at People in Need and I said to myself that this is exactly what I was doing. I thought that I could also do this from Slovakia and use my experience gained from abroad to help influence and improve Slovak solidarity abroad. So I started as the head of the department of development cooperation and humanitarian aid, where I worked for two years. Then I got the opportunity to lead the organization further as a director. From February 2020, I formally took over the management, and the pandemic also started in February, so my arrival was a bit in media res. What led you to become a director? Managing the humanitarian and development aid department was quite difficult, so I thought that when I managed it, the step up would not be so difficult, but I was wrong (laughs). I have already worked on the topics that People in Need deals with in the past, they are close to me and I see meaning in them. In addition, I also enjoy organizational development and working with people – I led volunteer camps back then, and in my studies I dealt with organizational development. It’s fun to work in an organization, to move it forward, and I like working in teams – that’s why I didn’t want to be a consultant on a chosen topic, because I like to work in a team.
Did anything surprise you after you became the head of the organization? I was surprised by the responsibility that a person carries as the head of an organization. Even though we have a management team, I am still ultimately responsible. The pandemic was a shock – I suddenly realized that I was leading one of the largest organizations in Slovakia and thought about what it would mean. I knew that I had to lead the organization through this period. That’s when I found out that the organization already has a life of its own – we have really smart people in the departments and together we were able to react relatively quickly to a completely new situation. The question of financing was also difficult. We have invested in the development of fundraising for a long time, the non-profit sector was underfunded for a long time, which means that people took on additional tasks because we had limited financial resources. This was very challenging in the long run. Nevertheless, I was positively surprised by the great people we have here, who are very good to work with, and who contribute to the organization beyond what is technically required of them.
Are you satisfied with the progress of the organization, which has grown to almost 200 people in recent months? How do you find it compared to when the organization consisted of approximately 70 people? I feel that since I took the lead, we have been dealing with one crisis after another – whether it was a pandemic, a warehouse explosion in Beirut, aid to people in Afghanistan, a tornado in Moravia, or now the war in Ukraine. I thought that I would gradually modify and adjust the functioning of the organization, but basically we are solving one crisis after another. At the same time, it showed us that our mission has meaning. In a certain respect, it is also very fulfilling that we were able to help relevantly at each event, that we are moving forward with each event, gaining experience until we can continue to help. What were your goals? My goal was for the organization to grow, primarily from the point of view that larger size allows for better specialization, better focus. People can also focus on what they do best and together we can help more people. To me, the growth of the organization also means that we can have a greater impact and move forward better. The fact that we have grown so much is a consequence of the needs of Ukrainian people which are huge. As an organization, we have received a lot of trust from companies and individuals, as well as a commitment to help in a big way. Growth is therefore important for the running of the organization. This is one area of humanitarian aid, but we have also moved over the years in the quality of our support to excluded communities or our One World festival, or bringing topics of global education. I am very happy that we are constantly improving the quality of our work, and I can see the impact we are achieving. I am also pleased that we manage to bring together people who are passionate about this work. They are professionals and together we can move forward. What is it like to be the director of such a large and well-known organization? Do you feel pressure from the public or government officials? It is certainly a big responsibility. However, I am glad that People in Need is actually such an institution that it is not an organization linked to a “founding father” or one prominent personality. An organization is made up of a bunch of people who work there. My ambition was for the organization to move and develop further and to continue to be a significant actor in the field of humanitarian aid, social integration and global education, which I believe is still being achieved. We’ve grown from 70 people to almost 200, so it’s a big change for all of us as well. Despite the fact that my responsibility for the entire organization is great, there are people around me that I can rely on who are covering individual areas. In that sense, it’s nice because I don’t feel alone. It’s really a collective performance of all of us, we are like a pieces of puzzle.
And what is it like? I am proud of our work, which we manage to do. It is also such an honor for me to be able to lead this organization.What motivates you in your work? I just enjoy it. It’s hard work, but at the same time it gives me a lot of meaning. When I go to the field, I see with my own eyes how we manage to move communities forward, or what we have achieved now in connection with helping people in Ukraine or here in Slovakia. When we decided to help overnight after the start of the war in Ukraine, many things did not work. Even so, my work gave me meaning. We manage to lend a helping hand in difficult situations and help people to have more dignified living conditions. I also enjoy working with people. There are smart people here in the organization who see meaning in their work. It’s very rewarding, I’m still learning a lot. We are also succeeding in transforming Slovakia’s solidarity into practical actions. Do you have any role models or even idols that you look up to? I don’t have an idol, I rather like to talk to people and get inspired by them. For example, when I came to Slovakia and became the director of People in Need, I initiated meetings of directors of non-governmental organizations. We meet a few times a year. It is very inspiring to hear how they solve certain problems, learn from them and share experiences with each other. This is me – I like to meet people who I can learn from. How do you spend your free time? Despite the fact that we are going through a difficult time now, I have three ways of spending my free time that recharge me. One of them is sports and movement. I either have regular training sessions or go cycling or skiing. However, I don’t have much time for that now, or I can’t find the time for it. Contact with people also recharges me – whether it’s meetings with colleagues or friends or family, I like meeting people. Last but not least, I also need time for myself – I like weekends when I spend time alone, reading and relaxing.
What would you say to people who might be hesitant to support People in Need? We in the organization help because it is a basic principle of solidarity. Not everyone is lucky enough to be born into the middle class, into a family with equal opportunities to realize their potential, or they have been affected by a natural disaster or war. We would probably also be happy if someone could help us in such a situation and give us a helping hand. Helping others is natural to me. Each of our supporters is one part of the puzzle of what we can do and how we can help. We can’t all go to the border and hand out tea, but we can support, for example, People in Need, where people specialize for a long time in how to help people in need as effectively as possible. They also specialize in how to work with society as effectively as possible, for example in the topics of migration, human rights and gender equality. Every person who supports us will thus become a part of doing good. I hope there is also a good feeling associated with it (laughter).