ING Bank, one of the first international banks in Bulgaria, has had a presence on the Bulgarian market since 1994. In response to the global outbreak of COVID-19 in 2020, the bank set up an emergency charitable fund to help communities in Bulgaria as well as the 40 other countries in which it operates. Additionally, ING contributed to the United against COVID-19 Emergency Response Fund. An initiative of the Bulgarian Donors’ Forum, America for Bulgaria Foundation, US Embassy, and American Chamber of Commerce in Bulgaria, the United Fund supported 112 local initiatives reaching nearly 700,000 people across Bulgaria. We spoke with Grzegorz Konieczny, country manager for ING Wholesale Banking Bulgaria, about the bank’s decision to support the United Fund and its other philanthropic activities in the country.
America for Bulgaria Foundation (ABF): What аre ING Bank’s guiding principles in determining how to allocate COVID-19 relief funding in the markets it works in?
Grzegorz Konieczny (G.K.): The impact of the COVID-19 outbreak has been immense, and, in response, ING set up a global charitable fund to help the countries we operate in to fight the pandemic. The fund increases the donations made so far by the ING branches, which can also apply for additional funding. Each country has different challenges and can allocate funding in a way that will make the biggest impact locally.
Responding to the communities’ need in such a crisis is in line with ING’s corporate responsibility strategy, in addition to our role of supporting customers and employees. As COVID-19 started to spread, we immediately began to think of a local strategy of how we can best support our customers and wider community. We defined a structured approach based on three pillars: support for our customers, support for our employees, and community investment.
The vast majority (80%) of the Bulgarian team has moved to working from home. Despite being physically far from each other, we stayed close in supporting our mission—to ensure continuous seamless business operations for our customers. This approach was highly appreciated and resulted in a positive business outcome. For example, at the beginning of the lockdown in Bulgaria, we closed the first-ever sustainable deal in Bulgaria.
We provided our colleagues with the best resources to continue working as usual. We also amplified our internal communication, including positive initiatives to keep the spirits high and to address any challenges our colleagues are facing during this uncertain time.
ING continues to be a responsible business partner to its clients. We receive from the community, but we also invest in it. We felt it was very important to give our immediate response to the needs of the community and empower community organizations with funds and in-kind support. That is why the invitation to join the United against COVID-19 Fund was a perfect match for us.
ABF: What appealed to you most about the mission and goals of the United against COVID-19 Fund in Bulgaria?
G.K.: ING always looks for partners, whether business or community associations, who share our organization’s values: honesty, prudence, and responsibility. The United against COVID-19 Fund met these criteria very well. The founding organizations had a proven history and several successful socially beneficial projects in their portfolios. A strong track record has always been an important selection factor for ING.
ABF: What drives ING Bank’s giving philosophy in Bulgaria, and how do you normally choose the causes you support?
G.K.: Most of the support provided by ING takes place in the communities where we operate on a daily basis, where we ourselves are part of the community. ING Bulgaria has been committed to helping local communities for many years, providing support where and when needed. We have a history of projects including donations, fundraising, community outreach, and other types of support to overcome local challenges. The United against COVID-19 Fund is only one of our actions. Others include:
- Cofounding Innovation for Inclusion, a project aiming to lower the percentage of people at risk of poverty in the country. We joined forces with Reach for Change Bulgaria and have invited other business partners to join us. As part of this initiative, this year we will be a sponsor of a special edition of Promyanata—the biggest socially responsible initiative of Nova TV and Reach for Change Bulgaria since 2014. The 2020 edition of Promyanata is a competition for social organizations in Bulgaria focused on addressing the negative impact of COVID-19 on one of the most vulnerable social groups, children and youth.
- Standing by entrepreneurs whom we have supported for many years through our main CSR program, the Social Innovation Fund. We are proud that in addition to the financial support, many of our employees (more than 10% of the team) are voluntarily helping social entrepreneurs develop. Earlier this year, we provided additional ad hoc financial support to selected entrepreneurs, such as Veselina Feldman, who offers equine-assisted therapy for disabled children; ARTON Foundation, which works with children with cancer; and Ole, Male, which helps mothers of disabled children. We felt we needed to step in and help them adapt to the new environment.
- Donating nearly 40 computers to Amalipe, the NGO behind the initiative “Old Technology for a New Beginning,” which aims to provide computers to children who have to study at home.
ABF: What is the impact ING Bank aims to achieve through its giving?
G.K.: ING’s response to these challenging times is in line with its strategy of corporate responsibility and in addition to our role of supporting our customers and employees in times of crisis. The outbreak of COVID-19 is unprecedented and brings many worries for our customers and employees such as health concerns, the uncertainty of social isolation, and financial well-being concerns. At ING, we understand these concerns and take steps to support our customers, globally and locally. Our role is to build trust and to help in a moment of need that our clients will never forget.
In addition to continuing to provide the full range of daily banking support, we are looking for ways to provide extra help to our customers in these challenging times. In many countries, we are working with the local financial industry and government to provide businesses and individuals with the necessary financial flexibility. Staying close to our largest clients and listening to their needs enables us to look for tailor-made solutions for our wholesale banking clients.
ABF: Did COVID-19 change your giving priorities, and if it did, how?
G.K.: Our belief in being a good corporate citizen and empowering customers remains unchanged during this crisis. In fact, it has sharpened our focus on how we can go the extra step to provide support to those who need it, both globally and locally.
ABF: Are you still evaluating funding opportunities, and what will your giving priorities be as the crisis evolves? Any further plans for social investments arising out of this crisis?
G.K.: The ING charitable global fund was established to help countries we operate in to fight the pandemic. The first phase of funding is for immediate disaster relief support, while the second is for longer-term projects that positively impact the socio-economic recovery. With this in mind, we will be looking at the needs and opportunities as the crisis evolves and adapt to them, supporting the community, market, and our customers in recovering.