In 2005, UNICEF in Belgrade hired me as a fundraiser for a farewell basketball event for Sasa Djordjevic, one of Serbia’s biggest sports celebrities. He was retiring from competitive basketball. After struggling to find quality work (including UNICEF in Stockholm) for close to one year, it felt good to be appreciated and hired for my sales and fundraising skills.
Having never been to Eastern Europe, I was excited to visit Belgrade, a city with a tumultuous history. My contract had me there for nearly two months.
I had 3 goals before my journey:
1) Obtain 1 sponsorship for the basketball event by utilizing my networking skills
2) Explore and learn about Belgrade
3) Have Fun!
My time was short (two weeks before sales deadline) for the first goal although I was optimistic I could close at least one sponsorship. That deal came in the form of a 10,000 Euro bank sponsorship. In addition, the entire fundraising team was very successful. I worked with a wonderful group of people at UNICEF who welcomed me with open arms.
Goal number two (explore) was a never ending adventure! The first weekend, a friend at the office took me to a spirited Friday night event where I met a diverse group of people including a woman who would become a good friend. She connected me to the inside world of advertising as well as numerous key connections around Belgrade.
Subsequent weeks found me racing to the last goal (have fun!) by enjoying the vibrant nightlife, walking in historic areas, watching a Jameroqui concert, working in Novi Sad (city outside of Belgrade), attending a music festival (thousands of youth), and meeting a plethora of interesting people.
I quickly felt a close bond to the city so I decided to have my own party after only one month. Some people laughed at me (in disbelief) when I told them I was expecting over 100 guests! In the past, I organized big parties in NYC along with plenty of social gatherings in Stockholm so I had no doubt that this one would be a success. I persuaded two dear friends from the USA to get a taste of this fine city - they arrived a few days before the party. Everyone had a blast, with close to 120 people dancing to soul and hip hop music all night!
The Novi Sad musical event was an exciting event to be part of. Young people came from various parts of Serbia as well as Eastern Europe for 4 days of extreme fun – listening to bands, dancing and embracing the moment. I don’t think I will ever experience such a mass of youth (over 150,000 attended) having the time of their life despite the rainy and muddy conditions.
Flying back to Stockholm and overlooking the devastating beauty of the city, I couldn’t help but wonder why the “Big Apple” of Scandinavia didn’t exude more of the energy and optimism of Belgrade. Stockholm could learn a lot from Belgrade – a city with a lovely soul.
From my short time there, most of the people I met appreciated what they had, hardly ever complained, lived life in the present moment and were fun to be around. In my opinion, that’s living a good life.
It was one of the best two months of my life.
Happy Gswede Sunday!
Gswede enjoying a view of Belgrade, Serbia in 2005