ERSTE Foundation

ERSTE Foundation (in German DIE ERSTE österreichische Spar-Casse Privatstiftung or in short: ERSTE Stiftung) is the biggest Austrian savings bank foundation. In 2003, it evolved from the Erste Oesterreichische Spar-Casse, the first Austrian savings bank founded in 1819. It is the main shareholder of Erste Group. ERSTE Foundation uses the profit from its shares to support the development of societies in Central and South Eastern Europe.

ERSTE Foundation
TypeAustrian private foundation
FocusSocial Development, Culture, European Integration
Originslegal successor of Erste oesterreichische Spar-Casse (First Austrian Savings Bank) of 1819
Area served
Central, Eastern and South Eastern Europe
Methodoperational foundation and grant giving
Mario Catasta (Chairman); Boris Marte (Deputy Chairman); Franz Portisch (Member of the Board)
main shareholder of Erste Group Bank AG
approx. 20


ERSTE Foundation is active in Central and South Eastern Europe. Its mission goes back to the savings banks idea of the 19th century. It supports social participation and civil society engagement; it aims to bring people together and disseminate knowledge of the recent history of a region that has been undergoing dramatic changes since 1989.[1]

Thematic fields

Social Innovation

The Foundation aims to develop social infrastructures – from financial services for people without a bank to capacity building for NGOs, or to digital solutions for social problems. It conveys models of social integration, intervention and innovation. The projects serve as a reference for partnerships with other actors in the non-profit sector.

Contemporary culture

The Foundation promotes engagement with critical societal developments by artists and cultural producers and mediates their works to civil society actors and a wider public.

European cohesion and democracy

The Foundation creates knowledge for mature, active citizens of Europe, promotes liberal democratic values and European cohesion. It implements various initiatives as a contribution to strengthening the European idea, democratic values and free society. It fosters critical journalism and established various fellowship programmes for journalists.

Projects (examples)

  • Zweite Sparkasse (Second Savings Bank) – was ERSTE Foundation’s first project aimed at promoting social and financial inclusion. Its main objective is to enable customers to regain a sound financial footing in the long term.
  • BeeTwo – supports digital social innovation and thus to social inclusion. It provides digital solutions to disadvantaged groups to enable them to participate in economic, political, social and cultural life.[2]
  • NGO Academy – was founded in 2013 with the aim of empowering the civil society sector in Central and South-Eastern Europe by providing educational services. It offers executive managers and members of NGOs a range of especially designed, high-quality programmes to strengthen organisational structures and enhance management skills. The academy is organised in cooperation with the Competence Center for Nonprofit Organizations and Social Entrepreneurship of Vienna University of Economics and Business (WU Wien).[3]
  • Europe's Futures - Ideas for Action – is a platform to renew and re-invent Europe. It is a cooperation with the Institute for Human Sciences in Vienna and its social and political scientists, and leading European organisations and think tanks, addressing crucial topics related to the European Union: asylum and migration, rule of law and democracy, European enlargement and social inclusion.[4]
  • Balkan Fellowship for Journalistic Excellence – Fellowship for journalists from 10 Balkan countries in cooperation with the Balkan Investigative Reporting Network and Open Society Foundations to strengthen democracy and free speech through good quality journalism in media.[5][6]
  • Reporting Democracy – Reporting Democracy is a cross-border journalistic platform, implemented by the Balkan Investigative Reporting Network, dedicated to exploring where democracy is headed across large parts of Europe.[7]
  • Kontakt. The Art Collection of Erste Group and ERSTE Foundation – Its purpose is the support and promotion of Central, East and Southeast European Art.
  • – is a network of autonomous initiatives working in the field of contemporary art in Austria, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Romania and the Slovak Republic and across the borders of a wider Europe. Each tranzit initiative works under its own conditions in a variety of local, cultural and social contexts. Activities range from exhibitions, thematic projects, and seminars to publications based on long-term research and participatory interventions into the public discourse.[8]

Igor Zabel Award for Culture and Theory

ERSTE Foundation established the biennial Igor Zabel Award for Culture and Theory in 2008. It supports the work of art historians and theorists in CEE and highlights the notion of arts and culture, encouraging the production of cultural knowledge and exchange between ‘East’ and ‘West’. The award is named after the Slovenian author, art critic and curator Igor Zabel (1958–2005), the senior curator of Ljubljana's Moderna Galerija. He established cultural links between Eastern and Western Europe.[9]


Cooperations with other foundations in international projects

  • European Fund for the Balkans (EFB)[10]
  • Grant Makers East Forum of the European Foundation Centre (efc)[11]
  • Civitates - a philanthropic initiative for democracy and solidarity in Europe[12] magazine

Since 2018 ERSTE Foundation publishes carefully researched stories and reports from renowned media in the region (e.g. Dennik N, Political Critique, Gazeta Wyborcza) as well as original articles in its bilingual online magazine (German/English). The magazine follows developments significant to society, politics and culture in Central, Eastern and South Eastern Europe. It supplies images and concepts on topical issues, encourages discussion and contributes to current debates.[13]


The origins of the foundation go back to the 19th century. The Erste österreichische Spar-Casse was founded in 1819.[14] As a result of the amendment to the Austrian Savings Bank Act, Erste österreichische Spar-Casse was split into an operational bank (Erste Bank AG) and a holding company (DIE ERSTE österreichische Spar-Casse Anteilsverwaltungssparkasse, in short: AVS) in 1993. In 1997 Erste Bank, which had merged with GiroCredit Bank AG der Sparkassen, went public, making AVS the main shareholder of the company, which has been listed on the Vienna Stock Exchange ever since. In 2003 AVS was formally transformed into DIE ERSTE österreichische Spar-Casse Privatstiftung, in short: ERSTE Stiftung (ERSTE Foundation), which began its operations two years later.


ERSTE Foundation is a savings bank private foundation as defined by the Austrian Savings Bank Act.


The bodies of the foundation include the Managing Board, the Supervisory Board and the Association. The private Savings Bank Association, established in 1819 and comprising more than 100 members, elects the members of the Supervisory Board and designates its president. The Supervisory Board appoints the members of the Managing Board and supervises the foundation’s management. The Managing Board conducts the foundation’s business and decides on the allocation of project funding, assisted by an Advisory Board of international experts.

Members of the supervisory board

  • Bettina Breiteneder
  • Ilse Fetik
  • Maximilian Hardegg
  • Barbara Pichler
  • Peter Pichler
  • Johanna Rachinger (deputy chairwoman)
  • Markus Trauttmansdorff
  • Manfred Wimmer (chairman)

Members of the managing board

  • Mario Catasta (chairman)
  • Boris Marte (deputy chairman)
  • Franz Portisch (member of the board)

Employees, budget and projects

At ERSTE Foundation work around 20 employees at 2019. More than 1,500 projects have been implemented or supported since 2005. ERSTE Foundation’s total project expenditure 2005–2019: more than EUR 100 mio.[15]

Memberships in umbrella organisations

The foundation is a member of the following national and international umbrella organizations:

  • European Foundation Centre (efc)[16]
  • Network of European Foundations (NEF)[17]
  • European Venture Philanthropy Association (EVPA)[18]
  • Verband für Gemeinnütziges Stiften [19]
  • Verband österreichischer Privatstiftungen (VÖP)[20]

ERSTE Foundation Library

Founded in 2007, the ERSTE Foundation Library[21] advances knowledge by building collections and providing open access to materials and information resources that support and reflect both ERSTE Foundation’s mission and the diversity of its projects. It contains around 12.000 items. Topics include art and media theory and history, minority and gender issues, cultural theory and policies, economic and political developments, social banking, innovation in foundations, philanthropy, demography, migration, education, and the art of memory. Geographically, the collection focuses on Central and South Eastern Europe. The Library is open to the public and free of charge.


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