Jelena Djokovic, a global leader in brand management industry and the wife of the tennis great Novak Djokovic, exclusively for IUM shares her advice for aspiring entrepreneurs. While she is traveling the world launching one successful venture after the other, she insists that her greatest love in life is her family: her son, husband and their two dogs. With a great passion for reading and constant learning, she strongly believes that the essence of education is giving.
Jelena Djokovic is no stranger to success. She has graduated with bachelor degree in Business Administration in '08 at Bocconi University in Milano. After a year of work experience in a Human Resources department in Oil company, she started an MSc degree in Luxury goods and services at the IUM. After graduation, she has soon joined the team of Novak Djokovic, at that time not only as his girlfriend, but also as a business partner. Jelena fondly recalls her experience as a graduate student at IUM.
“I had a very intensive year of Masters Studies at IUM. Initially, my struggle to find free time to complete all the academic tasks and the assigned readings really pushed me to develop quickly organizational and time-management skills. The knowledge I gained in the course of my graduate studies prepared me so well for my job, and I kept saying to everybody how grateful I was for having that experience. I was a part of a very competitive cohort, with lots of talented individuals who wanted to prove themselves. It was a very competitive and high paced environment in which each one of us pushed the other to strive for the better and constantly improve. Learning to become a strong team player was a gratifying experience for all of us, we had completed so many successful projects together and formed many life-long friendships along the way. Many of my classmates are now quite successful in their careers, and I am really grateful that IUM has given us a solid foundation to face life challenges. I am really proud to be IUM alumni.”
For the past five years, this powerful young woman has been working as a Brand Communications Manager in Djokovic’s team. Her management skills are impressive. On a daily basis, she makes sure that all public communication channels are in line with identity, global mission and values Novak Djokovic stands for. She was involved in a creation of the logo, building of the website and an overall social media presence of the world tennis No.1. Today, all the endorsements, appearances, interviews and philanthropic activities of Novak Djokovic are overlooked by Jelena’s team. To communicate better Novak’s tennis achievements, she took the leadership over the online and offline PR and marketing teams. Her goal was to build a strong communication strategy that follows Djokovic rapid success and facilitate communication with journalists and broadcasters. “Novak is the best tennis player in the world and multiple grand slam champion. He is an athlete with compassionate and passionate heart. He looks at the fame and power as a platform to create greater good,” says Jelena Djokovic.
For the past 4 years, Jelena was a Global CEO of Novak Djokovic Foundation. Before she took over, the name of the charity was Novak Fund. The non-profit was helping various sectors - from financing trips for athletes and talented children, to donating food and water to poor communities, to helping sick children and families. In order to communicate what giving really means to Novak Djokovic, Jelena has put her heart into rebranding the Novak’s Fund and giving it the vision and purpose.
“It was important to narrow our scope of work in order to make a strong impact and attract donors who share the same vision with us. We are supporting Early Childhood Education and our mission is to enable children from disadvantaged communities to grow up, play and develop in stimulating, creative and safe settings, whilst learning to respect others and care for their environment. We are opening kindergartens in rural places, where nobody goes to and we train teachers to work with children. We are donating school materials and equipment, advocating the importance of healthy diet and exercise. We organize kids’ camps. For 3 years, we have financed a pilot program whose aim was to prevent institutionalization of children and help families at risk of separation. The program has been recently taken over by the Government as a part of their social policy. We are proud to use our funds in a sustainable way, where children benefit collectively and where projects will be able to live even after our financing. That is crucial to us and our donors”, Jelena talks passionately about her philanthropic work.
Today, Novak Djokovic Foundation is registered in USA, UK and Serbia and is actively investing in early childhood education programs. The Foundation is supporting and funding projects that are improving the availability and quality of education, improving facilities, training teachers. Novak Djokovic Foundation has opened 7 kindergartens, renovated 4 schools, trained over 600 teachers, donated books and teaching materials, renovated playgrounds and supported kids’ camps. They have a good relationship with UNICEF, and they finance a few of UNICEF's programs. Since 2012 NDF has raised over $10million for their projects.
“Last year, we announced a partnership with World Bank with a goal to globally invite and motivate charities and Governments to invest in Early Childhood education. Our foundation is used as an example and the ambassador of investing in ECE (early childhood education). I have resigned from my position of a CEO last September and handed the role over to Alberto Lidji, who has been doing fantastic job so far. I have taken other projects to focus on, but I still consider a foundation as my baby and I am really proud of everything we have achieved so far. I am excited to see it growing even more and reaching many, many children,” says Jelena Djokovic
Last September, through Novak Djokovic Foundation, Jelena launched a student magazine the "Original" that is distributed for free to students and sold in few copies as well. As a director of the magazine she is directly involved in overseeing what stories will be told and what exclusive interviews and articles will be featured in the magazine.
“The purpose of the Original is to share good, positive, inspirational stories from around the world with an intention to motivate students to fight for their dreams and work hard. It is a monthly edition, we published 5 issues so far and among many other valuable interviews and articles we had exclusive interviews with Anna Wintour, Boris Becker, Richard Branson, co-founder of Instagram Kevin Systrom and John Galliano."
Jelena will give the prize to the winner of the Best Charity/Philanthropy idea at the Mark Challenge this year on 6th of April. IUM has, among its values and educational objectives, the role of creating responsible and ethical New Generations of entrepreneurs who have to understand the role of Philanthropy and the importance of actions that can change the world, even at a small scale. IUM has an educational role in the society and is trying to increase the awareness of these aspects using The Mark. Jelena felt strongly about the importance and benefits of participating in these competitions
“Practice teaches us how to work, University teaches us how to think and teaches us structure and discipline. The way I see it - those are two sides of the same coin. That's why I find this kind of competitions very valuable for students' and their development. Opportunity to solve real business challenges by developing business plans and various strategies are the best way for young people to use their knowledge in practice. Besides that, I love the fact that these competitions are giving them access to a very valuable feedback from business professionals and people who know how real life mixes with theory. I also know how difficult it must be for them to commit to these competitions with all the workload they have at their universities. So, participating in the competitions and putting their name next to their business plan demonstrates a high level of dedication, time management, and organizational skills. These are very important values to show to their future employees.”
Finally, the best piece of advice Jelena Djokovic has for the aspiring entrepreneurs about philanthropy and sustainable businesses, comes as the least expected.
“There a lot of negative news around us nowadays. It is important we all unite to do good and talk about doing good. There is so much good out there that nobody talks about. We need to keep educating each other on what giving really is. It is not only about money. It is about lending your time, expertise, tools, contacts, spreading the awareness. Each time we talk about things that interest us or bother us on social media - we should be aware that it is also a form of education. Education is giving. Knowledge is a powerful tool. With our example, we are educating others and demonstrating our vision of what this world is supposed to look like.
If we think that posting our drinking, smoking and partying habits is the way to go - then we should expect the same from the world in return. If we think that bullying others and spreading hatred is the way to go - then we should expect the same. Giving starts with us. We need to change ourselves first. We need to be what this world needs us to be - carrying, devoted and compassionate individuals who love the environment and want to genuinely help the world become a better place for future generations. With our example, we will invite the others to follow. We can influence our community. Each of us can do a lot only if we don't constrain ourselves to the tangible - monetary values. Giving is not about money at all. It starts with core values and beliefs and then transfers to other "currencies". Giving money to charity while doing all wrong things elsewhere is not a formula for success in any field of life. This message is really important especially for students - they really have the power to change the world. Through their pens, through their vision of the future, through their acts and plans and behavior. The bottom line is: Share and give as much as you can. Love, help, praise and share a good word. There are so many ways to give and make a difference. Never forget that it all starts from within.”