Sky’s the Limit! Visnjan Observatory Crowdfunding Campaign A Success!

The Visnjan Observatory Crowdfunding Campaign has been successfully completed. With 1.300.000 kuna collected, new generations of future Croatian scientists will get a new geodesic dome, accommodation facilities, and a location for testing robotic telescopes.

This is my interview by Donatella Paukovic from Total Croatia News. The original article is on this link:

One of the most prominent Croatian organizations that have been educating future Croatian scientists for several decades will soon be adorned with new equipment and accommodation facilities for many students who have been coming to Višnjan for years to learn about astronomy.

Monitoring and detecting asteroids, but also educating future scientists

The Višnjan Observatory has been at the very top of the world for more than 40 years when it comes to tracking and detecting asteroids, these potentially hazardous and mysterious celestial bodies. According to that, this small observatory in the heart of Istria is ahead of the American NASA. It is one of the five most important observatories for measuring the position of newly discovered objects that could pass close to the Earth.

Its founder, award-winning Croatian astronomer Korado Korlević, is one of the most successful asteroid hunters globally and, according to Minor Planet Discoverers, is the 18th most productive asteroid hunter of all time.

Between 1995 and 2000, the Observatory discovered over 1,400 new asteroids and two comets. Monitoring and detection of asteroids is undoubtedly an important scientific activity of the Observatory, but perhaps even more important and invaluable for Croatia is the educational function of the Observatory.

The Višnjan Observatory hosts many highly motivated and gifted primary and secondary school students in its practical science camps every year. Some of the former attendees are now scientists at NASA, JPL, and other world-renowned scientific institutions, and some of them are yet to become so.

‘Investing in children is the largest and only profitable investment’

In early December last year, TCN reported on a crowdfunding campaign launched to improve the educational capacity of the Visnjan Observatory. Already then, at the very beginning of the campaign, they raised 50 percent of the targeted funds, or 306,000 kuna (the first goal was to raise 635,000 kuna). This enabled them to ensure a beautiful geodesic dome, resembling a habitat on Mars, in which lectures will be held.

Aco Momčilović, the campaign’s project manager, says the speed of collecting the donations somewhat surprised the team. However, given the very positive feedback from all who donated, they decided to raise the ultimate goal.

As they soon achieved the first goal, they continued to increase it over the next month. At the end of the campaign, on January 15, 2021, they collected as much as 1,300,000 kuna, or almost ten percent more than the ultimate goal of 1,185,000 kuna.

This now enables them to build bungalows, accommodation facilities for children, but also their professors, mentors, and other supporters. Since the educational camps last for several days, the Višnjan Observatory wants to make everyone feel comfortable during that time.

With the donations received, Korado Korlević plans to establish a location for testing robotic telescopes and additional accommodation facilities for students. Investing in children, he says, is the largest and only profitable investment.

Construction of new facilities expected this year

Even after the campaign officially ended, people still donate money, which is an excellent indicator of the Višnjan Observatory’s influence, as well as the respect for Korado Korlević’s hard and dedicated work.

“I also see this campaign as a mini-movement, an initiative that unites different segments of society — entrepreneurs and their companies, scientists in Croatia and abroad. I already know that this action has encouraged some to launch similar campaigns aimed at improving education for young people and promoting science and other long-term most valuable aspects of society,” says Momčilović.

Now follows the less visible but even longer part of the job — completing the administration and transferring money, and then launching and achieving the listed goals.

Hopefully, part of the necessary bureaucracy for construction works will be completed by the middle of this year so that the construction of new facilities could start as soon as possible. Depending on the suppliers, the construction works should begin within six months.

Biggest donators to enjoy gala dinner with Korado Korlević

At the start of the campaign, no one could have predicted that numerous donations would have to be targeted at the quake-hit area by the end of December. Despite that, the desired amount of 1,185,000 kuna was successfully collected for the educational purposes of the Višnjan Observatory.

Organizers believed that support for science would not lack even in the challenging 2020, when science, critical thinking, and the knowledge of future generations are particularly under attack.

“December was an interesting choice. We couldn’t do the campaign earlier because not everything was ready. In late December and early January, most of the donations were certainly diverted to earthquake-hit areas. Still, it was interesting to see that we continued to receive donations and that some people obviously donate in more places or still see educational projects as a goal,” says Momčilović.

In those six weeks, how long the campaign lasted, about 2500 people donated funds, proving how many people are willing to support science and youth education. To thank the donors, the organizers decided to provide them with “rewards.”

Namely, the most generous donors will enjoy a gala dinner with Korado Korlević this year. In contrast, others will be able to participate in his exclusive lectures in the inspiring environment of the Višnjan Observatory, where they will look through telescopes and learn about observing the night sky in Istria in search of asteroids. Some will meet Korlević and ask everything about the universe through the online webinar “Ask the Astronomer,” planned for the first half of 2021.

All donors had the opportunity to make electronic thank you notes. A plaque with all major donors’ names will be printed in Višnjan on the new facilities’ opening day in late 2021 or 2022.

After this campaign, they want to realize another technological improvement in the Višnjan Observatory, but they still have time to decide on a new campaign.

‘The smarter the children, the more society progresses’

As Momčilović explains, this campaign is unique because it does not solve one individual problem at a time but invests in the long-term improvement of children’s educational opportunities.

Unfortunately, there will always be a need for humanitarian actions, but he and the core team got involved in this action because they believe that in this way, they support the broader system.

“The smarter and more educated children we have, the more society progresses. With this campaign, we did not aim to solve one of the many burning problems, especially in this post-earthquake time, but to create a part of the system that will give the greatest return on investment in the long run,” Momčilović points out.

Unfortunately, most of the donation resources are spent inefficiently, and only about 1 percent of the ‘smartest’ donations make up almost the entire total global contribution. Therefore, Momčilović says, perhaps the Višnjan Observatory crowdfunding campaign is “the beginning of a smarter and more thoughtful view of humanitarian work.”

Ph.D. Student. National AI Capital Researcher. Human Resoucres, Psychology, Entrepreneurship, MBA…

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