Jan Soběslavský has been associated with Diakonia since university studies, as he helped the organization with legal advice. After graduating from law and theology, he was successful in an interview for the post of Director of Diakonia in Brno and held this position for ten years. He is in his third year as the director of the ECCB Diakonie.
You have been working at Diakonia for 15 years. How has it changed in that time?
It has changed a lot. I think that I myself contributed to this, especially in the area of professionalisation of management. In the 1990s, everything in Diakonia worked somehow “on its knees”. In the field of human resources, finance, communication and investment, Diakonia did not have any rules that should be followed. But thanks to the efforts of many people, this has changed over time, and I am glad that we now have rules that work today. But in some ways, Diaconia has remained the same, and it’s good – in the willingness to help people, to work with commitment, to do interesting things, to do what makes sense. It is up to us now to be able to manage Diakonia professionally while leaving it with a non-profit spirit.
What are your plans for Diakonia in the coming years?
My thoughts are now moving a lot towards spiritual care. Humanity is a bio-psycho-socio-cultural being, I think, who needs to pay attention to the spiritual dimension. All the more so in situations where we find ourselves in difficult living conditions, for example due to, social situation, our own illness or that of our loved ones, etc.
So is it about more clergy working in Diaconia?
The topic goes even further. Diaconia is not made up of chic-minded people, but two thousand employees who certainly think of spiritual care, and it is certain that the thoughts of us all will not be the same. Thinking about it together will be very interesting, exciting and at the same time a bit controversial. But I think that the discussion that awaits us will lead to the improvement of our services.
I will try to explain it with an example. One of the big topics in social services is that one should constantly “move” here. Imagine, for example, a person with a psychiatric illness who is in a hospital. The vision of social workers is that this person’s condition will continue to improve. This means that they will go from the hospital to sheltered housing, then move to supported housing and ideally end up as a single person who has a job and lives a “normal” life. But it has always struck me about how many of us would take the opportunity to keep moving. I wonder to what extent this is human, and to what extent it is just an ideology permeating our civilization. In our case, this may mean that sheltered housing is a border for a person with a psychological disorder that we should not cross. There is no need to constantly stress people with the necessity of development and relocation. When we force people to do so, they get into a circle of various failures, at the end of which there is again a treatment centre, from where they then have to “move” again. And we try not to do this in Diakonia. We respect the clients and think about them, which is logically reflected in the way we provide our services.
However, Diaconia will have to deal with more mundane things. For example, a lot will be built.
Reconstruction of a special school for children and young people with disabilities in Prague awaits us, we are preparing for a major investment in the centre in Valašské Meziříčí and we are starting to build two new homes for the elderly, in Svitavy and Nové Město na Moravě. I will take advantage of the fact that the building for the home for the elderly in Nosislav, which we built about five years ago, is behind me. We thought about it a lot because we wanted the clients who would live there to live the most normal life possible. Most residential services work in a hotel way, where people are served everything, everything is done for them. But we wanted to create a more community way of living, where clients participate in garden work, help with food preparation, and together with the staff take care of the house. At that time, this concept was not completely common in our country, but it turned out to be necessary. And our clients really like it. Residential services in the spirit of a community way of life are proving themselves and we want to introduce them in our two new homes for the elderly.
What other tasks does Diaconia face?
The theme that I also carry in my head is Diaconia as an environmentally responsible organization. Think about what we can do in social services so that we are as environmentally friendly as possible. We all probably perceive the drought in the landscape, global warming and the situation around the plastic economy. And it is clear that, like households and factories, social services also burden the environment, so we would like to adjust their operation so that the burden is as small as possible.
Imagine being able to give Diakonia the only ideal thing or service. What would that be?
It would certainly be well-practiced personnel work. I imagine that the staff of Diakonia not only follow a manual that dictates exactly what to do, but also reserves some space for free development, in which work makes them happy and in which they can realize their dreams and ideas. And if there was such a Diaconia, and I believe it is partly there already, and managed to make this felt by all the more than 2,000 employees, then I would feel that I had given her the best possible gift as a director.
And as for the clients, I don’t really see them in any separate way. For me, community is important, which is one of the values of Diaconia. If I am a 30-year-old man with a disability who lives in sheltered housing, where I can live according to my ideas as much as I can with my disability, then I am part of the Diaconia, in which I have my place. And those employees are my partners and share space with me. This is how I think about Diakonia.