• Assistance to victims of the earthquakes in Turkey and Syria
  • Assistance to refugees of the Russo-Ukrainian war
  • Support the activities of the Hungary Helps Program

Interview with Péter Kovács, the General Manager of the Hungary Helps Agency

What has been the biggest achievement of the last 4 years?

Péter Kovács: When I took over the leadership of the Agency four years ago, the HHA was still a small organization with a somewhat immature mandate. Although the Hungary Helps Program has been providing grants since 2017, the Agency itself had only about six months of organizational history. It was established to manage grants, gather donations, and – where possible – attract EU funding. Our commitment and openness was obvious, but the regulatory environment and processes were less developed, leaving room for the establishment of operational processes and the clarification of concepts. This was a significant opportunity, and I consider the process itself an achievement: together, we have managed to transform a promising idea into a cohesive national aid program and an organization capable of coordinating immediate humanitarian assistance after disasters, while also contributing to long-term international development objectives. We have identified the tools at our disposal and the types of colleagues who can thrive with us. With the establishment of a professional agency, aid policy has become more effective and transparent.

What qualities and skills lead to success?

Péter Kovács: When expanding our team, we consider various factors. The new colleague must possess the necessary expertise, although it’s important to note that what we do isn’t typically taught in schools; it comes with experience. The complexity of our work is reflected in the fact that our colleagues work as project managers rather than grants managers. Appropriate language and communication skills are also a priority, as we operate at the frontiers of diplomacy. Commitment is paramount. Understanding and steadfast dedication to the cause being served, even during challenging times, are crucial.


What does the role of a project manager entail?

Péter Kovács: It encompasses much more than merely the title. The projects we support often unfold in vastly different cultural contexts, such as the Middle East, Africa, or the Western Balkans. Here, the concept of project management significantly differs from European standards. Thus, we play a crucial role in ensuring that Hungarian taxpayers’ money is managed responsibly while also assisting beneficiaries throughout the entire process. An important principle is to refrain from imposing our ideas and instead collaborate with beneficiaries, respecting their expertise in their respective environments. Simultaneously, we incorporate the Hungarian perspective, making it a collaborative effort. As a result of our cooperation, we’ve assisted over 2 million people globally in staying in or returning to their homelands. The pursuit of understanding is among our core values. When initiating work within a community, we strive to comprehend their operations and challenges thoroughly. Often, we conduct preliminary assessments of communities before commencing the grant program, allowing us to refine our understanding based on our experiences, moving beyond textbook knowledge or brief grant applications. This approach aids in decision-making and ensures that beneficiaries derive maximum benefits.

Returning to the topic of personal commitment, what inspired you to assume this position?

Péter Kovács: The Program serves a noble purpose with which I, as a Christian man, resonate deeply. Additionally, I believe it’s crucial that the Program aligns with the diplomatic objectives of the country’s foreign policy and enhances our nation’s reputation. Moreover, I’m motivated by the fact that through the Program, Hungary is gaining visibility and forging friendships and alliances in regions where others are often hesitant to engage. Furthermore, as an innovator who thrives on initiating change, I found ample opportunity to do so at the Agency.

After four years, does it still retain its charm?

Péter Kovács: I find myself entering the office each day with renewed motivation and dedication, and I see the same spirit reflected in my colleagues. Moreover, every year, every month brings something new. Reflecting on the past year, we launched the Sahel mission, secured our first EU grant with the CREATResili project, and prepared for the opening of our office in Amman, Jordan. Additionally, the outcomes of 2023 will herald significant changes and opportunities in 2024. In December 2023, a law was enacted that promises substantial changes in our operations.

In the subsequent part of the interview (February 22, 2024), we will delve into the practical implications of the upcoming law change, effective January 1, 2024 and discuss future plans. Stay tuned for more!