For starters, guys, can you briefly explain what the Tree of Knowledge is and how it came about?
Marko: The whole story started during the realization of a commercial project for one company in the cinema hall of SC. The project was very successful and focused on new trends, so several students of the Student Center mentioned to me that SC misses similar content and young people with new ideas.
For a long time, I have wanted to launch projects that are significant to society and will help society move forward. I was fortunate to lead the projects “Advent on Zrinjevac” and “Ice Park on Tomislavac”, which achieved significant success and for which Zagreb was recognized as an Advent destination. However, I felt that it was necessary to make a more significant step for society, from which young people and society could benefit immediately and in the future. I tried to put it into one and I developed the idea for the Knowledge Tree project. I saw SC as an ideal location to start a socially useful project for symbolism, because it is in many ways lagging behind in terms of functioning and can be compared to a state apparatus, so if something can change in SC and among young people, it can be and at the state level. The message that the project was supposed to send was, first of all, “It is possible!”. We are all part of society and each of us can, and should, play an important role in creating society, and when we all move in the same direction, few can stop us. We must not complain without giving our best, we create our own lives and our destinies, so we cannot just wait for someone else to do something for us, wait for us all on a platter, or blame others for the situation we are in without that we have given everything, let us change. It is important to take responsibility.
In developing the idea, I thought about what the youth needed and what I missed when starting my own projects, starting my own business. The idea of the project is based on excellence and the promotion of excellence in all fields and it is necessary to provide conditions and tools for young people. After formulating the idea and announcing the project, I presented it to the closest people and anyone I thought could help contribute to the project and its development.
In fact, I received mostly very positive reactions and a little extra ideas. It was a sign that I could start to come to fruition. I was alone at the beginning, but I would definitely emphasize the great help of my family who supported me in this and the help and engagement of my brother Danko. With him, I would emphasize the great engagement of my friend Leon Grdic. The two of them certainly spent most of their time developing and implementing the project. We worked together on project development and implementation for over a year. Also, I would like to emphasize the involvement of my friend Antun Paradzhik, a former ZSEM student who moved to study and life in Taiwan, and with whom I spent a lot of time discussing the right steps for a better society.
How come the location of the Student Center was chosen? Were there any obstacles to the realization of the project?
Marko: In the past, I partially answered this question, but there are more reasons. In addition to the above reasons, there are practical reasons such as a great location and a large number of students who come to the Student Center every day. However, students who come to SC do not reside there, it is just a stopover to which they come primarily for student work or for lunch and dinner. A student center should be a source of knowledge and development for the entire city, even the state, to work on. On both sides of the complex there are railway lines, which should be a symbol of arrival rather than departure, as it has been lately. On the south side of the complex is the AKD – Commercial Agency, which performs important tasks such as printing personal documents, cards, state exams, money and the like. It is indisputable that these tasks are important and that they should be well monitored and guarded as they are, but I believe that knowledge is even more important, that young people are even more important, and that the reflection of SC infrastructure should also be an indicator of this. It would be wise to protect and safeguard young people and knowledge and that is something we need to work on. The project and the place where the project was started were chosen for practical reasons as well as symbolism, however, the project is focused on people and their actions, not on location and space and this is what is important to emphasize. There were a lot of obstacles and problems, but I don’t want to talk about it, I learned from that and I went beyond those problems and obstacles and that’s behind us. We need to focus on the challenges and obstacles that lie ahead. This is just the beginning and I expect more people to join in order to create a better and more prosperous society.
Marko, can you explain what your main motivation was when you decided to start the project?
Marko: We live in a globalized world in which the world is changing faster than ever before, in the time of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, which is more so why we need to prepare for the challenges ahead and awaiting us in the future. There is a lot of information and opportunity in front of each of us and sometimes it is difficult to decide on the right direction. I believe the right direction and work is to help the society and community we live in, no matter where we are. Only in this way can we help and secure progress for ourselves, for others and for all of humanity. Croatia is a young country whose population just over twenty years ago had to go through all the suffering and sorrow of war, which resisted the aggressor, thus opening a new chapter, which is written by all of us. Defending Croatia and creating a sovereign state is only the first step in the development of the state and society, and we must be aware of this. Croatia is the country where I was born, raised, studied and still live in today. I have had the opportunity to go and live in other, more orderly states, to have more material, but I find it not right or fair. I think I can and must return a lot to Croatia and it would be very selfish for me to go somewhere else without trying in Croatia. It’s not easy, I’m aware of it, but it’s also not difficult. Too many people have given their lives and made this country an arduous state, so that we have the opportunity to create a better state and a better society in peace, to reject it and to abandon it. This is my main motivation in everything I do because I believe in progress based on knowledge and work. It’s hard, you have to fight and not lose hope. I would like to see the Knowledge Tree project show that it can and that is enough to begin with. I would like people to take the opportunity to work, develop their own projects and create a better society. There are many opportunities ahead of us and we can do a lot of things together, make better living conditions for us and our descendants.
What is our students’ attitude to the project and is there room for students to connect with the activities of the Knowledge Tree?
Tomislav: Although we organized the first session of the student body in this academic year in the Knowledge Tree, for the moment most of our students are not familiar with the activities we are conducting. There is a trend in which our students associate most with one another, and more or less with students from other educational institutions. There is definitely an opportunity for our students to organize projects within the Knowledge Tree that will be to their benefit. Primarily creating better relations with students from the University who will definitely be their colleagues today or tomorrow. By that I mean building relationships that allow for constructive conversations and a chance for self-development. This is an opportunity for students and us to make a better connection of the student scene in Zagreb with the aim of creating better working teams, because with the exchange of experience, both sides will profit. Secondly, we are always looking for students who want to join the project and we invite all interested to come forward and choose their ideal place in the project. Within this project, there are other projects that are covered by the Knowledge Tree, and among them is the University Esports League for the first time. ZSEM teams performed this year in the disciplines of League of Legends and Counter Strike: Global Offensive, in which our team entered the fight for third place with TVZ. Also, we have successfully held a programming workshop with ZSEM students and exchange students as part of the elective programming course, and the goal is to have more such events. The students were delighted with the space and wanted to spend more time here. It really has potential. A special contribution can be made by those who have seen similar initiatives in student exchanges because they have seen students launch ideas in these places and what can be done. In my opinion, this is one of the fundamental goals of student exchange, for a person to refresh their thinking and to walk further through life with more enthusiasm.
How does the Knowledge Tree work on a daily basis and are you satisfied with the direction the project is headed?
Tomislav: We are open to students every weekday from 9am to 5pm. After 5 pm, we usually give lectures, but we try to organize them after office hours so that students have as much time as possible to use the space independently. For now, we are more than pleased with how the project evolves. We have had several successfully implemented projects in cooperation with student associations, choirs, and we have something to show in these 3 months since we started. Students are still getting used to the existence of one such space in which they can reside, and are not required to pay anything. It’s not something they’re usually used to. However, people’s consciousness is changing and we should not view this as something fixed. From the slightly pessimistic atmosphere among students who come to the Student Center, there is already more hope for the future. AIBG Battleground, the largest student competition in artificial intelligence programming, and numerous student education focused on writing CVs and preparing to enter the business world are among the projects we consider to be more successful. I believe that as a society, we will move faster when we focus more on the technologies that are currently current and which are at the forefront of the development of standalone devices and alternative energy sources.
What were the biggest obstacles to the project?
Marko: As I mentioned, there were obstacles, but they are behind us and I would not want to talk about them. We focus on the present and the future. The obstacles and challenges that lie ahead are important, and there are many. We need to prepare for this. But at the same time, there are so many opportunities ahead of us that we can take advantage of.
And from the plans for the future, what would you point out?
Marko: There are many plans for the future, all aimed at achieving ambitious goals for individuals and for society. One plan is to encourage as many entrepreneurial ventures as possible that will have a positive impact on the economy and create more jobs. These are short-term plans that we would like to realize through the formation of an investment fund that will invest in young entrepreneurs. In addition, we would also like to provide them with advisory support in their projects and thus try to maximize their chances of success. Success is built on success, and that’s what we’re focused on. We have some direction we want to go, which is good, that direction may change depending on the environment and the opportunities ahead. For now, our main plan is to continue the project with the same enthusiasm, hard work, work and dedication we have shown so far. We hope that more people of like mind will join in and create added value for the project and for themselves. We will continue to build on that and strive to create more.