10 October 2019

Education, innovation and collaboration – A review of the Foundation Day Conference in Austria

by Christine Newald, INREGO

The Austrian Foundation Day Conference held on October 1st was part of European wide celebrations of foundations and their work within the framework of the European Foundation Day of Foundations and Donors, initially created by the “European Donors and Foundations network” (DAFNE) seven years ago. The goal was to raise public awareness of the work of foundations and accomplishments for civil society. Whilst charitable associations and their work are highly valued by the government, public administrations, the media and the general public as relevant stakeholders for civil society, there is no focus on the role of charitable foundations, which are still not seen as professional partners, venturesome investors and likeable multipliers.

With this in mind, Winfried Kneip, the general manager of the Mercator Foundation in Germany, gave interesting insights and an overview how the education sector can change for the better via strategic collaborations between foundations and the public sector. In his keynote, he referred to five considerations that are key factors for successful foundation projects: a clear definition of the aspiration; contribution; goal; strategy; and kind of cooperation. “Do you want to stop in the hallway of the decision makers, do you want to sit in their living room, or do you want to cook in their kitchen? That is the question everybody should ask him or herself. I want to cook. That means: I also have to position my foundation well, and share my goals. Foundations are often not used to this process.” said Winfried Kneip.

Collaboration as Secret to Success

What does a successful collaboration within the education sector need? On the one hand, we need the courage and commitment to try new things and to break with existing conventions. At the same time, it is necessary to know your own expertise. This, the participants of the panel of experts agreed on. The challenge is to create projects in a way that enhances fast change – whilst keeping in mind that awareness raising and change take time and a long-term approach. It is easy to write a new curriculum, but hard to convince teachers to use it. This process can take years. And are school books still state of the art or do we need new more adaptive solutions nowadays?

A Platform for Good Practice

In the face of the challenges, it makes sense to look behind the scenes at some best practices. Starting with the German do-tank Phineo, that supports disadvantaged youth on their way into the job market. To the EFCI initiative, that supprts the development of community foundations which give citizens a platform to network and tackle problems together– a model still unknown in Austria. Or the award-winning model of affordable housing “PopUp Dorms” founded by the Austrian Student Support Foundation, which build mobile housing units for interim use areas and the inclusive school system in Africa, which then was developed into a global best practice model by the organisation Light for the World.

“We can achieve more when we collaborate. To do so we need system change. Key success factors here are time, awareness and innovation”, Ruth Williams, General Secretary of the Austrian Foundations Association, explains. “We can only do this together.”

In order to honour those who already achieve great things within the Austrian foundation sector and to underline the importance of the philanthropic support of education, the Austrian Foundations Association awarded Mag. Norbert Zimmermann (Berndorf Foundation) with the newly created “Philanthropist of the Year Award”. Zimmermann was honoured for his long time and authentic commitment to civil society and especially to the Austrian education system. A recent highlight of this commitment was the creation of the new education foundation MEGA (www.megabildung.at) founded in June 2019 in cooperation with the B&C Foundation. Dr. Mariella Schurz, General Secretary of B&C Foundation, was honoured for her commitment and support for the creation of the MEGA Foundation.  

Christine Newald is founder and CEO of the cooperative INREGO, she holds a degree in Journalism Studies and PR and is working on innovation at the interface of business and non-profit.