13 March 2020

Embracing complexity: Together we can!

Building together the European philanthropy ecosystem in times of uncertainty

by Carola Carazzone

TORIN – Sometimes nightmares become real and dystopias – foreseen only in novels or movies – become true stories. On Thursday 13 February, Assifero was hosting one of the five Ariadne Forecast roundtables in Europe in Como (http://www.puntocometa.org/home-eng/), Italy. We were over 40 Italian funders, discussing the 2020 Forecast report elaborated each year by Ariadne. Only one of those 40 pointed to coronavirus as one of the major challenges of our times.

Less than ten days later, Italy was on its knees experiencing quarantine for five million people, dissemination of the virus at a scary rate, and drastic prevention measures. It took another ten days for people to realize that social responsibility rests on individual commitment. That it depends on each of us to individually demonstrate that in Europe we can overcome this crisis together, without massive violations of human rights. That we all live in an ecosystem where my individual behaviour is intertwined with the survival of an entire generation of elderly people, with the lives of those who are fighting against cancer and cannot also fight against the virus. To remain at home, to stop going to school, to stop traveling, going out, meeting friends had become a fundamental duty of solidarity and inclusion of the most vulnerable. What a moral lesson! The virus broke down an unsustainable system of production, consumption, interaction and it is teaching us the lesson of intersectionality, of solidarity, of shared responsibility and reciprocity for fundamental rights and freedoms.

Each of us counts, but only together can we counteract the crisis and build a more sustainable, equal and inclusive society. Together we can connect best practices, complementing our work at local or national level with a European one. Together we can build a safe space for exchanges, speeding up peer learning, dissemination of innovative solutions, development of new thinking, capacity building, creation of quality standards, collective voice and impact.

Climate change, increasing inequalities, rising nationalisms and racism are in these times of uncertainty challenges that are too complex to be fought in bubbles. At the same time, today we have new, powerful knowledge and skills available; new tools, for example in terms of technology, to achieve collective impact beyond what we could have imagined only a few years ago.

In this new, changing and interconnected world within which philanthropy is operating today, what is the role of European philanthropy support organisations?  In a vision of systemic change, we are much more than networks, membership associations, infrastructure. We can be agents of change, developers, enablers, accelerators, multipliers of social change in order to achieve sustainable development and strengthen democracy and civil society.

It is a terrible mistake to differentiate the “real philanthropic work” of the foundations from the “network work”. It is a mistake to see the system of membership fees as overheads and costs; they are instead equity in a strategic investment. Even for an issue-focused foundation today, it is essential to consider the wider scenario and participate to build systemic change, investing in the philanthropy developers, enablers, accelerators, multipliers.

Today the challenge is to prevent silos and mono-stakeholder bubbles and move from individual organizations to vision, cross-sector collaboration and multi-stakeholders’ strategic partnerships.

We have to take the lead in re-imagining our role, improving our capacity to plan, assess and communicate our impact. We are not competitors competing for the same limited membership fees. Each of us can play a distinctive and unique role as key agents of change in building the European philanthropy ecosystem.

Carola Carazzone is Secretary General of Assifero, advisory Board Member of Ariadne, DAFNE and ECFI.