17 December 2020

Europhilantopics 2020: Challenging times – How can philanthropy stay ahead of the curve?

The twin global crises of COVID-19 and the climate emergency topped the agenda at the EFC’s annual Europhilantopics meeting, which brought together philanthropy representatives from EFC member organisations and policymakers from 14 -15 December. During the conference, participants explored philanthropy’s key roles, both short and long term, in tackling these crises, and how multi-stakeholder collaboration is emerging as an essential pathway toward solutions.

Though 2020 has been a grim year, “It is equally a story of commitment, shared experience and hope,” said Delphine Moralis, Chief Executive of the European Foundation Centre, in her opening remarks. She stressed that because the COVID-19 and climate crises disproportionately affect the vulnerable, “In this context, we need philanthropy to be at its best.”

Day 1 focused on the COVID-19 crisis, which has meant that philanthropy has had to adapt to new ways of working and embrace new approaches to programme implementation and grantmaking. The discussions made clear that philanthropy has risen to the challenge with flexibility and agility, pulling out all the stops to meet the moment. As in many sectors, the pandemic has been a catalyst for new solutions in the philanthropy sector. Throughout the debates, collaboration surfaced time and again as a key component to tackling the crisis collaboration within foundations, among foundations, with grantees and with public authorities at local, regional, national and European level.

Speakers delved into specific aspects of philanthropic responses to the COVID-19 crisis in a session moderated by Rien van Gendt, Director of Van Gendt Philanthropy Services:

  • Virginie Samyn, Chief Executive of the 4Wings Foundation, talked about how the pandemic has shown that the missions of philanthropic organisations are needed now more than ever.
  • Dawn Austwick, Chief Executive of the National Lottery Community Fund, discussed the diversity and flexibility of the immediate responses of foundations, and stressed the need to retain lessons learned.
  • Ignasi López Verdeguer, Director of the Department of Research and Innovation at “la Caixa” Foundation, emphasised the critical importance of long-term investment in research, pointing out that the COVID-19 vaccines that are now becoming available, while rapidly produced this year, are the results of many decades of sustained investment in research.
  • Regarding long-term societal impacts, Alberto Anfossi, Secretary General of Compagnia di San Paolo, warned of going back to business as usual and ignoring the deep, long-term social impacts of the crisis.

Breakout sessions on each of these areas allowed for more intimate, in-depth discussion.

A session on policy, moderated by Felix Oldenburg, Chair of Dafne, looked at how philanthropic action for European solidarity in the recovery phase can be unleashed. Policymakers and foundation representatives showed an eagerness on both sides to strengthen strategic collaboration.

In the keynote address, Manuela Geleng, Director at DG Employ, European Commission, said we are at a turning point where our societies and economies must become digital, green and socially just. Social economy actors including foundations have a key role to play for this to happen. The Social Economy Action Plan envisaged for 2021 wants to promote social economy and to help overcome existing barriers to cross-border action of social economy actors. She acknowledged that foundations come in as funders of social economy actors but also as social economy actors in their own right. Speakers at the session added further perspectives on the policy question:

  • Ludwig Forrest, Head of International Philanthropy at the King Baudouin Foundation, outlined the need to break down barriers to cross-border philanthropy to realise the full potential of European philanthropy
  • Paul Nemitz, Principle Adviser at DG Justice, European Commission, stressed the need to increase mutual trust and information, and the importance of finding the political leaders to take us forward. The European Action Plan for the Social Economy gives us an opportunity to boost philanthropy’s role.
  • Laurence De Nervaux, Responsable de l’Observatoire de la Philanthropie, Fondation de France, pointed to the problem of entities that have a social purpose but also conduct some economic activity being considered by the authorities as for-profit. This can render them off-limits to tax-effective philanthropic support, which undermines European solidarity. Speakers pointed out that philanthropy, while working toward solutions to this crisis, remains hampered by administrative and other barriers.

The Dafne-EFC Philanthropy Advocacy initiative is aiming for a Single Market for Philanthropy, and urges policymakers to:

  • Recognise philanthropy and engage with it
  • Facilitate cross-border philanthropy
  • Enable and protect philanthropy
  • Co-grant and co-invest for public good and civil society

The day wrapped up with a call to “Imagine Philanthropy for Europe”. André Wilkens, Director of the European Cultural Foundation, noted how surprisingly few foundations in Europe have a European purpose. While the EU has moved toward ever closer integration over the past 70 years, philanthropy has not kept up. To solve the challenges we face, ones that do not respect borders, philanthropy needs a more European outlook.

The climate emergency was on the agenda for Day 2 of the conference. Across the discussions, it was clear that climate needs to be mainstreamed in all foundations do, but social justice likewise must be mainstreamed into the climate agenda. Another critical point is that climate must not be politicised, and philanthropy can play an awareness-raising and bridging role to help ensure this does not happen.

Jon Cracknell, Director of the JMG Foundation, kicked off the discussion with preliminary results of the 5th edition of the mapping “Environmental funding by European foundations”, set to be released in 2021. The results showed areas that are well-funded and those that need more attention. Cracknell offered four focus points for foundations wanting to get more involved in the climate field: thematic issues, geography, approach and values.

Speakers showcased the diversity of Philanthropic responses to the climate emergency and outlined strategies for engaging in the field:

  • Heather Grabbe, Director of the Open Society European Policy Institute, stressed that it is never too late to engage on climate, sharing that her organisation only took this area up in 2019. Climate and environment are the starting points for a massive economic and social reset that is now underway. Philanthropy, like other sectors, must engage. She urged participants to see this as an opportunity and to seize the momentum of the COVID crisis, which has revealed the indisputable links between human health and climate and has shown that change on a massive scale is achievable.
  • Marie-Stéphane Maradeix, Secretary General of Fondation Daniel et Nina Carasso, discussed how her foundation is engaged in climate issues along two tracks: through the foundation’s programmes and through its investments. Collaboration is key, and she called for a coalition on social justice and the climate emergency.

In a session on EU policy around climate, Jacob Werksman, Principal Adviser at DG Climate Action, European Commission, outlined the European Green Deal and its policy implications across the range of EU competences. The EU is keen to make sure that actions at EU level and global level are appealing at the local level, as that is where so much change is needed. As such, policies need to not only deliver top-level goals, but also achieve local-level benefits.

Lars Grotewold, Director of the Centre for Climate Change at Mercator Stiftung, and Linda McAvan, Executive Director of European Relations at the European Climate Foundation, delved into the ways in which philanthropy can and should work with the EU on climate. They stressed how the change over the last decade in attitudes at the EU and among the public has opened up a rich opportunity to engage in new collaborations and scale existing efforts in this field. Grotewold emphasised the importance of seeing climate not as an environmental emergency but a societal one. McAvan pointed to the policy space as a key area for philanthropic engagement to ensure climate policies are socially just.

Breakout sessions allowed for more in-depth discussion on climate and philanthropy around how to enter the field, scaling impact, leadership strategies, and forging partnerships.

Carlos Moedas, former European Commissioner for Research, Science and Innovation, and current trustee of the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation, concluded the day’s debates by stressing the European origins of the COVID-19 vaccines that are now being deployed, and encouraging participants to be more assertive about Europe as a leader, both in the pandemic and in the climate crisis. He called for a move from the multilateralism that we have known for 70 years, which has reached its limits of effectiveness, to a “polylateralism” which brings the diverse array of stakeholders, not just governments, to the table to jointly solve problems. Philanthropy has a key role to play in bridging the gaps between stakeholders. Politicians, for example, want to engage with civil society, but do not know how. Philanthropy can show the way.