Philea Forum 2024

From 27-29 May, 780 participants convened in Ghent for the Philea Forum 2024 to dive into the theme of “Trust and Philanthropy”, hosted by a group of Belgian foundations, chaired by the King Baudouin Foundation.

In an era marked by the ongoing erosion of public trust in established institutions and growing demands for democracy, equality, climate action and social justice, the conference offered a space for philanthropy practitioners to share practical strategies and explore innovative ways to strengthen philanthropy’s role in building trust in democracy, in institutions, and between generations.

“Philanthropy has tremendous potential to contribute to restoring trust,” says Delphine Moralis, Philea CEO. “It can bring solutions in so many forms – from systemic change approaches to targeted, innovative interventions that can have real impact on the crises we are facing today. The conference highlighted many examples of these types of approaches, and showed how the most successful are those that are done in collaboration with partners from both inside and outside the sector.”

What does trust mean to philanthropy?

“The license to operate relies upon one prerequisite condition: To be effective agents of social transformation, foundations need to build trust and gain the support and commitment of stakeholders and society as a whole,” said Brieuc Van Damme, CEO of the King Baudouin Foundation, at the opening plenary of the conference. “In concrete terms, trust implies not only active listening to society, but also designing and implementing inclusive and collective mechanisms at all levels of action. A decisive factor in the success (or failure) of foundations as pluralistic organisations is their convening power.”

Read the full speech of Brieuc Van Damme.

Keynote speaker Rutger Bregman, historian, author and founder of the School for Moral Ambition, urged philanthropic organisations to prioritise action over awareness-raising by embracing the mindset of “moral ambition”, which he defines as “the ambition of an entrepreneur combined with the passion of an activist”. He stressed the need for philanthropy to focus on important, tractable and neglected problems as these are the areas where philanthropy can have the most impact now. He pointed to our unsustainable food systems as a prime example of this kind of issue.

The conference included deep dives and debates on many aspects of trust and philanthropy, including a panel during the Closing Plenary on “Reflections from critical friends”, moderated by Rhodri Davies, Founder and Director of Why Philanthropy Matters. During this panel discussion, speakers shared their aspirations, findings and nudges to the sector around the theme of trust.

Panel speakers stressed several key themes:

  • The importance of trusting grantees to know best what the challenges are and pathways to solutions
  • Understanding how intricately linked trust is to philanthropy’s licence to operate
  • Ensuring that trust is preserved as philanthropy integrates AI tools in its work
  • Embracing the African concept of “Ubuntu”- building trust on a sense of belonging and agency to participate in the collective building of the community.

The Forum wrapped up with a panel of directors of Philea member foundations on their views of “trust and philanthropy”. Delphine Moralis, Philea CEO, moderated the panel, which included Brieuc Van Damme, CEO, King Baudouin Foundation; António Feijó, President of the Board of Trustees, Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation; Ieva Morica, Executive Director, DOTS Foundation for an Open Society; Susanna Petterson, CEO, Finnish Cultural Foundation; and Andre Wilkens, Director, European Cultural Foundation.

Key themes of the discussion included:

  • When philanthropy is questioned, we need to make sure critics understand the social impact of foundations
  • Convening is one of the most powerful roles philanthropy plays, creating spaces where people can talk across their differences
  • Building bridges among stakeholders is essential
  • Asking ourselves: “Is the creativity of our efforts commensurate with the challenges we are facing?”
  • Finding the balance between being pluralistic on the one hand, and taking a stand on the other

The many facets of trust and philanthropy: Topics and themes throughout the conference

The 2024 Philea Forum touched on many topics: youth empowerment, mental health, sustainable cities, bridging philanthropy and business, combatting hate and disinformation and anti-gender funding, organisational development, food systems, and the European elections, among others.

The following are just a handful of empowering examples of philanthropic action, as well as themes that emerged throughout the conference:

  1. A theme that popped up again and again was how foundations can increase their impact by shifting from a mindset of imposing their ideas to letting those they support take the lead:

  • In the session “Empowering tomorrow: Youth action in the Global South”, panellists stressed the importance of trusting youth initiatives to know what problems they need to solve, and the best ways to solve them. Richard Dzikunu of Yield Hub said, “It’s not about imposing solutions but about co-creating with young people and allowing them to lead.”
  • The European Cultural Foundation shared how in their “Europe Challenge” initiative, the foundation asks local libraries across Europe to define the challenge they want to address, then how the foundation supports them in addressing this challenge in their own way.
  • Porticus described how they are moving towards a “learning practice” and moving away from grants reporting – illustrating how funders can equalise their relationships with grantees also at the end of a funding cycle.
  • Welthungerhilfe talked about empowering change by “scaling community-led nutrition”, emphasising that local communities know very well what they need and how to implement solutions their own way.
  1. Another theme was how to increase impact by embracing the holistic nature of the challenges we face by bridging funding areas:

  • One session highlighted philanthropy at the nexus of arts and the environment, where foundations are funding environmental issues through an arts lens, for example teaming up with art museums to stage environmental actions as the Kone Foundation has done with its support of Extinction Rebellion Finland.
  • The session on “Safeguarding democratic values: Breaking the silos of climate, gender and anti-racism” explored how philanthropy can build bridges between these different thematic funding areas to multiply impact.
  1. The unique power of philanthropy to act where others cannot was highlighted:

  • The European Artificial Intelligence and Society Fund – an initiative of 13 foundations hosted by NEF – aims to ensure AI policy that serves the needs of people and society. This fund would not have been possible without philanthropy as corporate funding in this area brings conflicts of interest, and public funding is scarce and, where available, too slow and bureaucratic for this fast-moving issue.
  1. Strategies to re-build trust in democracy, especially with the EU elections coming up, emerged throughout the conference:

  • Participants in one debate urged philanthropy to develop “strategies of resilience” to face what could be coming in western Europe by learning from organisations based in central and eastern Europe who are now experiencing direct attacks on their democracies.
  • The Engaged Democracy Initiative of the European Fund for the Balkans involves local movements and organisations, researchers, social businesses, engaged citizens and journalists to support open and democratic societies across the Western Balkans region.
  • A session on “Combatting hate and disinformation” explored ways philanthropy can team up with other changemakers to identify strategies to build common responses, alliances and solidarity across actors and social justice movements as a way to stand up against hate and disinformation.
  • A session on how philanthropy can address the democratic trust deficit, using this historic election year to develop concrete ways to rebuild trust between citizens and their new governments, and shift the public discourse from crises to solutions.
  1. Philanthropy should embrace the power of narrative

  • Sessions included a workshop on the most effective ways to communicate about climate to inspire people to get involved. Participants learned how people are motivated by shared values and identity, and the joy of belonging. So, framing bad news in the joy of shared belonging is a strategy philanthropy can follow, also in areas other than climate.
  • The joint session with Philea’s Foresight community and the Research Forum focused on long-term thinking and how philanthropy can activate stakeholders to set out their own narrative agendas when it comes to tackling mistrust in science. This session was also a great example of how foresight can be applied concretely in different contexts.
  • A session organised by the Journalism Funders Forum explored the transformative power of stories and investigative journalism.

Site visits and Host Committee

Participants spent the last day of the Forum on site visits organised by KBF, giving them an opportunity to learn about impactful projects in the city of Ghent itself. As the Forum took place only two weeks ahead of the European elections, one of the site visits took participants to the European Parliament in Brussels.

Philea Forum 2024 Host Committee:

  • King Baudouin Foundation – Chair
  • Belgian Federation of Philanthropic Foundations
  • Evens Foundation
  • Fondation for Future Generations
  • Porticus
Philea Forum 2024


Isabel Valero
Conference and Events Manager
Marta Gallerani
Events and Impact Manager