12 November 2019

Foundations and the new zeitgeist – Transitioning in a new era


The final panel discussion of the EFC’s 30th anniversary event, “Foundations and the new zeitgeist – Transitioning in a new era’’ sought to build upon many of the key strands of debate from the day, the shared lessons from the past, and the stories shared by the panellists and utilise these ideas and concepts to look forward, to what the future holds.

In a similar format to the previous discussions, the blogs featured in the new EFC book, “Building at the Crossroads of Royale and Treurenberg” were used as a basis for selecting the panellists and the topics they brought to the table.

Speakers included:

  • Göran Blomqvist, , Former Chief Executive, Riksbankens Jubileumsfond
  • Lisa Jordan, Former Senior Director of Strategy and Learning, Porticus
  • Luc Tayart de Borms, Managing Director, King Baudouin Foundation
  • Anthony Tomei, Trustee, The Bell Foundation

Anthony Tomei opened the panel referencing the 1960 Nobel Prize winner for Medicine, Peter Medawar who stated that ‘’great scientists push boundaries, take risks and do good by asking good questions’’ and that the secret to great foundations is very similar, just replace “scientists” with “foundations”.

Good foundations need to push boundaries and building upon Raymond’s comment that Europe is going places, and fast, further commenting that the foundation sector is not keeping up, the pace of change is too slow, and many new, younger philanthropists are bypassing and ignoring the sector altogether. New challenges, new issues require new ways of thinking and while the sector has become more professional and sophisticated over the past 30 years, so too have the challenges. However, with challenge comes opportunity, and this begs the fundamental question of how to best utilise the independence and funds the sector holds to best effect. He suggested ‘’funding the things that governments can’t and shouldn’t fund’’ and while this brings risk and challenges, foundations need to accept these.

Göran Blomqvist opened by discussing some of the various ways the Riksbankens Jubileumsfond work with the Swedish government to co-fund and co-create, showing that foundations do not necessarily need to solely fund what governments do not, and can help, but not replace. Many of the issues he raised blended neatly with the issues raised from earlier discussions (being more courageous, supporting youth, taking risks) and also reflected in his blog. But he also raised the issue of democracy, and working together, on local, national and international levels to move forward to effect change. With this in mind, he described the work that the EFC’s thematic networks do to catalyse and foster this cooperation, especially in regard to the Research Forum that Riksbanken Jubileumsfond take part in.

‘’How many of you attended the Amsterdam Dance Event last month?’’ Lisa Jordan enquired from the audience to open her offering to the room. Following the raising of a few hands, Lisa explained that some musicians and artists, including some who had performed in October in Amsterdam, were sampling speeches by Greta Thunberg, and other activists (and John Bercow), both old and young to produce dance hits.

This, Lisa explained, was a symptom of the youth of today, utilising their own methods, strategies and resources to confront the myriad of problems facing the world. She stressed that philanthropy needs to both tap into this mind set, and resource, to move forward but also needs to help provide a platform for the young to keep fighting this fight and attempting to fix these problems.

Luc Tayart de Borms echoed many of the sentiments raised by Lisa about the need to engage with youth, to give them the platform to discuss their futures and explained that the King Baudouin Foundation will be helping to enable this by ensuring one member of the board is always under 40. Others in the room have had similar ideas with one audience member revealing they are opening up two positions on their board specifically for people under 26. This demonstrated that some foundations were trying to push boundaries but Luc Tayart de Borms remonstrated that the sector in general does not take enough risks: ‘’some foundations are run more like banks, we have too many philanthropy bureaucrats’’. ‘’We need more ambition, and less pretension’’ both in terms of qualifying the impact of foundations, and in how they are run. “Foundations are not democratic, and we should not be’’ was one pretension that proved to be provocative and opened up discussion on how to chart the future course for European philanthropy.