24 February 2021

Max von Abendroth: Sharing the story of PEX

My son Paul is 9 years old, blond, sparkling eyes, full of non-controllable energy that he likes to spend on his skateboard if he is not fighting with his elder brother and sister. He told me 2 weeks ago that his teacher wanted him to paint a picture of his father’s employer. More precisely he has been asked to paint how the world would look different when his father’s employer would succeed with its mission. So we had a conversation.

And this is what he came up with. So you may well guess what I told him about my job.

I find it always difficult to explain to my children what my job really is about without drifting in cliches or simplifications. And of course, also in my conversation with Paul I tried to keep it simple, reduced deliberately the complexity.

Here are the two versions I could use to describe my employer – European philanthropy:

Version 1: “Imagine a sector worth 511 billion EUR, spending every year 60 billion EUR for public good. Employing around 200.000 very passionate and highly talented people and allowing a multiple of this number of volunteers to implement programmes and projects that aim to strengthen the fabric of our society, make it more resilient, just and sustainable. This is European philanthropy.”

Version 2: “Imagine a sector that is increasingly facing legitimacy questions, is seen as a vehicle for money laundering and terrorism financing, needs to justify its role in creating public value with private resources and faces severe legal barriers (unlike companies) when operating cross-border. This is European philanthropy.”

When Paul and I sat together to prepare him for his painting, I talked about the first, more up-beat description of European philanthropy – obviously in a way a 9-year-old understands. I spared him the complexity of the second more challenging description and what that entails.

We know too well that in our professional context we cannot avoid this complexity – but we have to embrace it – collectively – in order to succeed with our mission.

Illustration by Marina Roa, from SenseTribe

And this is exactly where PEX started one year ago.

PEX is here to enable us to collectively lead the philanthropy sector into the future. by embracing complexity – linking up the great work under way on social justice, climate change, populism, advocating for a free and open society including culture and arts etc.

And I am today – 12 months after the PEX journey started –  more convinced than ever: it is not only possible, but essential to activate all the different talents, experiences, networks, levers within the PEXcommunity to identify the best way to go about complexity and lift up philanthropy for the sake of a just, resilient and sustainable society.

Who is the PEXcommunity? People working for more than 60 national, European and thematic philanthropy associations across Europe form the PEXcommunity. They are connected by their European philanthropy identity and their passion to make progress – as there is so much to do.

Following the 1st PEXforum in January 2020 in Madrid this community pursued 6 collaborative projects that address key challenges for philanthropy – such as climate, gender justice, advocacy – identified by the participants of the Madrid conference. Every single challenge is far too big to be tackled by only one of our organisations on its own.

With the pandemic the PEXcommunity gained a new momentum: the need to connect and compare notes with peers became fundamental. A weekly jour fix for the PEXcommunity to share information and explore opportunities to support each other helped many of us to live through the early weeks and months of the new situation.

In a series of resilience building workshops more than 20 colleagues reflected on the experience with the help of scenario planning and created a great outline for the way forward for European philanthropy. A great source of inspiration for everyone of us.

In the light of the pandemic the need for philanthropy to step out of its comfort zone became obvious, in order to live up to its ambition to truly support public good, while being independent, flexible and open for unusual partnerships also in the future.

And here we are today at the PEXforum 2021: all of us in this room have the privilege of reflecting on new scenarios for European philanthropy, exploring how we can collectively support the sector to unfold its full potential also in the new context.

When my son Paul comes back to me in 5 years’ time and asks me about “how the world would look different when his father’s employer would succeed with its mission?” I would like to be able to tell him again the positive story about European philanthropy.

And this time because we succeeded in building this community of people that support each other, trust each other and has this intrinsic conviction that acting collectively is so much more powerful.

And then in 2026 Paul’s picture might look like this:

Thank you!

Let’s PEX!