15 October 2019

30 years of the EFC

Ahead of addressing the 74th meeting of the United Nations General Assembly this year on September 26th in New York, the President of El Salvador, Nayib Bukele, took a selfie, posted it on Twitter with the hashtag #UNselfie and wrote that “many more people will see this selfie than will hear this speech”.

The 38-year-old president was recently elected in June, thanks to his mastery of social media platforms such as Facebook Live and Twitter and will probably be remembered as the author of the “first millennial speech” in the history of the most deliberative, policymaking and representative organ of the United Nations.On this point, Mr. Bukele argued that while our world has changed, the General Assembly remains the same and that despite the diversification of communications channels, the way the representatives of nations speak and gather together has not.

His remarks reflect the fast-evolving scenario we live in, driven by digitalisation, innovation and knowledge, which is changing the way we interact, work, move and develop. Innovation is everywhere: We need to acknowledge that the world as we have always known it is moving very fast and that society needs to adapt to these changes in order to be ready to face new challenges. The fact that we live in a VUCA (volatility, uncertainty, complexity, ambiguity) environment compels us to provide solutions for new emerging necessities, which must be done by committing ourselves to the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and its Goals, keeping in mind the special attention that must be paid to vulnerable groups in which persons with disabilities are included.

Similarly to how the president asks the international community to approach this evolving world and its challenges, I am constantly asking myself how foundations, as the key leaders of philanthropy in Europe, can seize the opportunities that the digital revolution brings. In this regard, it is necessary to acknowledge and recognise the existing digital gap, joining foundations’ efforts and follow our promise with the society to foster universal accessibility and design for all, leaving no one behind.

The EFC is the best network to lead this ongoing transformation, as it comprises hundreds of foundations from all types and sizes, working across a wide array of fields and operating in many regions across Europe and beyond. Foundations are meant to work for the best interests of society and need to be prepared to ensure our commitment to this transformation before it is too late. Although the new challenges we are facing are mainly transnational and therefore require a broad response, we should not ignore the fact that foundations are in essence brave, dynamic and innovative and have the resources to be the key agents of change. In fact, the EFC’s 30 years of experience displays its resilience and capacity to keep pace with the new ways in which the world is interacting.

The total 147,000 estimated foundations in Europe must review their strategy and update the available tools they have in order not to become obsolete. Since the process has already started, the best approach would be to develop a format that invites all philanthropy agents to work together, making the most of digitalisation to find common solutions to common problems. Foundations need to become more inclusive, improve the way we communicate our mission to society, and collectively measure and communicate about our impact.

The “UNselfie” received more than 7,000 views in less than an hour. A tutorial from a YouTuber or a photo of an Instagrammer will probably have more impact than all the speeches of the General Assembly put together. The worldwide-known teenager Greta Thunberg, deeply concerned with the conservation of the planet and its natural ecosystems, has managed to be heard by more world leaders, institutions, organisations, and social targets than the traditional environmental organisations.

2019 marks 30 years since the fall of the Berlin Wall, the 9th legislature of the European Union and the 30th anniversary of the EFC, all coming at a time when we have more available technology than at any other time in the rest of human history. It is the perfect time to take a step forward and partner with digitalisation. Let’s change the way we communicate our message to society; let’s think about new ways of engaging with communities; let’s take advantage of the opportunities brought by this era of digitalisation and technological transformation; and let’s maximise our impact.


Lourdes Marquez de la Calleja

Head of Social and International Relations, Fundación ONCE