14 February 2023

A Bridge (not) too far

Taking place from 16-18 January, the BRIDGE Programme Retreat brought together the Chairs and co-Chairs of Philea’s Thematic Networks at Philanthropy House, Brussels. The goal? To engage in a joint programme aiming to increase mutual understanding among foundations, and to develop a common framework to foster cross-collaborations as well as a pathway to keep conversations going in future.

Operating through Philea’s three over-arching topics (Climate, Democracy, Equality), the 13 Thematic Networks work on issues such as the environment, food systems, children and youth, arts and culture, journalism, research, disability and integration or democracy, a reflection of the diversity and reach of the foundations that make up Philea’s membership.

Discover the Philea thematic collaborations

But let’s start from the beginning. Philea was officially launched in May 2022, in Barcelona, with the aim of creating a stronger and more inclusive voice for the philanthropic sector in Europe, and strengthening its ability to do good. It brings together 200 foundation members of the European Foundation Centre (EFC) with the 28 national associations of Donors and Foundations Network Europe (DAFNE) representing a grand total of more them 10.000 foundations. Saying that we stand on the shoulder of giants is an understatement!

It is important to note that the negotiation and transition process linked to the convergence between EFC and DAFNE occurred during a pandemic that has deeply disrupted the work of global platforms, with restrictions on in-person meetings, travel, and public events – all of which lie at the very heart of networking, collaboration, and peer learning. This makes us proud of belonging to a group of people and institutions that in their day to day life find the energy to run that extra mile.

In the work of membership associations like Philea, collaboration is your daily bread. However, collaboration cannot be taken for granted anymore, especially if you consider the numerous horizons of change that we have been going through, globally, as a sector and as an organisation.

Adapting plans and activities within each Thematic Network took place when fellow members were at the same time taking immediate measures internally, and in their programmatic and funding activities, in response to the Covid-19 pandemic. In addition to this, and as the emergency became “the new normal”, more existential questions started to rise: are we as thematic networks offering meaningful activities that respond to the members’ emerging needs? How do we measure the impact of what we do in this new situation? How do we come together in a purposeful way?

Challenged by the Philea Executive Team, a group of members that cover a Chairmanship role within the thematic collaborations got involved in a co-design process that led to an in-person retreat, just 8 months after the official launch of Philea and strongly linked to the upcoming Philea Strategic Framework for 2023-2026.

Going further than just reflecting on how the thematic networks can benefit from the ongoing organisational change – which has already led to

  1. the co-design six activity clusters (Know, Learn, Connect, Enable, Amplify, Anticipate) that provide directionality to the services that Philea offers to its members and the sector
  2. as well as the identification of three over-arching topics (Climate, Democracy, Equality) we want, collectively, to address questions related to the nature of our activities (the “how”), as well as to the 5 Ws (why, what, when, where, who), planning the road ahead together.

Thematic collaborations within Philea, like most of the institutions of the sector, have demonstrated great resilience through pandemics, disinformation, war, and societal challenges. Maybe the force and drive to move forward without leaving anyone behind beyond comes from the diversity of the sector, the openness to collaborate and implement solutions and discuss without fear the mistakes and gains, the pitfalls, and the successes.

In those brief two days, where 26 people from all around Europe came together in rainy Brussels, there was a strong feeling that without any of us losing our organisation’s identity and purpose we could nonetheless come together to sow the seeds for future common activities.

 A lot more is still to come, and work needs to be done, however hearts, minds and arms are united in the strengthening of Thematic Networks and the collaborations among them, allowing Philea to reach its full potential as a member-based organisation without putting member identities at risk but catalysing their diversity and outreach.

Join us at the Philea Forum 2023, in Šibenik from 23 – 25 May, where we plan to get together again and share the results of the reflection. Maybe even consider joining one of the 13 (14 soon!) network options to enrich the work of your foundation and explore new routes together. The trip is better when shared with someone!


João de Almeida Pedro
Senior Manager, Fundação Calouste Gulbenkian