24 May 2024

How to make a philanthropic effort proportionate to the challenges of our time

On 9 May 1950, Robert Schuman published the Schuman Declaration, which was to change Europe’s destiny. It stated that “World peace cannot be safeguarded without the making of creative efforts proportionate to the dangers which threaten it.” 74 years later, I ask myself whether our creative efforts are still proportionate to the challenges of our times.

Europe is living through truly challenging times. There are wars in Europe’s neighbourhood, rising social, demographic and regional inequalities, mainstreaming of political populism, the real threat of human extinction from climate change and a digital challenge to humanity that ought to be an opportunity. Some see Europe in mortal danger and it pains me to agree with them.

Politically, economically and culturally, Europe has grown strong institutions and infrastructure: the European Union, the European Central Bank, the Erasmus Programme, Eurovision and the Champions League. What about European philanthropy?

Private money for the public good plays a significant role as foundation budgets in Europe amount to more than €55 billion annually. However, philanthropy with an explicit European purpose remains a niche. There are many national and regional foundations but their financial engagement in European matters is very limited. There are very few foundations with a clear European mandate, and those that exist have very limited resources. There are some pooled funds but with inadequate resources. Philanthropy in Europe seems to be stuck in the 19th century. Am I exaggerating?

Today, more than ever, philanthropy cannot be a European bystander. It should contribute to a united, peaceful, just and cooperative Europe, to a Europe that provides hope and solutions to its citizens.

We cannot leave the future of Europe solely in the hands of the EU and the increasingly polarised and competing nation states. There is a rationale and a need for a substantial European philanthropic initiative that empowers civil society, promotes hope, visions, and practical solutions. An initiative that advocates the European common good, that stimulates positive change, that strengthens essential social and democratic achievements, an initiative that confronts the re-nationalisation of Europe and opposes the potential destruction of humanity. An initiative that invests in the belonging and solidarity among Europeans, an initiative that supports concrete action which improve people’s daily lives, an initiative which imagines a better Europe for all, an initiative with a European vision but firmly rooted in local realities.

The good news is that such a European initiative is in the making. Just as the Schuman Plan created a better Europe through sharing political goals and economic resources, so does the Share Europe Initiative aim to build a better Europe via sharing philanthropic purpose and resources.

The goals of Share Europe are threefold: First, to mobilise resources through aligning, pooling and sharing resources. Second, to empower civil society organisations that advocate for the European common good, focusing on social and democratic achievements. Third, to invest in projects that foster a sense of belonging and solidarity among Europeans, enhancing the social fabric of our European societies.

Share Europe aims to create a European mechanism to address fundamental European challenges collectively, leveraging resources and influence of the participating foundations. This initiative aims to foster a new philanthropic culture of impact, sharing and cooperation on a pan-European level. It will have a cooperative governance structure that enables practical sharing and nimble cooperation rather than bureaucratic administration.

The Share Europe Initiative is complementary of existing pooled funds such as Civitates, AI Fund and Culture of Solidarity Fund and aims to scale the funding and impact of those frontrunners of shared European philanthropy.

We invite the EU to become a partner and provide structural matching funding in order to make this a shared public-philanthropic effort in a truly Schumanistic sense.

This is a creative effort proportionate to the challenges of our times.

The Share Europe Initiative is the result of The New Schuman Plan which was initiated in 2023 by the European Cultural Foundation in collaboration with Fondazione Compagnia di San Paolo, Philea and Friends of Europe.


André Wilkens
Director, European Cultural Foundation