20 May 2020

Keeping the paths open

I’ll keep the path open, the path in my mind

I’ll see to it that there’s none left behind

I’ll play Beethoven’s sonatas, and Chopin’s preludes

I contain multitudes

(Bob Dylan: “I Contain Multitudes” 2020)

There is probably a reason why “afterwords” are less common a literary practice than forewords, and perhaps once you have read this you will feel that this is no bad thing! Nonetheless, they are useful in bringing matters to a conclusion, unravelling complicated narratives, and tying up loose ends.

This one is also a means of saying a goodbye – of sorts – in the middle of a lockdown and in lieu of a much anticipated (at least by me) opportunity to bid farewell to you face to face after 15 years at the helm of the EFC. Funny how these things sometimes play out.

We have become adept, all of us, over the last few weeks, at organising an endless series of screen squinting, rapid-fire jumbled meetings, prolonged telephone encounters, text messages and emails and have (almost) convinced ourselves that they are an adequate substitute for actual physical flesh and blood meetings. These innovative tools will inevitably be developed further and it is clear that we are destined to rapidly continue along this trajectory even after the COVID-19 pandemic has receded. We are now in a perpetual virtual meeting space, and although we will all surely see each other again, it is unlikely to be in the face-to-face configuration of an EFC Annual General Assembly where this publication, the governance and finances of our 30-year-old organisation would normally be discussed and approved. Like so many gatherings, this year’s AGA will have to be virtual as well.

None of you will be astonished to discover that I have been consuming a regular diet of Bob Dylan’s creativity over the last few weeks. One of his songs, appropriately called “The Changing of the Guards”, captures both the time-span of an era that is coming to an end and the rather surreal circumstances under which the current “guards” (EFC Chairs, Chief Executive, Management Committee and Governing Council members) must now transition. Our minds and hearts, I am pleased to confirm, have the strength, agility and courage for this changing of the guards.

I should put some of this in context. The Management Committee and I had fondly imagined that by this time the identity of my successor would have been revealed, but alas COVID-19 has ensured that we are slightly delayed. Massimo Lapucci and Àngel Font (outgoing and incoming Chairs respectively) have asked me, and I have agreed, to stay on a little longer at the helm. Hopefully this will be until a physical handover can actually take place post-seclusion, but it does mean that I must write this afterword while some of the pieces are still up in the air. Less than satisfactory, you might think? Not so.

The EFC is in good shape, with a strong and united staff, healthy finances, and a robust

repertoire of varied and timely activities that it performs well, all underwritten by a mandate given by our members themselves through the current Strategic Framework. The EFC secretariat has emphatically demonstrated, under the difficult conditions of the lockdown, its very tangible competence and ability to adapt to circumstance.

In spite of its awkward name (it is not, as I am fond of saying, solely “European”, its membership extends well beyond “foundations” and it is most definitely not a “centre”- but apart from that the name is perfect), and over-complicated multi-layered governance, it has nonetheless a unique spectrum of myriad strengths and is on a very promising trajectory. All of the EFC’s future endeavours now have a permanent home from which to venture forth – Philanthropy House – which is perhaps the single most important milestone in the EFC’s journey so far.

It is ironic that this year’s annual conference (a key activity that some of our membership regard as our most important and visible asset) will not actually take place. One disappointed member even wrote to ponder: could there be an EFC without the Annual Conference? Well, not only most assuredly could there be, there most certainly is. We are palpably more than just the sum of our parts. There is a solid sense of purpose about the current EFC that I sincerely believe this publication, albeit put together under isolation and therefore less than ideal circumstances, makes manifest.

Thus, frankly, I find myself in the enviable position that even given better conditions, I could not conjure a more convincing way of presenting the relay baton to whomever comes after me than a document of this calibre that puts into evidence, for those who choose to see it, the effectiveness and relevance of this 30-yearold organisation. This annual report covers the work done in 2019 and underscores the simple fact that the EFC staff team is an asset to its members. I can only thank my colleagues both past and present (we have always had a revolving door at the EFC) for the privilege it has been to lead you over the last 15 years. I am sorry I can’t name and praise you all here. I promise to find time, post-seclusion, to say this to you personally: thank you.

I was also extremely lucky to have an extraordinary set of philanthropic leaders around me throughout my tenure. It would be remiss, therefore, if I did not thank those with whom I have crossed paths over the last 15 years and who have provided advice, criticism, feedback, insights, resources, and above all, humour. A heartfelt thank you to so many of you. I will mention three by name: Ray Murphy, Pier-Mario Vello and Bill White, who are no longer with us and are beyond my thanks, but who each epitomise the characteristics of this kind of philanthropic leader. I am deeply gratified to have led the EFC for 15 years and I am grateful for your friendship and trust. What an incredible experience! I wish my successor a similar trajectory and my advice, for what it is worth, is to build together with this formidable team.

It is, however, high time for me to explore new paths and leave the EFC trail for someone else

to continue. As some of you probably suspect, however, I have no intention whatsoever of “retiring”. On the contrary, it’s time to dream up and do new and fresh things with an enthusiastic curiosity to figure out “what’s next?” coupled with an appetite to embrace the next adventure. If any of you want to join – don’t think twice – you know where to find me: let’s keep the paths open as I hand over the baton to the next cross-country runner to continue the relay race. Until our paths converge once more, let me conclude this final publication under my watch with this thought:

But my heart is not weary, it’s light and it’s free

I’ve got nothin’ but affection for all those who’ve sailed with me

Everybody movin’ if they ain’t already there

Everybody got to move somewhere

Stick with me baby, stick with me anyhow

Things should start to get interesting right about now.

(Bob Dylan: “Mississippi” 2001)