7 September 2022

Perspectives to build upon from the 21st SwissFoundations Symposium


Foundations are predestined to help quickly and unbureaucratically in crises. To make this possible in the long term, the Swiss legal system would need flexibility and openness, especially today. However, the framework conditions with which foundations are currently confronted are outdated. In his keynote address, Prof. Dr. Dominique Jakob spoke of an unsatisfactory situation. Politicians’ lack of understanding and competencies is preventing renewal, as the Luginbühl parliamentary initiative has unfortunately clearly shown.

Karen Tse, founder, and CEO, International Bridges to Justice emphasised that Switzerland can also have advantages as a location for charitable engagement. Swiss neutrality has opened many doors for her and made the expansion of International Bridges to Justice possible in the first place since its creation in 2000.

The context of philanthropy and its partners is changing rapidly, not only in Switzerland. Francois Bonnici painted an increasingly agile, informed, and long-term picture of the philanthropy of the future. While multi-year, unrestricted funding is on the rise, more and more networks are also being supported and collaborations entered into. Systemic work, the term under which these methods can be summarised, appeared several times in various forms during the symposium.

The call for action is high

After three keynotes, a total of ten workshops were devoted to concrete questions from the everyday life of foundations and how to answer them. How does one organise funding to address the pressing challenges of our time? The enormous interest in the two workshops “Global Crises: Compelled to respond, but how?” and “Restricted vs. Unrestricted Funding” shows: that with or without a systemic perspective, the topic is moving.

It is therefore not surprising that the discussion with one of Switzerland’s biggest philanthropists, André Hofmann, also resonated with many in the audience. From his perspective, traditional philanthropy far too often addresses the symptoms rather than the cause. To make a lasting difference, the source of the problem must be addressed.

He identified one origin of many problems as the way money is made today. The idea of compensating for something after the fact through philanthropic engagement is wrong. The crucial thing is to do the right thing at the beginning. Instead of measuring success in the short term by financial profit, we should focus on human, social and natural capital. Philanthropy and entrepreneurship are equally challenged to do this. For them to pull together, bridges must be built, and a common language found.

The approaches and ideas for a more responsive, representative, and sustainable philanthropy were inspiring, but also somewhat overwhelming. André Hofmann’s closing words came just in time “At the end of the day, we all want to be happy.” An essential statement that one can always reflect on when one can no longer see the goal from all the different perspectives. 


Katharina Guggi
Communication + Digital Strategy, SwissFoundations