7 June 2022

We can be the change we want to see #WhenWeUnite

Individually we are one drop, together we are an ocean

Ryūnosuke Akutagawa

Like an ocean, philanthropy surrounds us in our daily lives. Sometimes you see the waves, perhaps sometimes a storm, and more often than not there are currents which remain invisible yet which keep things moving forward. I’m not sure any of us could count each occasion when philanthropy has intersected our lives, for often it passes us by without us noticing.

Even for those who remain oblivious to it, philanthropy has assuredly improved various aspects of our lives: from the research behind medicines we have taken to get better, to support for artistic performances we have sat back and watched enthralled. All of these moments that have made things better, or as was said last week at the first ever Philea Forum, provided us with the evidence-based hope we so need to keep faith in our ability to solve the big challenges out there. As Michael O’Flaherty put it to delegates in Barcelona, without hope there’s no point… but it needs to be evidence-based hope, not naïve optimism. Hope requires evidence and hard work to deliver, but we do have this evidence.

In short, what we have need of is evidence-based hope, not hope-based evidence.

That’s why, with partners around Europe, we are supporting the #WhenWeUnite campaign.

#WhenWeUnite is an attempt to collect evidence-based hope, not that things might be better one day but that, in ways often small and sometimes larger, philanthropy is already making things better today. It’s about gathering this evidence under one banner to show the bravest and best of philanthropy’s work in Europe, regardless of size or scope. It’s also about showing that, because it has a history of working on complex issues, philanthropy can be a reliable partner for others to engage with.

What #WhenWeUnite certainly isn’t, is a by-the-numbers PR campaign designed to greenwash philanthropy as infallible, or as crisis saviours.  On the contrary, the campaign will doubtless reveal gaps, areas for improvement and open up more critical opinion on what philanthropy can and should do better. But I believe this openness is itself evidence of hope, that by evolving as a sector and engaging in dialogue with constructive criticism we will ensure that we are fit for purpose, while acknowledging that improvement is a journey, not a destination. From good to better, from better to best.

The campaign will intentionally go beyond individual success stories to look at partnerships, because what we are looking for if we are to solve global challenges is a more holistic response – cross sector, and cross-theme. Big challenges of today, including climate degradation, growing inequality and shrinking democracy, require an intersectional and whole of society approach if we’re serious about moving the needle before we run out of time.

But the campaign is also there to celebrate other types of evidence-based hope, perhaps less visible, which come through the philanthropy prism. While we praise innovative philanthropic programmes that push boundaries, we sometimes don’t credit its role as a quiet facilitator and catalyst of other people’s work. It doesn’t always have to be about delivering a positive change itself, it can also be about taking a more background role and enabling other people and organisations to make a positive difference through their work. #WhenWeUnite recognises the need for a more balanced philanthropic ecosystem, where each organism, irrespective of size, nonetheless plays a vital role in maintaining the equilibrium.

The Philea Forum made it clear last week that the time is now. The time is now to work together. The time is now to come together. The time is now to inspire and be inspired by the many ways in which philanthropy can, does, and could, contribute today to a greener, more inclusive and better tomorrow.

Because unfortunately we don’t have time to count drops. With the hourglass to the SDGs emptying fast, we need a tidal shift, a sea-change, and that comes from working together, supporting each other, and ensuring that we are the best possible version of ourselves.

Today good, tomorrow better.

Anything is possible when we unite.

Photo by Silas Baisch on Unsplash


Delphine Moralis
Chief Executive Officer, Philea