8 February 2021

PEXforum 2021 – What does love for humankind, justice and collaboration in philanthropy have in common?

Through the years that I have been involved in Ariadne, the importance of collaboration has been increasingly reaffirmed. I admit that, at times, I had the impression that this was just a wishful thinking mantra repeated by those who had only a theoretical understanding of the limits of individual action in the face of complex challenges. Most, I thought, had not wholeheartedly embraced it due to a gut reaction to the potential limitations to their freedom or the risk of lesser recognition of their individual contribution, whether that took an institutionalized form or not. For a while, I guess, I was right.

Last year, Dafne and the Spanish Association of Foundations (AEF) convened us in Madrid for the first PEXforum and, though the acronym was not totally clear to me, I was surprised to realise that such a convening had never taken place before. I will not go back to PEXforum 2020 (how would I dare with what came to us right after it), but a bubbling up of joint initiatives emerged from that last cherished in person meeting on the Iberic peninsula. Max von Abendroth’s vision was gracefully affirming itself.

Since the end of last summer, a couple of additional collaborations have formed. I will say a bit more about one I have been closely involved in with colleagues like Jenny Oppenheimer of Lankelly Chase Foundation, who sits on the EDGE Europe steering group. Spurred by the global resonance of the Black Lives Matter movement, also we, Europeans, started to realize that, as James Baldwin would put it, ‘not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced’. In June 2020, even President Ursula von der Leyen said at the European Parliament Plenary that ‘We need to talk about racism – openly and honestly‘, and a couple of months later an informal group of European philanthropic networks started convening to promote racial equity within the sector. It is still  too early to say whether this will lead anywhere beyond the already useful list of resources shared in the European Knowledge Hub on Racial Equity and Philanthropy, but surely not even that would have seen the light without the creation of PEX a few months before.

Illustration by Marina Roa from SenseTribe

So, this year, we experienced PEX through different virtual platforms and learned about evidence-based insights, have been triggered by critical questions and have enlarged our understanding of complex issues through other evocative metaphors. We have been moved by personal stories, pictures, drawings, poems, and even songs.

But personally, something that stays with me is the commitment that bonds us together through times of crisis like the one we are going though right now. This is Michael O’Flaherty’s powerful vision for European philanthropy: where the universal values to which Europeans are passionately committed to should be our common goal, and the rights-based approach our common language.

In his words, social justice, the theme to which this year PEXforum was devoted, is about honouring both human dignity and human agency. This is also the higher call of philanthropy, the love for humankind.

PEX, love, commitment, shared values, and a common language, respect for human dignity and agency – it seems we have all the ingredients for a lasting relationship! So, my new year wish is that PEX, the collaboration of European philanthropic infrastructures, will help us all to do just this: honour both human dignity and human agency.

Debora Guidetti 

Senior European Programme Manager at Ariadne