25 October 2021

Press release: Time is running out: Europe’s philanthropy sector needs imagination, boldness and inclusion to unleash its full potential

Vienna, 22 October 2021 – The annual conference of the European Foundation Centre (EFC) came to a successful close this week. For three days, discussions among around 400 representatives of philanthropic foundations and organisations across Europe focused on trends and possible solutions to topical challenges.

Participants recognised the critical need for diversity within the sector to bring new ideas and different imaginations to the table. They called on philanthropies to “shift the power” through more participatory grantmaking and increased support of local movements. Delegates embraced the concept of intersectionality, emphasising an ecosystem approach involving a range of partners from all sectors. Finally, running through the three days was a feeling that now more than ever philanthropy needs to walk the talk – time is simply running out, especially when it comes to climate change.

“Coming out of the lockdown phase of the Covid crisis, and meeting face-to-face for our annual conference for the first time in over two years, has given us a real sense of urgency in tackling the issues confronting us – from the climate to societal issues to threats to democracy,“ stated Delphine Moralis, CEO of the European Foundation Centre.  “But there has also been a palpable sense of hope, of agency over these three days, a sense that working together we can, on a real and practical level, unleash the full potential of philanthropy at this critical time.”

“Sensemakers” with a “sense of urgency”

The discussions throughout the three days of the conference took place through the lenses of the four conference tracks: Climate, Democracy, Philanthropy, and Society.

Drawing from the discussions on the climate crisis, Liz McKeon, Portfolio Lead Climate Action at IKEA Foundation, and moderator of the Climate track, stressed the importance of recognising how interconnected we all are, and how we cannot make progress alone. She urged participants to take forward the collaborative energy shown over the conference and become sensemakers that are not afraid to be bold.

Lakshmi Sundaram, Executive Director of Open Democracy, who hosted the “Democracy” track, pushed delegates to infuse a sense of urgency in their actions, and to understand that foundations are political actors, whether they want to be or not. She stressed that philanthropy must approach the issues they work on with a new and deep awareness of how they affect marginalised groups differently. Finding ways to translate high-level goals into concrete action is critical.

Lucy Bernholz, Senior Research Scholar & Director Digital Society Lab at Stanford University, guided guests through the “Philanthropy” track. Her main message to participants was to “be uncomfortable”. The pandemic generated discomfort and a sense of unfamiliarity with things we had taken for granted before. She urged philanthropy to use this to work and think in new ways. She also stressed the critical importance of facing up to the fact that there are organised and active forces pushing against the change philanthropy wants to make.

Claire Boulanger, Solidarity Expert at Fondation de France, moderated the “Society” track. She praised the energy and inspiration over the course of the three days and urged delegates to take this forward. She stressed the importance of empowerment and participation of partners with lived experience of the issues philanthropy is tackling. Polarisation also emerged across the discussions in this track as an area that needs attention from philanthropy.

With privilege comes responsibility

World-renowned activist and Global Ambassador for Africans Rising for Justice, Kumi Naidoo called on the sector to support concerted and determined action against injustice. To achieve global justice, he stressed the need to empower people to be agents of change.

ERSTE Foundation CEO Boris Marte closed the conference with strong words for the philanthropy sector: “The privilege we have is the responsibility. And the responsibility we have is to risk. Every new thing is a risk. And we have to risk it! If we fail, we learn from it. But fail quickly and start again. It’s crucial.”


Note to the editor:

Recordings of the opening plenary (https://youtu.be/lgYa76l0Hkg) and the closing plenary (https://youtu.be/gwvYAhNqGCM) are available online.

A picture gallery can be found here: https://www.apa-fotoservice.at/galerie/26911

For further questions, contact:

Angela Pauly

Senior Manager, Communications

European Foundation Centre