8 November 2019

Wake up Philanthropy! Gearing up for the next 30 years

How can philanthropy connect to the energy of young philanthropists and activists? How can the sector evolve and adapt to face today’s challenges, such as climate change and threats to pluralism and liberal democracy? Are philanthropic organisations real agents of change or are they sitting on their resources?

These were some of the core issues tackled at the session, “Wake up Philanthropy! Gearing up for the next 30 years”, which was facilitated by Gerry Salole, EFC Chief Executive, and Nicolas Borsinger, Secretary General of Fondation Nicolas Puech. Speakers included:

  • Aart de Geus, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, Bertelsmann Stiftung
  • Diana Leat, Independent Consultant
  • Massimo Lapucci, Secretary General, Fondazione CRT
  • Vinit Rishi, Director of Administration, Oak Foundation

The session used the blogs in the new EFC book, “Building at the Crossroads of Royale and Treurenberg” as a launch pad for discussion. The essays, written by thought leaders in the sector, touched on topics ranging from philanthropy infrastructure to climate change to wealth inequality to populism. Gerry Salole stressed that across the essays, “Nobody was saying that business as usual is ok. Every single blog said, ‘Get better at what you are doing, up your game’.”

Panellists outlined what they see as the pressing issues facing philanthropy today and what they think philanthropy should do to tackle them. Aart de Geus said that after WWII, society was united because it had a fear for the past. Now society is divided over fear for the future. Philanthropy can help solve this by aligning itself more with the SDGs, which provide a holistic, sustainable and universal framework to tackle the challenges philanthropy is already engaged in solving.

Massimo Lapucci said that we live in a complex world where global issues such as climate change, forced migration, unequal distribution of wealth are presenting serious challenges. “The world around us is changing really fast,” he said. “The sector also needs to readapt and change.” Key to this is streamlining philanthropy infrastructure so that the sector can speak with a unified voice.

Vinit Rishi noted that philanthropy in Europe in 1989 was underground, with a sense of discretion, humility, and a desire not to impinge on the large role of the state. Fast forward to the EFC’s 30th annual conference held this year in Paris. In the intervening period, a strong community of philanthropic organisations has grown up, one that shares experience and expertise with each other. Another key factor for philanthropy going forward is to connect with young people wanting to make an impact through philanthropy.

Diana Leat, who curated the 30th anniversary book, said that, “One of the key advantages of the foundation model is its accountability. I accept that doesn’t always play out as we might wish, but it is there in theory and most of the time in practice.” She pointed to other recent, well-known models that do not offer accountability, which she found worrying.

After a Q&A round where participants expanded on these issues, Gerry Salole closed the session saying that we need to find a way to sustain these conversations as clearly participants have so much to say. He encouraged everyone in the room to write a blog for the EFC website to keep the conversation going.