Just days after the opening of the World Expo 2015, around 650 key figures from the world of philanthropy addressed the global challenge of sustainable development at the European Foundation Centre’s Annual General Assembly (AGA) and Conference on 20-22 May 2015 in Milan.

Closely paralleling the EXPO theme of ‘Feeding the Planet, Energy for Life’, the EFC Conference, ‘Philanthropy: Visions and Energy for Change’, broke down sustainability into four key strands:

  • Youth driving change – How philanthropy can help harness the energy of tomorrow’s changemakers – young people – and what foundations’ role should be in developing the necessary skills and opportunities to equip and inspire them to be drivers for sustainable development.
  • Philanthropy, government and corporate engagement for social equality – What foundations can do to promote more active collaboration between philanthropy, policymakers and corporate engagement to create social equality and sustainable change.
  • Community resilience – How foundations can help empower communities and enable them to become the drivers of their own sustainable development.
  • Future of the planet … food for thought – How scientific research, responsible innovation, sustainable development and food security can help turn the foundation sector’s vision into reality.

We build towards a future we never seeEllen Dorsey, Opening Plenary


The Opening Plenary identified how these four themes are tied together and set the agenda for the rest of the conference. Moderated by Andrea Cabrini of ClassCnbc, the Opening Plenary included keynote presentations from Ellen Dorsey, Executive Director of the Wallace Global Fund, Aristos Doxiadis, Partner, Openfund and economist specialising in the institutional aspects of the present Greek economic crisis and Patrick Holden, founding director of the Sustainable Food Trust. All three speakers highlighted the dire need to start working together on a sustainable future, going outside of our comfort zones to find audacious solutions to the challenges we face such as climate change and growing inequality.

The Opening also saw the posthumous award of the 4th EFC Compass Prize to Pier Mario Vello, the former Secretary General of Fondazione Cariplo and visionary behind this year’s conference, which was accepted on his behalf by his wife. The Compass pays tribute to the pioneers, navigators and visionaries that have broken the mould of European philanthropy and is awarded only in special circumstances to celebrate the exemplary work and contributions of outstanding individuals.
Watch the full Opening Plenary

The power you have in your hands as leaders of foundations is whether we do true philanthropy or false foolanthropy” – Kumi Naidoo, Closing Plenary

The Closing Plenary brought together the motifs and areas of future work identified during the conference with keynote speakers focusing on much-needed environmental, economic and political reforms and in particular where these areas overlap such as the Divest/Invest movement and climate change. Camilla Toulmin, Director, International Institute for Environment and Development, and Kumi Naidoo, International Executive Director of Greenpeace Greenpeace, gave inspirational closing speeches on why the cost of inaction is greater than the cost of action in a world where half the world’s wealth is owned by 85 people – who could all fit on a London bus.


The Closing Plenary also included a presentation by the “Young Ambassadors”, who had been present throughout the week, offering a fresh and youthful perspective to the central themes of the conference.
Watch the full Closing Plenary

The conference was interspersed with several organised site visits aimed at demonstrating successful Italian philanthropy in action and included Città Olinda, a collective venture that converted a former psychiatric hospital, Paolo Pini, into an integrated cultural space, and the Caritas shelter which was created to provide homeless people shelter for the night.
Watch the Conference highlights

The EFC announced during the event that the theme of its next AGA and Conference is ‘Imagining and Inventing our Future’ and will take place in Amsterdam from 26-28 May.

Browse entire gallery