In a lively session that wrapped up this three-day event, conference participants gathered to hear a debate about “The changing economy – New opportunities to cooperate and contribute”. Peter Bakker, President of the World Business Council for Sustainable Development; and Teresa Ribera, Director of the Institute for Sustainable Development and International Relations (IDDRI), focused on the new opportunities in this changing landscape for philanthropy to contribute to shared solutions and raise their effectiveness. Jo Andrews, outgoing Director of Ariadne, and journalist Marcia Luyten moderated the discussion.

The accelerating pace of change in our society – economic, technological, demographic, political, social and ecological – creates new opportunities to cooperate and contribute. New economic models, such as the sharing and circular economies; along with new actors, technologies and funding mechanisms have emerged and are being tested. As a consequence, the roles and responsibilities of civil society, government and the corporate sector are shifting, and new types of participation and partnership are being created.

Panelists at this closing plenary session sought to at least go some way in answering the following questions: What are the new roles for philanthropy in this changing environment? What are their responsibilities in keeping up with change?

Mr Bakker pointed to the appalling fact that every six seconds a child dies of hunger – 18,000 per day – and yet 2 billion people in the world are obese, and a third of all food is lost or wasted. Statistics like these make it clear that there is a clear and urgent need for systemic change.  “The economy as we currently run it is unsustainable,” he said. He pointed out three main areas that are the most important for systematic change – energy, urban development, and food and land use. Mr Bakker said philanthropy needs to think about how they can make change at a systemic level, advising them to look to the SDGs as a good starting point for framing their efforts in this. 

Highlighting civil society’s role in bringing about this type of change, Ms Ribera pointed to the intervention of civil society as key to the success of the development of the SDGs and the Paris agreement in late 2015. The success was due to a repudiation of the “fear mood” that had surrounded the climate and development debates. Also, too many people had been waiting for a technological solution to these challenges. Shedding this short-termist thinking led to the actual breakthrough which was the confidence to work together to change economic development patterns.

Looking ahead, philanthropy will have to step up like never before. According to Ms Ribera, to achieve the SDGs by 2030, development will have to occur at twice the rate it has in the last 50 years. We will also need to anticipate – and provide solutions for – the challenges that this transition phase will bring. For example, we know that we need to get rid of coal, but in that process we need to explain why this is so and provide job opportunities for a post-coal economy.

Following the main debate, six young reporters from the Erasmus Centre for Strategic Philanthropy gave their feedback on the conference in a conversation with Ms Andrews and Ms Luyten. A common refrain was that learning is a two-way street: Young people can indeed learn much from the experience of older people, but equally, older people need to not just listen to young people but hear them, accepting that they have different perspectives and that they also have a lot to offer.

Katherine Watson, Director of the European Cultural Foundation, EFC Vice-Chair and the 2016 Conference Chair, presented a statement on behalf of all delegates that called upon their peers in the philanthropic community to join forces to tackle forced migration, one of today’s greatest challenges. The statement called for a united response in addressing the human tragedy and challenges presented by the millions of people being forced to leave their homes and countries, due to violence, persecution, war, the effects of climate change and economic inequality.

Gerry Salole, EFC Chief Executive, thanked participants and left them with a word about change – specifically the change in the EFC’s strategic direction embodied in its new 6-year Strategic Framework, approved by the EFC membership during this year’s Annual General Assembly. He encouraged all participants to visit the EFC website and download a copy of the Framework and watch an engaging animation that illustrates what the Framework means for the EFC and its members.

Ewa Kulik-Bielińska, Executive Director of the Stefan Batory Foundation and Chair of the European Foundation Centre, gave a sneak preview of next year’s conference, set to take place from 31 May to 2 June 2017 in Warsaw, and encouraged all present to mark their calendars for the event.

After a performance by the rapper LeJonz, Ms Watson wrapped up the conference and thanked delegates for their enthusiasm and creativity throughout the event. The winner of the events app competition was named shortly after the closing as Andrew McCracken, Chief Executive Officer of the Community Foundation for Northern Ireland, who received a free ticket to next year’s AGA in Warsaw. The events app was used by more than 70% of conference delegates (487).