A global strategy for a divided Europe: Philanthropy without borders

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During the 2019 EFC conference in Paris, French illustrator Plantu showed us a shrewd vignette with a clear message: “Before 1989 one could not even meet, today everything is possible.”

In times past it was the Berlin Wall that divided people in Europe, now we see walls being constructed in the shadow of the EU flag, fuelling the risk of (even greater) inequality, poverty and discontent. It is within this Europe of new walls – often facilitated, it must be said, by the European institutions that struggle to give unitary answers to the legitimate demands of citizens – that I wanted to highlight during the EFC conference a strategy for a new “ecosystem” of institutional philanthropy.

When I first joined Fondazione CRT, arriving from the world of finance, I could not have imagined that five years later I would be sitting here as the Chair of the EFC, reflecting on the past and future of this organisation as it marks its 30th anniversary. I must admit to being honoured by this opportunity.

I am also grateful as this experience has further reinforced my conviction that for an economic and social system to flourish, the common good must be put at its core, and that system must be built upon the values of sustainability, integration and inclusion.

It is about a radical change of gear in comparison with the “traditional” financial lessons of my personal background, and more broadly in comparison with the world before 2008: This new awareness is the consequence of a completely changed situation for Europe and other parts of the developed world.

We all know that crises herald the arrival of new opportunities. What is important is that we know how to seize them.

A common house

First of all, we must find the courage to “reconsider” our roles as organisations within a sector. That is, to identify those structural changes that would lead to a stronger, more effective European philanthropy ecosystem. In doing so, the aim would be to maximise the skills and excellence of each actor while at the same time maintaining clarity of vision and purpose. All the while keeping it simple.

A simple yet streamlined structure would enable us to optimise our ability to “advocate for good”, to speak with a strong, clear voice to both the European institutions and national governments, and to maximise the impact of institutional philanthropy and its resources for collective public good.

Of course, a more cohesive, authoritative and effective philanthropy is a winning formula not only for our sector but for Europe itself. We need to strengthen the principles on which our common house is based and evolve towards a more equitable and supportive society. In other words, to provide an antidote to those who want to divide rather than unite, to raise barriers rather than tear them down, and whose aim is to ensure that the European project regresses rather than progresses.

The second pillar of a global strategy for philanthropy requires a greater hybridisation between business and social, between profit and non-profit. The latter, without diminishing its own nature, must evolve to pay greater attention to managerial efficiency, to the creation of value for its own stakeholders, and to transparency.

 

At the same time, foundations must maintain (or otherwise develop) their duty to be innovative and courageous in their use of resources for creating social impact; in amplifying their work with the use of impact investing tools, such as the European co-financing mechanisms of “patient” capital through the guarantee fund of the InvestEu 2021-2027 programme; and with a better interpretation of big data for the common good. Today the amount of data we produce doubles every year: In 2017 we generated as much data as was created in the entire history of humanity up until 2016. Within five to seven years, we will have 150 billion sensors connected in a network, equal to 20 times the number of people on Earth. At that point, the amount of data generated will double every 12 hours, rather than every year: a revolution.

The third pillar is our ability, as Europeans, to grasp the transformations of philanthropy in other areas of the world. This starts with China and Africa, but we should also foster greater integration between US and Asian organisations by building networks of trust, lasting knowledge and awareness, working alongside European institutions and national governments.

Building bridges, not walls

The last action concerns the effective diffusion of the principles of the European Philanthropy Manifesto, which represents a bridge between the European legislature that has just ended and the new one that has just begun. To the newly-elected Parliament we will reaffirm the call for a Single Market for Philanthropy, incorporating the full guarantee of all fundamental freedoms that, paradoxically, are still missing a quarter of a century after the Maastricht Treaty. Just as the latter has had a profound impact on the prospects of European integration, so too would a Single Market for Philanthropy create a favourable environment for the development of the sector, with clear and tangible benefits for citizens, communities and society as a whole.

In fact, it is clear that philanthropy would be able to improve its own mission of rebalancing inequalities – in a world where the 1% possess more wealth than the remaining 99% – where there would no longer be any barriers between states for the circulation of private non-profit resources for the common good.

Let us hope that Europe begins soon to bring down some of the walls Plantu’s cartoon depicted.

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