From challenge to change to catalyst… via collaboration
I. What has (and hasn’t) changed in the EFC and the sector in the past 30 years?
We are immersed in a society that has changed radically in the last 30 years. Digitalisation, sociodemographic changes, migration, the role of women in society, new technologies, access to information, management of knowledge, new communication models, social networks, new economic models … are just some of the challenges we face today and that have a direct impact on our lives, both from our work as foundations, and in our day-to-day work and personal lives.
The role of the European Union and the different Member States with respect to it, despite current uncertainties, has changed the reality of many countries, and, without a doubt, Spain. The influence of Europe from the geopolitical, normative and economic point of view has been and will continue to be vital for the development of our mission as foundations in search of the common good and also in the exercise of our rights and duties as citizens.
To this we must add the fact that in recent years we have been mired in a deep crisis that has affected all levels: political, economic, financial and social, and has resulted in a gradual dismantling of social and economic policies and a serious regression of the value of solidarity and social rights in general.
The EFC has always known how to adapt to changing times and challenges, keeping in mind the essence of foundations as entities that work for the general interest, identifying trends and challenges, seeking collaboration as an instrument of strength of the sector and society. The EFC and its members have always been clear about our essence and our mission, and of course that our work is essential in Europe.
It is true that now we are more, many more. Around 147,000 philanthropic organisations are counted in Europe as a whole, a figure that was unthinkable 30 years ago. This growth of the European sector of foundations sends a clear message of dynamism, unmet needs, innovation and social commitment and solidarity, which has outgrown the legislative framework which must be modernised and adapted to today’s reality.
II. What are the challenges for the next 30 (and beyond)?
Our society is in a profound process of transformation. But these changes do not happen over night and foundations have to be prepared and be able to adapt to them quickly.
The challenges we face are many and very different in nature, but they offer us a horizon that I believe we cannot and should not miss. We have to see it as an opportunity. We are a brave, innovative and committed sector. We are not only able to adapt to new realities, but should also to be a reference and influencer in this mission. Among these many challenges I would like to highlight the fight against climate change, which is critical for the future of our planet and has many ramifications (economic, social, humanitarian, business, cultural, educational, etc.).
Foundations are called to play a leading role as agents of change and we must demonstrate a special responsibility and commitment to ensure that the change of model occurs before it is too late.
In a globalised world alliances are imposed; collaboration is also encouraged with public or private institutions, the exchange of information and knowledge, synergies… However, the different realities and national legislations in many cases restrain the transnational activity of foundations, filling the road with obstacles that hinder and raise costs when they want to work beyond their borders.
I think it is also crucial to improve the information and data related to the sector, in terms of its characteristics as an integral part of the social economy and also in terms of what they entail within the framework of the European economy. We should evaluate the social impact of our activities, obtain quantitative and qualitative information, and be leaders in transparency and good governance. We need to communicate better to society what we are, what we do and what our mission is, and the goals that we must aspire to as a sector.
III. How can European philanthropy tackle these challenges?
Collaboration, communication and innovation are fundamental values of our sector and the EFC must be our reference and essential action framework. We have a lot of work to do in this regard, since we must increase society’s confidence and knowledge of our sector. This communication is also necessary to defend, reaffirm and make visible the fundamental role that foundations play. This is especially important in periods such as the recent economic crisis, when the ability of foundations to fill the gaps that neither the public sector nor the private sector have been able to fill has been revealed. With our initiatives, projects and proposals, European foundations have collaborated to solve major problems that affect important sectors of society and it is very important that this work is known.
We have seen this, for example, in the field of disability, where the EFC’s Disability Thematic Network has, for two decades, been contributing to obtaining advances for people with disabilities at a European level. It has worked towards improving the accessibility of cities, increasing of EU funding dedicated to the employment of people with disabilities and in the creation of a more favourable regulatory framework.
IV. How can the EFC help be the catalyst for achieving this?
In comparison with other actors, the contribution of civil society is generally not sufficiently articulated, which often prevents it from being able to defend everything that would be necessary for the interests of the most vulnerable groups.
In my opinion, European foundations find in the EFC an organisation that, without undermining the identity of each of its members, raises positive awareness of the sector, fosters internal cohesion and synergies, and constitutes a powerful, representative and collaborative platform with real capacity for dialogue, influence and co-responsibility.
Foundations perform an important task, an innovative function necessary for social change. And the EFC, in this sense, acts as a powerful loudspeaker where our role is defended, where issues of common interest are raised and debated, where a collaboration that develops and reinforces our sector is built and where the barriers that prevent an active philanthropy are overcome.
From an organised, strong and cohesive sector foundations will be able to continue carrying out our mission successfully.