The right time to do right is always right now

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The European Foundation Centre is turning 30, an accomplishment in its own right. Yet, we can think of far more than 30 reasons to celebrate achievements by philanthropy in Europe. Past EFC conferences and ongoing progress within the 2016-2022 Strategic Framework show us to what extent institutional philanthropy has matured and professionalised over the past decades. Examples abound demonstrating the sector’s crucial role in tackling the systemic challenges the world faces, as articulated in the 17 Sustainable Development Goals. But the ambitious 2030 deadline combined with an estimated funding gap – of at least $2.5 trillion annually in developing countries alone – begs the question: how can philanthropy leverage its catalytic power even better? Now more than ever is the time to question whether we, as philanthropists, are doing enough to ensure that there is more than 30 years left on a liveable planet.

This was a key question for the IKEA Foundation this past June as we celebrated the tenth anniversary of our charter to support projects that directly benefit children and families and presented our strategy going forward. The IKEA Foundation is just a third of the EFC’s age, but after taking stock of what we have learned so far and reviewing the important work of many EFC members, we knew we had to ask ourselves how we could have greater impact in tackling the two biggest threats to children’s futures: poverty and climate change.

Better futures on a liveable planet

This resulted in two commitments that now guide our grantmaking. First, we help families living in poverty afford better everyday lives. Second, we work towards creating a carbon-neutral planet. Families need both financial stability and a healthy environment if they and their children are to thrive. The problems can seem overwhelming, but we decided to look past these challenges. We began by committing to continue collaboration with partners who help people – especially young people, women and refugees – earn a sustainable income and fight for a liveable planet. (for more, please watch our film https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mjRV5T-bYBQ)

We plan to achieve real progress by focusing on four inter-related thematic areas. They are: supporting income generation through agriculture; employment and entrepreneurship; improving access to renewable energy (for more, please watch our film https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uvW7TA7jTEo); and taking climate action. Our journey has already proved to be rich with lessons and we expect to learn much more along the way. One of the important lessons has been that in times of increased vulnerability, whether to natural or human-made disasters, humanitarian systems must be strong and prepared. That means they must be able to cope with climate-related and other emergencies as well as have the capacity to promote opportunities for people to rebuild their lives in a sustainable way.

To explore how we can all enhance the catalytic power of institutional philanthropy, we can – and indeed must – learn a lot more from each other. The EFC’s work has well exemplified how we can:

  1. Learn from innovations in development and humanitarian systems: The 2020 EFC conference will discuss the need to innovate philanthropy in the new normal. This is a good moment to build on our collective experience in the area of achieving social impact – for example, by using new financial instruments, such as impact bonds and other blended finance instruments – and to ask ourselves how we can better leverage them to achieve scale.
  2. Learn from new types of collaboration: The complexity of the many challenges we are facing requires new, unprecedented collaboration between businesses, civil society, governments and citizens. The We Mean Business coalition embodies the role philanthropy can play in bringing together partners to enable the shift to more sustainable business models. Philanthropy must do more to create openness amongst stakeholders and improve the process of breaking down silos and sometimes deep-rooted antagonisms.
  3. Learn to leverage our communication and advocacy power: Nurturing close relationships across all parts of society, philanthropy is uniquely well positioned to inspire, engage and mobilise. The EFC Communications Professionals in Philanthropy is a community of practice that meets regularly to discuss the importance of communicating philanthropy’s value and legitimacy, a significant step towards exploring how we can collectively achieve greater impact.

The next 30 years

When 16-year-old Greta Thunberg, speaking at the 2019 World Economic Forum Annual Meeting, said, “Act as if the house was on fire, because it is,” she put us business, political and civil society leaders in our place. Greta’s words, reports by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, warnings by many scientists, and natural disasters already unfolding all urge us to turn lessons into action – to be effective immediately. No other area with such far-reaching effects on humankind requires the urgency and scale of interventions than climate change. As such, we have a collective interest and – in the IKEA Foundation’s opinion – a duty to protect current and future generations by securing a liveable planet for all.

So thinking about the next 30 years, the IKEA Foundation invites you, as EFC members, partners and supporters, to reflect with us on what we are all doing to decarbonise our society, or at least to understand the potential impact of our work on climate change. With less than 2% of global philanthropic resources devoted to climate change, isn’t it time to decide what more philanthropy in Europe can do to advocate for change? And what can we all do, individually and collectively, to reduce our own greenhouse gas footprints?

Philanthropy in Europe has been a catalyst for social change in its long history. Together we can make a difference in climate change, too. By supporting collaboration between businesses, governments, NGOs, and national and global organisations, we can create a brighter future for our children and their children. At our foundation’s recent 10-year anniversary event, the 24-year-young Amsterdam artist Benjamin Fro gave a spoken word performance that expressed convictions squarely in line with Greta’s. He said, “It might be hard, we might not always know how. But the right time to do right is always right now.”  (you can listen to Benjamin’s full recital at the end of our last podcast https://podcasts.apple.com/nl/podcast/the-ikea-foundation-podcast/id1460272842?l=en)

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