Check out the Photos on Flickr

The 2015 Grantmakers East Forum, now in its 20th year, took place at the Research Centre for Anatolian Civilizations (RCAC) and was generously hosted by Vehbi Koç Foundation. Representing the intersection between Asia and Europe, Istanbul was an ideal venue to reflect the conference theme, with a variety of different cultures cohabiting the city and a vibrant civil society striving for social progress, democratic changes and greater transparency.

— Opening Plenary–

Welcome: Gerry Salole, EFC
Moderator: David Hulse, Ford Foundation
Speakers: Filiz Bikmen, Social investment and philanthropy advisor and Senior Program Officer, Empower Foundation; Kathleen Lynch, University College Dublin

The Opening Plenary introduced a worrying theme which would be repeated throughout the conference – social inequality. Kathleen Lynch spoke about how global and national inequality are dysfunctional for humanity. She described the four dimensions of inequality: resources; respect and recognition; representation and power; and relational justice in love, care and solidarity. Filiz Bikmen began by asking whether we are really productive enough as foundations and urged those present to focus more on systems integration. She suggested that systems integration is vital, even more important than grantmaking itself – and added that foundations have the agility to play a key role in ensuring this.

Thematic break-out sessions, spread over two days, focused on inequality through its various relationships with:

Social entrepreneurship
Artistic expression
Community development
Youth (un)employment

In addition, workshops on storytelling (getting practical with data) and impact strategy provided participants with inspiration and practical advice on how to best work on the issue of inequality.

— Closing Plenary —

Moderator: David Hulse, Ford Foundation
Speakers: Osman Kavala, Anadolu Kultur; Barry Knight, Centre for Research and Innovation in Social Policy and Practice (CENTRIS)

The Closing Plenary tied up the discussions from the across the two days, stressing the need for foundations to examine the dynamics of structures that cause injustice, rather than simply implement initiatives which ameliorate the symptoms of inequality. The speakers, echoed by comments from the audience, raised the concern that inequality is both the largest challenge we face today and a major cause of conflict and, worryingly, the gap is getting wider. Foundations must ensure that they work in collaboration, but given their time, independence, resources and ability to take risks they are ideally positioned to tackle inequality.

Selected mantras:

  • Philanthropy needs to make sure it has “power WITH” not “power OVER” people
  • Tackling inequality means focusing on the elite as well as the poor – they have the power to change things
  • Foundations must improve their effectiveness through alliances of interests and sharing knowledge
  • The foundation community is confused about risk: it thinks it is open to it but when push comes to shove, it isn’t
  • Foundations should operate from position of strength and opportunity but change the paradigm around risk
  • The foundation sector is appalling in terms of staff diversity: “Don’t do things for me without me” the rallying cry
  • We need to join forces, unite our messaging, and then communicate this in the most effective and powerful way

Re-watch the Closing Plenary video on the SDG Philanthropy Platform