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Three emerging trends in European philanthropy

Cesar Del Valle with Neal Haggerty, one of our Board members from Mott, in Barcelona

After a sleepless redeye flight earlier this month, I landed in Barcelona to attend the first ever Philea Forum. In addition to representing Candid, I was there to learn about trends in the European philanthropic sector and explore opportunities for collaboration. Philea (Philanthropy Europe Association) is the offspring of the recent merger between the European Foundation Center (EFC) and the Donors and Foundations Network in Europe (DAFNE). Its network of philanthropic actors in over 30 countries collectively represent more than 10,000 public-benefit foundations.

As I process the many sessions I attended and the new connections that were made, three key trends stick out: interconnectedness, evidence driven hope, and new funding models.

1. Interconnectedness

This theme was a throughline in myriad ways. There was extensive discourse on the global pandemic and how health crises in one part of the world can disrupt all our lives. The conversation also focused on vaccination, the global collaborative process, and philanthropy’s response. Many spoke to how COVID-19 continues to exacerbate disparities felt by marginalized communities and vulnerable peoples. For example, vaccination rates in parts of Africa are barely a few percent, while most EU countries’ rates range from 80-90%. This is not only a demonstration of inequities; it raises legitimate concerns that lack of vaccination in the Global South leads to new variants that will inevitably have global consequences.

With the war in Ukraine raging, people passionately debated how European philanthropy can continue to support humanitarian crises and, more generally, what philanthropy’s role is and should be in global conflict. Considering the impact conflict has on migration, the global food supply chain, and beyond, what is the role of philanthropy and where can the sector have the most impact?

The opening plenary featuring several representatives from Ukrainian philanthropy was moving and powerful. Inna Pidluska, Executive Director for the International Renaissance Foundation, shared that the typical three-hour trip from Kyiv to Barcelona had this time taken over 30 hours. As she sat in a bus full of women and children fleeing the country, the conversations she overheard illustrated the lives left behind and the uncertainty that lay ahead. Inna shared, “We do not want to be a humanitarian problem. We prefer our dignity, but we need support; we need global support.”

2. Evidence driven hope

Evidence driven hope was a recurring notion throughout the conference. It began with a discussion on the top issues affecting young people and a recent study showing that mental health and anxiety are by far the most pressing challenges. The state of being in constant crises has led to youth disengaging from institutions and rejecting democratic systems in particular. Young people are frustrated by the disconnect with policy makers, and the lack of places to engage in discourse and dialogue. On top of that, we live under an onslaught of information, and it is far too easy for anxiety to spike as young people doomsday scroll on their phones.

Given the nature of elections, politics and political agendas change frequently and long-lasting progress can be halted by a change in parties. Philanthropy, on the other hand, serves on a continuum and should act as a connective bridge that has a responsibility towards social and political accountability. There was general agreement that the social sector and philanthropy need to do more to create positivity, highlighting change the sector is driving, and to engage not through naive optimism but with a focus on evidence driven hope.

3. New funding models: spotlight on participatory grantmaking

Flexible funding, power shifting, and participatory grantmaking were also key themes, with a focus on how these new funding models can build movements and drive positive social change. Participatory grantmaking is about inclusive participation and lifting up the voices that are often the most difficult to hear, both because they are too easily muted and because they may express the most contrarian points of view. The approach encourages a positive intentionality in the grant application and reporting design process. Essentially, through this model, funders should question why they’re collecting specific information; how it will be used; and how will it be shared back with the community to ensure a virtuous cycle of feedback.

Participatory grantmaking is the manifestation of the old slogan – nothing about us without us. Consider Neville Gabriel’s perspective as the CEO of The Other Foundation on the transfer of leadership in philanthropy back to the community. Gabriel was on a panel for a participatory grantmaking session that discussed the long-term benefits of power shifting and ensuring communities served not only had a voice but saw a clear path towards leadership opportunities at institutional foundations. Far too often, leaders of institutional foundations are not representative of the communities they seek to support. Participatory grantmaking can and should create paths for community to take on leadership roles.

Moving forward

As the conference came to an end, the closing plenary took a macro look at the need to reimagine a new economy, one that strongly centers human dignity. Jo Swinson of the Partners for a New Economy gave a powerful example when she spoke about the economic value of a tree. In our current economic model, a tree only has value when it is dead, once it is turned into timber or paper. But what about the social value of a living tree? Clearly our economic models need to be reimagined.

Octavi Quintana Trias from PRIMA – Partnerships for Research & Innovation in the Mediterranean Area reminded us that all resources on this planet are finite, except for human creativity. We must encourage talent in all shapes and forms, but also recognize that while talent is everywhere, opportunity is not. It is the role of philanthropy to invest in creating opportunity and redefining impact around trust-based principles.

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