Managing risks and adapting support: foundations’ responses to new threats

The ninth meeting was held on 28 and 29 March 2019 at the Fondation de France in Paris, and was facilitated by Barry Knight (Executive Director, CENTRIS and advisor to the Global Fund for Community Foundations - UK) and Eric Berseth (Co-Founder and Executive Director, Philanthropy Advisors).

Foundations in Europe can no longer remain passive in the face of the rising tide of popular dissent and political extremism that threaten the governability of our societies and the conditions in which philanthropy operates. Not a single country is immune to the risks of shrinking civic space, attacks on independent and quality media, manipulations in the public debate, increasing xenophobia, the vanishing of the European dream or attacks on solidarity between people.

The starting point of our in-depth discussions were five inspiring examples of frontline initiatives that address these threats in strategic ways. Through the lens of a high-level learning circle, the meeting will review what can be done to address the root causes of the problem and enable philanthropy to flourish in an increasingly challenging environment.

  • CAF – Charities Aid Foundation (Michael Mapstone, Director of International): Fit for the Future: Managing risks to produce an effective enabling environment for civil society. For over 90 years, CAF has been working globally to help donors, companies and charities make a bigger impact. Michael will present how CAF is embracing global change to meet the risks philanthropy and civil society face and is working to understanding the opportunities and risks new technology can (and will) bring.
  • Act On Your Future Foundation (Keyvan Ghavami, Co-founder and Executive Director): Using art at local level as an innovative practice to promote democratic values and refugees’ integration
  • Reporters Sans Frontières (Christophe Deloire, Director General and Secretary General) and Fondation de France (Martin Spitz, Head of International Solidarities, Emergencies, Solidarity Economy and Environment): Two initiatives to defend freedom of information and journalism: the Commission on Information and Democracy, and the Journalism Trust Initiative.
  • Open Society European Policy Institute (Natacha Kazatchkine Head of Team, EU Internal Policies): How to sustain work aligned with mission, and support to grantees in a context of frontal attacks by a hostile government: challenges and lessons learnt from Open Society Foundation‘s work on and in Hungary
  • Ariadne (Julie Broome, Director): The Annual Forecast for the social change and human rights sector and the first-ever study on philanthropic community’s response to discrimination and increasing violence and the need for greater cultural understanding, inclusion, and equity

Roundtable conclusion

Extract from the concluding report prepared by Barry Knight. The full report is only available for Roundtable participtans.

The roundtable showed that philanthropy is under serious attack and must respond, both by defending itself against the attacks, but also by reforming itself so that it is worthy of having a role in shaping the future.

Philanthropy is in a privileged position. It needs to recognize that position and yet act with humility to make itself part of society rather than being aloof from it. There is much work to do to re-think the basic premises of the work so that in Michael Mapstone’s words it can ‘create strategic and creative chaos’ and to be a ‘force for messy and powerful activism’ so that a better world can emerge. This means recognizing that it is a sector and organizing itself so that it knows what its role is both individually and collectively. It means that philanthropy needs to rethink its language so that it can communicate with the wider world.

Philanthropy must become less cautious, become bolder and take more risks. The world is running faster and faster, becoming both more complex and more conflictual.  There is an increasing tendency for people to gather in their own echo-chamber and to stop listening to anyone outside it.

Representative democracy is in crisis. Today more than ever before, people and organizations need ‘trusted third parties’ (or tiers de confiance). Foundations are well suited to organize neutral spaces for safe debate - fostering diversity (across cultures and generations). Such an approach could help to ‘decompartmentalize’ society, by welcoming the diversity of dialogue without seeking to control it. Civil society organisations may welcome the idea of foundations taking on this role. Philanthropy has the capacity to think over a longer horizon. Some bold ideas take time to materialize, especially in fields like new forms of democracy and citizenship. It’s a marathon, not a sprint race.