Many speakers at the EFC European Foundation Centre’s conference’s plenaries spoke of the need for foundations to have vision.
During the thematic plenary, looking at the roles and responsibilities of philanthropy in an urban context, Marc Kramer of Foundation Strategy Group (FSG) stated that we need to embrace clear goals in order to make change happen. Sometimes foundations need to look outside their usual scope of activities to achieve these goals, especially if they feel there is not a charity or project already in existence to address a particular issue. Kramer argued that foundations should not be about making grants – a provocative statement in itself for many of grantmakers in the room.
What struck me most about these comments was the example Kramer used to illustrate how working in different ways and thinking outside of the box can help achieve impact; this focused on increasing the use of microfinance in Arab regions. However, microfinance seems to me to be a tool rather than an end goal. Perhaps the goal in itself, as much as the work that took place, could bear further scrutiny, as surely a goal should be broader than establishing the use of a tool in a particular region? While goals should be clear and achievable, there is a danger that focusing on how an issue is being approached overshadows why the work is needed in the first place. The wider social issues that foundations are so well placed to address can be approached through the use of tools such as microfinance, but it would be worrying if these tools were to become the end goal upon which success is measured.
Jenny Conrad is Communication and Circulation Officer at Alliance magazine.