‘I would not have dreamed in November ’89 that it would still be there 30 years later!’ Many would echo the sentiments of Raymond Georis, founding chair and moving spirit of the European Foundation Centre (EFC). But not only is the EFC still there, but today it operates at the centre of the landscape of institutional philanthropy in Europe. Through the eyes of some of those closely concerned with the EFC, Alliance looks at its achievements, the challenges it has faced and the roles it might play in the coming years.
Miguel Angel Cabra de Luna, Director of Alliances, Social and International Relations, Fundación ONCE and a former member of the EFC’s governing council.
The coincidence of the EFC’s founding with the fall of the Berlin Wall – Raymond Georis recollects that its initial meeting took place on the same day the Wall fell, triggering the wholesale abandonment of communism by many of the countries of Central and Eastern Europe (CEE) – decisively shaped its character, in two ways. The first was that in addition to becoming a meeting place for the then nascent European foundation sector, as Miguel Angel Cabra de Luna observes, a significant part of its early purpose was devoted to supporting civil society in CEE to create more democratic institutions. Second, as both Georis and Barry Gaberman, former vice-president at the Ford Foundation, note, this development was significant in bringing in US support for the new entity. ‘At that time,’ says Barry Gaberman, ‘the Ford Foundation had made a commitment to work both in Russia and in Eastern and Central Europe…It seemed that the EFC was a logical decision.’. However, he notes, it was the Mott Foundation that really took the lead in supporting the new organisation, and in particular, it was at the initiative of the late Bill White. Raymond Georis also acknowledges this: ‘Bill White was very important. He was the one who provided the seed money so we could immediately embark on the Central and East European programme.’ Bill White was always a champion of infrastructure, and there was an added personal dimension. At one of the first meetings of the EFC in Warsaw, White met John Richardson, with whom he formed a close friendship, which formed one of the bases for Mott’s continuing support for EFC.