When she was 23, Anna’s* parents proposed to her and her three brothers aged 16, 18 and 21 that they engage in the family’s philanthropic activities. They were given a four-year budget and complete freedom to donate to projects of their choice. The only conditions were to personally get involved in the projects they wanted to support, to maintain regular contact with the beneficiaries and to visit them in person. ‘My parents and grandparents always taught me to share,’ explains Jacques, their father. ‘We want to go further with our children. Not only teaching them to give by themselves, but also making them understand that they are very privileged. We also try to encourage them to spend time together. It is essential that they remain close to one another.’
This family is one of a number of other family groups in Switzerland who are preparing the next generation to establish a public interest foundation or to create a donor advised fund to facilitate their engagement in philanthropy. These entrepreneurial families face two challenges: to prepare their children’s inheritance and, of equal importance, to prepare their children for that inheritance. But what are the expectations of this new generation in Switzerland?
Defining their role and contribution in philanthropy
Based on individual experiences, and in response to growing interest from new generations in philanthropy, the NewGen Council on Family Philanthropy was created in 2016 to encourage best practice exchanges among peers, and to define their individual roadmap for their philanthropy. This global initiative is interesting in that its initiators are based in Switzerland: the umbrella foundation Swiss Philanthropy Foundation, WISE philanthropy advisors, the Family Business Network and the Polaris initiative.
The first two of four meetings took place in 2016, and demonstrate that these young people have more commonalities than differences in the practice of their philanthropy. Halfway through this series of meetings, it is still somewhat premature to draw conclusions. However, among the group’s first decisions was to be not a ‘NextGen’ but a ‘NewGen’. There is a serious point here: they are not only taking over, but also developing their own vision.
These entrepreneurial families face two challenges: to prepare their children’s inheritance and, of equal importance, to prepare their children for that inheritance. But what are the expectations of this new generation in Switzerland?
Access to an exceptional learning platform
In 2016, another key event in Switzerland was the launch of the Debiopharm Chair in Family Philanthropy. With the impulse of the Debiopharm family business, the IMD business school in Lausanne announced in the summer of 2016 that this chair would help develop a centre of excellence in the teaching of family philanthropy well beyond Switzerland. Given IMD’s outstanding track record, it’s worth keeping a close eye on this chair, since it will bring together many generations of family entrepreneurs in the various programmes.
Understanding impact investing and getting involved in a circle of young philanthropists
Although developments foreshadowing the impact investing movement have been in evidence in Switzerland for the last seven or eight years – see an excellent publication ‘10 Finance Innovations‘ by Sustainable Finance Geneva – the country is now seeing the same trends in the field as are apparent elsewhere. We should also point out the successful Impact Finance Fund, which was co-created by Benjamin Firmenich, a member of the eponymous family corporation. In response to the interest from new generations to meet as peers, four young people from family businesses have created a chapter of the Nexus network, which facilitates meetings between young philanthropists to discuss their professional calling as well as their philanthropic engagement.
Among the group’s first decisions was to be not a ‘NextGen’ but a ‘NewGen’. There is a serious point here: they are not only taking over, but also developing their own vision.
Switzerland is not exceptional in the commitment of its young generation in philanthropy, but its geographic position, its cluster of diverse and strategic stakeholders, and its quality infrastructure strategically position this country to share its know-how.
Etienne Eichenberger is a founder of WISE Philanthropy Advisors, Switzerland. Email firstname.lastname@example.org
* Not real names