A message from European philanthropy: Brexit will not interrupt the flow of donations and goodwill between nations


Sir John Low


The UK’s official exit from the EU has happened. But regardless of that, people in the UK and mainland Europe still have a broad range of mutual interests. We’ll continue to work side-by-side on pressing issues. We always did, and we’ll carry on doing so.

For those of us privileged to lead some of Europe’s largest charitable foundations, times of political upheaval may bring a degree of uncertainty, but they also remind us of our raison d’être.

We are called foundations for a reason; we have endured, in some instances, longer than the countries that we now call home.

Today we belong to the wider world of civil society which is the cornerstone of our collective societies.

From this vantage point, we have a responsibility to look beyond the political change of today and focus on our missions to shape communities and nations for the better over timescales that are often beyond the reach of electoral cycles, ingrained government bodies and even many modern nation states.

As change sweeps across the continent of Europe, we stand together to say our mission to build bridges and bring people together to improve our world is as powerful as ever.

Foundations, and wider civil society, have a proud record of surviving conflict, the rise and fall of monarchies, the construction, destruction and recreation of borders or even the constitution of nation states. More importantly, the spirit of philanthropy that ranges from major donations to everyday giving – and the human desire to help others, to contribute to society, to build a better world – is universal.

In Germany, for example, there are around 250 foundations which are more than 500 years old and which still pursue their original charitable purpose. The Bürgerspitalstiftung in Wemding, Bavaria, is arguably the oldest foundation in Germany and can trace its history back to 917AD; the Bürgerspitalstiftung Bamberg, which was set up to care for elderly citizens, was first established in 1237.

In the United Kingdom, foundations boomed during Tudor times and the Enlightenment; for example, Thomas Coram’s Foundling Hospital which was set up in 1741. Today this legacy lives on in Coram’s Fields, a park and playground for under 16s, which has been delighting children in London for decades. The City Bridge Trust dates back to the 12th Century and in the 19th Century helped build the world-famous Tower Bridge. Today it’s a major philanthropic force in London.

During the dark days of the 1930s, the The Central British Fund for German Jewry, now World Jewish Relief, was instrumental in making the Kindertransport happen, bringing children to safety.

Today the influence of giving and sustainable action is huge across our continent. Estimates quoted by the European Economic and Social Committee suggest that philanthropy across Europe is worth €87.5 billion and can only grow with the encouragement of governments across Europe.

Between countries, there is a rich history of cooperation and solidarity that goes well beyond politics. Indeed, acting without favour for political parties while speaking out on behalf of people in need is a founding principle of charity right across the world.

In 2017 three of Europe’s biggest philanthropic foundations, Riksbankens Jubileumsfond, Volkswagen Stiftung, and the Wellcome Trust, joined together to award €5 million to tackle some of the most pressing global issues such as the refugee crisis and the climate emergency.

Last year, the devastating fire at Notre Dame in Paris shocked the world. But from the flames emerged an outpouring of support to rebuild and renew. This year, people across our continent have been moved in huge numbers to support communities in Australia devastated by the appalling bushfires. Both radically different causes, but both examples of people being moved to act together.

Today, Transnational Giving Europe, a partnership of 21 European foundations supporting cross-border giving, is helping to connect philanthropists and charities across the continent regardless of where they reside. Thanks to this network sporting figures from the Spanish international footballer Juan Mata to Liverpool Manager Jurgen Klopp are able to join players across Europe in supporting the Common Goal initiative to harness the power of football to tackle poverty and inequality.

The examples are legion.

Across the continent of Europe, there are thousands of not for profit organisations, backed by tens of millions of Euros and Pounds in donations from millions of generous donors.

The annual CAF World Giving Index, which chronicles the extraordinary generosity of peoples across the world, shows one in three people across Europe gives money in a typical month. Four in 10 help a stranger and around one in five give their time.

Today, as leaders of Europe’s charitable foundations, we are as committed as ever to build on this proud and humbling history of generosity and international community. As political, trading and diplomatic conditions change, our role as a foundation of international cooperation and a force for good remains – as it has always done. In an uncertain and often fractured world our iron pledge is to redouble our efforts to bring people together in order to transform lives and communities around the world.

Political change will not interrupt the flow of donations and goodwill between nations. But more than that, it will not break the human bonds that bind us. Together we will promote the positive exchange of ideas, facilitate funding to strengthen communities and solve our shared problems. That mission is not new, not brought on by political change. It is enduring.

Generosity transcends boundaries, it goes beyond political, financial and language barriers. That is as true today as it ever has been. This is why civil society, and foundations in particular, will continue to work for a diverse and open society. It is, as the name suggests, our very foundation.

Sir John Low, Chief Executive Officer, Charities Aid Foundation
Gerry Salole, Chief Executive Officer, European Foundation Centre
Axelle Davezac, Directrice Générale, Fondation de France, France
Tonika Hirdman, Director General, Fondation de Luxembourg, Luxembourg
Luc Tayart de Borms, Managing Director, King Baudouin Foundation, Belgium
Rupert Graf Strachwitz, Chief Executive Officer, Maecenata Foundation, Germany
Sabrina Grassi, Director General, Swiss Philanthropy Foundation, Switzerland

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