Avoiding caricatures: Day three at the EFC Conference, ‘Fraternité & philanthropie’ Plenary

 

Amy McGoldrick

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The EFC’s 2019 conference has brought about “a lot of emotions, a lot of work and a lot of fun” began Laurence de Nervaux (Fondation de France). Three days later and the assembly hall was filled with attendees, exhausted but bright-eyed.

Massimo Lapucci (Chair of the EFC), came on stage and announced that this was a year with the highest number of EFC registrants they’d ever had: just shy of 800 individuals signed up. The EFC has come a long way in thirty years – “we had just seven members in 1989,” said Lapucci. The growth and diversity of membership has been dramatic.

In 2017, we generated as much data as was created in the whole of human history up until 2016

This Parisian conference held fast to the three aspects of French democracy: liberté, égalité and fraternité. At one point it was suggested that fraternité be joined with ‘sisterhood’ and become ‘solidarity’ as a more equalising term. These were the roots of the French revolution. Lapucci called on those present to look at the one we are in now – the digital revolution. “In 2017, we generated as much data as was created in the whole of human history up until 2016,” he said. “This digital revolution is also a genetic mutation.” This leads to the necessity in questioning ethics and data, and philanthropy’s role in this. “We can be wary, but we must also incorporate these digital tools into our toolbox.”

Lapucci also spoke of the European Manifesto for single market philanthropy, reiterating his hope for a recognised philanthropy, one with reduced barriers to cross-border work, and calling on policymakers to enable and protect philanthropy to co-invest for public good.

The EFC strives for collaboration, noted Lapucci, traditionally between the US and Europe but increasingly with Asia and Africa. “We Europeans must learn to grasp the transformation of philanthropy around the world.” Yet it also more important than ever to keep things simple, he stressed. “In today’s world, we need an effective, streamlined decision-making process and to develop an incisive and unique philanthropic voice to achieve greater impact.”

Lapucci then announced his gratitude, on behalf of the EFC, to Klaus Wehmeier and Körber-Stiftung for gifting their share in Philanthropy House, as a ‘birthday gift’ on their 30th anniversary. Lapucci then went on to declare the winner of the fifth EFC Compass Prize (which recognises an outstanding contribution to European philanthropy) to Sara Llewellin, chief executive for the Barrow Cadbury Trust.

Llewellin, a long-time supporter of the EFC, as well as chair of the EFC’s Diversity, Migration and Integration Network, the Gender Equality Network and on the Funders’ Forum for Sustainable Cities, has also been made the new Vice President.

Sisterhood is powerful

In accepting the award, Llewellin said that she was a “great believer that awards and honours are a symbolic achievement of many hands. Structural change can’t be brought about without many hands, as well as hefty doses of savvy, luck and timing.” Llewellin also made a point of thanking delegates for “showing solidarity with us in the UK who will remain determinedly European.” Finally, as the fifth recipient of this award Llewellin also remarked that she was the first woman to win, declaring “sisterhood is powerful.”

The key speaker for the closing plenary this year was Frédérique Bedos, French radio host, television presenter and founder of ‘Le Projet Imagine’. Bedos’ inspiration for the audience was a reminder of love – “not an easy word to use because people don’t think you’re serious” – and family.

Bedos’ story was of her childhood. Displaying a photograph of her parents on the screens behind her, she spoke of how they had adopted 20 children from all over the world. All children who were considered ‘unadoptable’ – “too traumatised, too old, too handicapped, or a mix of all of these”. Adopted children, said Bedos, suffer from deep abandonment wounds, and live in perpetual fear of being abandoned again. To help them recover requires tenderness and patience.

“Logically, what they did should have been a disaster. But a miracle took place, thanks to our parents and the love we gave ourselves as brothers and sisters.” Helping others, noted Bedos, promoted happiness – humans require relationships with others to flourish.

Bedos then displayed a photo behind her of a few of her siblings. Pointing to one blonde-haired girl in the picture, she said this angelic-looking girl had arrived “all violence… if you approached her, she beat you, scratched and pulled your hair”. Raised by violently abusive biological parents, social services eventually took her away and realised she was profoundly deaf.

We live in a wounded world, my friends.

A few months after her sister had arrived, the family also welcomed another child, Gaston. He had fallen into a fire at a very young age and as a result had multiple facial disfigurements and had lost an eye. “On the streets, people screamed or asked him to remove his mask.” Initially terrified of her new brother, these two children eventually became firm and protective friends. They “overcame fears and discovered beauty in their differences and in their wounds. Everyone is wounded. We live in a wounded world, my friends.

Bedos founded Le Projet Imagine in 2008, as an NGO creating ‘hope journalism’. To Bedos, this doesn’t mean positive news, or even only good stories, but journalism that is constructive, thoughtful and avoids caricatures “that humiliate us all”.

“Journalism is a pillar of democracy, and when a citizen is well-informed, they are enlightened,” noted Bedos. Le Projet Imagine creates documentaries on topics varying from humanitarian and social issues to the climate and biodiversity; “basically anything that can improve our world”.

These films are conversational ‘ice breakers’, where then specialised programs are introduced to support groundlevel social action. These programs are pathways for the public to better learn and understand, and to create space for dialogue. “Terrorist organisations have weaponised emotion… and they have understood the power of images”. Bedos seeks to use emotions and images to urge people to learn to love one another again, and build a greater “human family”. After her impassioned speech, Bedos received a standing ovation from the audience.

Closing remarks were left to Axelle Davezac (Fondation de France), who admitted she had mixed emotions when she woke up. Davezac felt at once both overjoyed at the energy and enthusiasm demonstrated by attendees and their ideas, but also “stressed by the emergency of everything that has to be done in Europe and all over the world”. Davezac urged attendees to remember the positivity of the conference, particularly in the run-up to the European election results this weekend (Sunday 26 May).

After thanking the host and programme committee for all their hard work, it was up to Davezac to hand over the ‘baton’ and wish good luck to Franz Karl Prüller, Senior Advisor to the Board at ERSTE Stiftung, as the new Conference Chair for the EFC.

The 2020 conference: “Foundations and the new normal – how to innovate philanthropy?” will be held in Vienna, Austria from 20-22 May.

Amy McGoldrick is Marketing & Advertising Officer at Alliance magazine


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