‘Faith, or religion, is one of the last frontiers not talked about within diversity,’ stated Kassim-Lakha. ‘Religious diversity is with us as a reality – so what are the tools and the language needed as literacy for our work?’
The final day of the filled-to-the-brim EFC Conference began with ‘Navigating religious divides: How philanthropy supports interfaith “Bridge builders“. With Shaheen Kassim-Lakha of the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation, Natalie Ross of Council on Foundations, Dr. Michaël Privot of ENAR (European Network Against Racism) and Fabrice de Kerchove of King Badouin Foundation, the rise in particular of Islamophobia and anti-Semitism was discussed, and how best philanthropy can engage and facilitate interfaith dialogue.
Natalie Ross explained to the audience that the US treats religion very differently to Europe, with a siloisation of faith-based funders. ‘We need to learn from each other over the rise of populism,’ she said. ‘And there are different ways for philanthropy to do this other than grantmaking.’ By this, Ross meant convening, facilitating, supporting research and influencing conversations – ‘or bring religion into other conversations you’re having!’
Privot spoke of the lessons learned through working on a project within 8 selected countries for over a year with local communities. Through this they gathered that for msot communities, interfaith was not on their agenda – they are concerned with their own and with their desperate lack of funding. ‘They are still in survival mode with urgent problems,’ said Privot, and yet without interfaith work, when a problem arises your community is alone and without resources. In having to operate in a massively secular, a-religious society, where any application must have references to faith removed, defensiveness is high.
De Kerchove began by conceding that whilst KBF does not directly support groups of faith, it does support initiating dialogue. 10 years ago, KBF decided to focus on religious divides in Belgium, and commissioned and supported research on issues that seriously divided communities, ‘where much introspection is needed’.
A pilot project with King Badouin Foundation is now being implemented, where 20 Muslim opinion leaders (after 6 months of consulting with them), have agreed to have discussions together which they can then also disseminate to their networks. ‘This is a safe space, protected from any institutional pressure,’ said de Kerchove. With confidentiality the key to success, de Kerchove could not say much more, but KBF had reconciled that to them, dialogue in its own sake was an acceptable outcome to this project. They did not need a goal – however, this obviously requires huge donor flexibility. How would this be explained to a board? How do you define success? This is hard to measure without indicators, however de Kerchove reiterated that if this group lasts the proposed three years, then ‘we can say that there is a dialogue which is happening.’ It is vital for foundations to be organic – there to support when conversation becomes difficult, amongst those who feel that society does not care for all its citizens equally.
The final plenary session had EFC Chair Massimo Lapucci, stand in front of the delegates to state: ‘The need to care for culture, protect it, to pass it on to future generations, is where we see the model of institutional philanthropy really come to the fore. As we can’t do it alone, we had better do it together. Culture matters. Philanthropy matters. And philanthropy works.’
The EFC Conference 2019 will take place on 23-24 May in Paris, France. Liberté, égalité, philanthropie!
Amy McGoldrick is Marketing & Advertising Officer at Alliance magazine