Philanthropy must help bring Europe together


Donzelina Barroso


As a recent transplant to London from New York City, and a dual national of the US and Portugal, some of my friends say that I am lucky to be observing developments in the US from afar.  But I have been watching events in the UK and the rest of Europe with the same apprehension.

To be honest, sometimes I can’t tell which side of the Atlantic is more worrisome. I have to limit my news-viewing. As a Portuguese national residing in the UK, I am of course concerned about where Brexit will lead. It has made me think more about how we Europeans see each other, as neighbors, as humans. As an American, I also wonder how we Americans see each other as neighbors, as humans.

I was struck in the 2017 annual EFC conference by how the theme of solidarity in Poland and across Europe was contrasted by some of the points made in panels and discussions during our three days in Warsaw.

A lot of people I spoke with were concerned about the fragility of the ideals that led to a unified Europe; Americans present had the same concerns about the US One of the panelists referred to Europe as, ‘Weak, wealthy, and fragmented—a very dangerous combination’.

What better way to counter this than to bring people together around common concerns? To make them feel their similarities? I feel strongly that philanthropy must play its role in bringing Europe even closer together, and bridging divides.

Yet, when one of the plenary moderators asked how many people in the packed auditorium worked on European cross-border issues, just a small number of people stood. I was really surprised by how small that number was.

Of course, donors often prefer to give locally, within their own communities.

But at a time such as this, when before our eyes, and sometimes invisibly, the space for civil society is being eroded, I feel it would be important for Europe’s major donors—institutional, corporate, and private—to come together around efforts to preserve the ideals of Europe.

They may of course be doing so on some levels but we could all learn important lessons if their efforts were shared broadly.

But it is also clear that the logistics of European cross-border giving, a topic the EFC has been championing for years, is with few exceptions, as I understand it, complex and bureaucratic.

A uniform charitable tax law and simplified procedures for making donations across European countries would incentivize giving, both among major donors and not-so-major private donors and foundations.

Being able to give easily to one’s neighbors would also reinforce a sense of solidarity. It has not been a priority of EU legislators, but it should be.

In the current issue of Alliance magazine, my friend Lourdes Sanz, of Cemefi, the Mexican Philanthropy Center, says solidarity “comes from empathy with others.” If we are treating each other as foreigners when it comes to giving, how are we to feel united?

In my view, supporting cross-border charitable donations would create one more lever for cohesion and understanding, and would likely increase giving by opening opportunities for more collaborative and regional efforts, and personal giving.

Massimo Lapucci closed the conference in his role as incoming EFC chair, announcing that the 2018 conference will be held in Brussels in order to show solidarity for the project of Europe.

The EFC and its members, he said, need to show their support for the institutions of a unified Europe, and I agree wholeheartedly. But we must also make sure that citizens feel each other’s support.

Europeans have to feel as one to act as one, now and in the future. What better way than allowing people to help each other more easily?

Donzelina Barroso is Director of Global Philanthropy for Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors.

Click here for more coverage from the 2017 EFC annual conference.

Tagged in: EFC AGA 2017

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