This summer I had the chance to visit the Rockefeller Archive Center in Tarrytown, New York State. During that stay I was able to glance at some of the diaries that employees of the Rockefeller Foundation wrote during their visits to post-World War II Germany. These notebooks are amazing documents about a period of time where everything seemed to be lost and a whole continent struggled to find a new beginning. In these meticulously written notes – later typed up by foundation staff – foundation managers explore funding options to strengthen a democratic Germany. At that time the Rockefeller Foundation’s staff explored such opportunities in many other European countries. Peace and democracy in Europe was an important cause for the foundation.
Today donors and foundation managers are winners of the European idea. They travel widely, often speak several languages and consider cross-border collaborations within Europe part of their grantmaking. This development is reflected through such institutions as the European Foundation Centre or the European Venture Philanthropy Association. The existence of these associations reflects the fact that, within Europe, foundations, social investors and donors have common interests. The Network of European Foundations is a good example for how foundations have developed funding collaborations on such European causes as ‘European Integration and Social Cohesion’ or ‘Strengthening Civil Society at the European Level’. Europe is a platform and a cause for these foundations.
These are the days of the euro crisis, which by now is the same as a crisis of Europe. Foundations realize that we cannot take Europe for granted. The Mercator Stiftung and the Robert Bosch Stiftung just started the campaign ‘Wir sind Europa’ (‘We are Europe’). The campaign uses video clips to underline the meaning of Europe in the lives of every citizen. One of the clips is about a grandfather who values being able to visit his granddaughter in Spain whenever he wants. Another one tells the story of several young Europeans that share a flat and struggle sometimes living together but in the end always find ways to solve conflicts. What an analogy: Europe as a flat-sharing community!
Even though this campaign focuses on Germany, foundations in Brussels are also getting together and wondering how they can explain Europe to the citizens. There is a lot of consultation going on right now; Europe has been discovered as a cause again. The good news is that this time we can also rely on a European ecosystem of foundations. Something we also have to credit to the many US foundations that identified Europe as a cause after World War II. It looks like it has been worthwhile writing those meticulous notebooks.
Michael Alberg-Seberich is managing partner at Active Philanthropy