EVPA conference 2014: it takes two to tango


Martial Paris


The 10th annual European Venture Philanthropy Association conference took place in Berlin on 17 and 18 November. More than 500 participants discussed the future of venture philanthropy in the next ten years. Given the diverse profiles of the participants, the definition of ‘venture philanthropy’ remains an open-ended question. According to EVPA, this sector has invested over US$5 billion in the last three years.

I believe that venture philanthropy is less defined by the tools it uses (grants, loans, equity) than by its strategic approach. In order to be successful, it must adopt the tango strategy.

Tango is more than a dance; it is a joint project that follows values and codes. Both partners need one another for a dance that couldn’t be performed alone.

First, one must respect the codes of the milonga: self-respect and respect for the other. When inviting a partner to dance, one should accept them as they are and focus on what they can contribute. Technically speaking, this means good due diligence. One identifies strengths, weaknesses and opportunities that the partner brings, whether we call the partner a grantee, an investee or a social entrepreneur.

The second stage focuses on the dance itself: after the mirada (gaze) and the cabaceo (nod), the abrazo (embrace) begins. A good leader must bring security and predictability. This is the planning stage, during which respective roles and expectations, common objectives, timeframe and measurement of success are set.

As in tango, the philanthropist’s energy feeds the partner, who also gives back. This reciprocal giving can take place over a certain period of time that can be constantly reassessed according to either party’s will. For the dance to succeed, however, both partners must be ready for the third stage: deciding how long the dance will last, when the music stops, and what exit strategy is in place.

Tango is often perceived as a dance in which the man leads the woman. However, the above-mentioned elements show this is not the case: without respect for the partner, a dance can fail. It is a similar attitude that venture philanthropy has tried to embrace in the last ten years: be a good partner with strong listening skills and a humble attitude vis-à-vis the added value of the proposal. This is the key to success for the next ten years.

Martial Paris is director, strategy and impact, WISE Philanthropy Advisors.

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