Exciting trends in foundation land – the 2012 Feri Foundation Award


Michael Alberg-Seberich


Michael Alberg-Seberich

How to prevent obesity among teenagers? The Schtifti Foundation (Schtifti is the Swiss German word for a learner or apprentice) in Zurich, winner of the 2012 Feri Foundation Award, has developed unique answers to this question. It has turned the healthy lifestyle into something cool. The foundation has implemented a Web 2.0 campaign reaching around 1.5 million young people in Switzerland. It has brought its ‘freestyle tour’, a combination of sports, exercise and cooking classes, to more than 285 schools. The two donors, Roger Grolimund and Ernesto Silvani, set up a small endowment after they had experienced personal loss in early years. They have turned their fate into an amazing creativity and productivity. The Schtifti Foundation is a unique hub where young people do something for young people. 

Awards recognize engagement. They also indicate trends in a sector. The latter is especially true if a prize has a track record. The Feri Foundation Award was awarded for the seventh time on 9 May 2012 in Frankfurt. 184 foundations in Austria, Germany and Switzerland had submitted their applications. The prize is based on a two-step selection process. In a first phase a small committee of Feri representatives and their partners determines six nominees. In the second step a jury discusses the nominees and chooses the winner. The aim of the award is to recognize the civic engagement of donors and to spot innovative ways to pursue philanthropic involvement. Partners of the award are the German Association of Foundations and Active Philanthropy. Feri, initiator and organizer of the award, is Germany’s largest non-bank advisor for private and institutional assets offering financial advice, asset management, economic research and a rating service.

So, you already know the winner of this year’s award. Schtifti Foundation and the other five nominees for the prize are signposts for exciting developments in (German-speaking) foundation land. Let’s have a look at them:

This foundation is a giving circle of more than 150 like-minded donors from all over Germany. The donors are all convinced that the lever to social change is supporting social movements. The foundation has funded the anti-nuclear-power movement and helped to seed fund new measures to control lobbying. The Bewegungsstiftung has developed an innovative program to financially support people who want to commit most of their time to a cause. In addition, the foundation is one of the most transparent and inclusive ones in regards to its decision-making processes and its endowment.

The Zürich-based foundation was initiated by entomologist Prof Dr Hans Rudolf Herren after he had won the World Food Prize in 1998. Professor Herren set up the foundation to combine academic rigour, ecological principles and community-based fieldwork to support a sustainable way of life in rural East Africa. The foundation is an active advocate for the knowledge it gained in its fieldwork at various international organizations. Rigour, expertise, advocacy and community work are the levers used by this foundation for its work in Africa.

The vision of the Canopus Foundation is that people in all rural areas of the southern hemisphere can have easy access to electric light produced by solar energy. The foundation’s work is based on the principles of venture philanthropy. It has conducted a worldwide business plan competition to identify suitable entrepreneurs to fulfil the vision. The competition resulted in the set up of an investment fund that will help proven concepts to scale. Now the foundation focuses its efforts on providing philanthropic capital to those entrepreneurs with a good idea that still need to show that their technology, business idea works.

This foundation was founded in 1422 to provide scholarships for students at the University of Cologne. Over time the foundation turned into a foundation of foundations, and hosts 278 foundations today. Over the last 15 years the foundation has extended its grantmaking portfolio. Besides university students it now supports disadvantaged young people in schools. In addition the foundation has extended its services to donors to serving as a foundation manager committed to the local community. This is a fascinating example of how commitment and innovation can be based on tradition.

In the German-speaking world many people know the actor Karlheinz Böhm. He is a cultural icon of Germany’s economic miracle. At the beginning of the 1980s the actor decided to commit his life to supporting people in Ethiopia. The foundation has supported the setting up of hundreds of schools, medical centres and other services for the local population. The foundation’s long-term commitment to the country is deeply rooted in local communities in Ethiopia. The organization is an example of how celebrities can initiate and support lasting positive change.

The trends represented by the nominees can be summarized in the following way:

  • Foundations as single-issue NGOs that actively fundraise.
  • Foundations as social entrepreneurs.
  • Foundations are actively experimenting with the lever of advocacy.
  • Foundations see the potential of new investment forms and of using the entrepreneurs’ toolbox.
  • Foundations – even mid-sized and smaller ones – are concerned with international issues.
  • Foundations recognize the importance of community-based engagement.

I think these trends are exciting! Let’s hope that these and all the other smaller foundations out there will influence the way overall philanthropy is conducted in the future.

Michael Alberg-Seberich is managing partner at Active Philanthropy

Tagged in: Awards Feri Foundation Award Social entrepreneurship Venture philanthropy Young philanthropists

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