First they came for the NGOs, and I did not speak out- because I was not part of an NGO.
Then they came for civil society, and I did not speak out- because I did not consider myself civil society.
Then they came for philanthropists…
This famous criticism of the fear to engage during a period of shrinking space for rights and civil society used by Mr. Niemöller after the 2nd World War came to my mind while I was listening to the panel ‘In search of liberté, egalité and fraternité for philanthropy and civil society in Europe’ in the EFC AGA in Paris. Gladly, most of foundations and philanthropists have been supporting NGOs, social movements and civil society in general over the last years in order to overcome the harassment and limitation of space to work on certain topics in Europe and around the globe. However, during the presentation in one way or another, the speakers and participants felt that more can be done from the philanthropic sector to better protect the work of foundations in order to preserve rights and freedoms among the rise of populism and extremism in Europe.
The challenges are multiple: overregularization of the sector or manipulation of the regulation, overzealousness of the states in controlling philanthropy but also the lack of knowledge among citizens regarding the importance of philanthropy as well as the difficulty to envision foundations and funders as part of civil society.
During the last years, funders are experiencing a backlash in their freedom to operate, to disburse funds, to freely choose the causes they want to support for fear of retaliation or political pressure to abandon certain topics or the support to certain groups. But there is hope, a full room with people from different countries and philanthropic institutions debated on the topic and several proposals to improve the situation were shared, greatly encouraged by the moderator Mr Ludwig Forrest. The Philanthropy Advocacy Initiative of DAFNE and EFC and the latest tool the Philanthropy Manifesto, can be of use to give one voice to funders in Europe, but they need to reach out and to bring emotion to people, to touch their hearts and to reinvigorate citizenship as very inspiringly Michael Mapstone said.
Philanthropy is under threat, but it also has strategies, tools, contacts, means, coordination, expertise and resources, key networks as the EFC, to work together with other entities of civil society, grantees, social movements, trade unions, etc. to speak out and fight extremism.
Nevertheless, more monitoring of the situation in European countries is needed to avoid restrictive legislation or attacks that could damage not only the image but also the work of philanthropists who, as someone in the room said, are the most generous people you can find: ‘they give without looking for anything in return and that is one of the most beautiful things someone can do’. So yes, we need to remind ourselves of Niemöller’s warning and we do need to engage to protect philanthropy.
Tatiana Villacieros, Associate Private Sector Partnership UN Refugees Agency