FOCUS: Philanthropy – A snap shot of how foundations across Europe create positive stories in people’s lives


Hanna Stähle


‘I don’t look like most Slovak women, but my otherness is not essential. What is important is what kind of human being I am,’ reads a story shown at the festival FJUZN in Bratislava organised by the Milan Simecka Foundation in September 2019. Although not considered as diverse, Slovakia is home to people with many nationalities and citizenships. A recent poll has shown that Slovak society expresses lack of trust towards and negative perceptions of foreigners living in Slovakia. Stories like this seek to fight stereotypes and prejudices, to unite people instead of deepening existing divides.

Not only migrants face challenges of being accepted and integrated in European societies. There are thousands of homeless people across Europe, and the numbers are growing. What does it mean to live on the street? To have no place in society? To have no voice? There are over 15,000 homeless people in Austria, more than 10,000 of them live in Vienna. But there is always a way back, for everyone. The Austrian NGO Supertramps, established in 2015 and supported by the charitable foundation Katharina Turnauer Privatstiftung, is working with (formerly) homeless people who share their stories – with dignity and self-determination. They guide tourists and guests through their home city of Vienna. Personal testimonials, surprising facts and a dash of humour are the ingredients of these extraordinary tours, providing a new perspective on the city and the life itself.

‘I feel appreciated by giving guided tours, I feel that there is something I can do, that I am a person, and that people accept me for who I am’, says one of the tour guides supported by Supertramps who found dignity and his way back to society.

These are just two of the stories made possible by more than 147,000 foundations in Europe. Foundations and donors work with local communities to rebuild trust, empower those who are marginalised and have no voice, provide access to art by maintaining museums and exhibitions, support young people irrespective of their background and their parents’ income, engage in challenges that are neither trendy nor popular.

Philanthropy is about empowering people. It transforms private wealth, time and talent to the public good. In Europe, foundations contribute €60 billion annually in civil society, health, education, environment, arts and culture, and much more. Every programme, each grant, from large to small, international to local, tells its own story of impact on people’s lives. Philanthropy needs to tell its stories of success, emphasised former French President François Hollande at the event attended by over 900 guests and organised by the French Foundation Centre on the eve of 1 October 2019, the European Day of Foundations and Donors celebrated across Europe.

And yet philanthropy’s role and contribution to society is often unknown. The photo project FOCUS: Philanthropy sheds light on foundations’ everyday work and how they empower those most vulnerable and marginalised, provide space for innovation, convene relevant stakeholders, and support those in need.

FOCUS: Philanthropy, originally launched by the Russian Donors Forum in 2012, exposes the hidden heroes behind philanthropy – their stories remain largely unknown to the public. ‘It emerged as a small initiative for the big annual conference of the Russian Donors Forum. We wanted not only to talk about philanthropy, but also to show it,’ says Alexandra Boldyreva, Executive Director of the Russian Donors Forum. ‘The project expanded very quickly and attracted much public attention, occupying the streets and public squares of Moscow and other Russian cities’.

Building on this success at the national level, DAFNE, Donors and Foundations Networks in Europe, has expanded the initiative to the European level – to raise public awareness about philanthropy’s contribution to society and to demonstrate its diversity.

On 1 October, the European Day of Foundations and Donors, we are celebrating this diversity and philanthropy’s impact on people’s lives and the world we live in. On that day, MEPs and key stakeholders will gather at the European Parliament to debate how to release philanthropy’s untapped potential. The debate, entitled ‘Single Market for Philanthropy ‒ Helping unlock the potential for public good across Europe’ and hosted by European Parliament Vice-President Nicola Beer, will bring into focus issues which affect the operating environment for philanthropy, helping pave the way for many more stories yet to be told. Let’s be bold about the future of Europe!

Hanna Stähle holds a PhD in Slavic Cultural Studies (summa cum laude) from the University of Passau. She is Aide to the General Secretary of the Association of German Foundations and Project and Communications Manager at DAFNE.

Scroll through the photos from the FOCUS: Philanthropy project below

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