Foundations and civil society: Time to assert yourself


Stefan Cibian


PEX Forum 2022 took place in Istanbul between August 24-26, 2022. The Forum brought together a good mix of philanthropy professionals from the field, offering the occasion to re-connect after two on-line editions. A much-needed experience, which enabled multiple discussions and exchanges. For me, the highlight of the Forum has been a collective realisation that more needs to be done by the field to address current and emerging global challenges, including the war in Ukraine. What is left for the next edition which is going to take place in Rome in 2024 is a stronger focus on more concrete collaborative initiatives.

Most readers would agree that the global environment is posing increasing challenges in relation to security, climate change, technology, and populism. We experience new types of wars, dramatic changes in climate, new tech threats, and political polarisation, and renewed authoritarianism. While foundations and civil society are active in addressing these challenges, can they do more?

In my view, not only that they can, but they should do more. The Forum reflected several directions in which foundations and civil society could contribute more than they do now.

In what regards climate change, foundations and civil society are closest to society. In order to address climate change we need everyone on board. From achieving a more responsible behaviour among individuals to transforming economies into conservation and circular ones, foundations and civil society organisations are essential actors that can significantly enhance piloting of new approaches and promotion of successful ones.

The war in Ukraine and asymmetric threats which increased globally in the past decade, indicate that communities are more at risk of conflict, while others are increasingly affected by violent conflict already. While civil society is not recognised as a security actor, the transformations brought by technology in the context of the war in Ukraine highlight a re-shaped position of community actors in times of conflict. This raises the question of what civil society and philanthropic actors can do to also avoid, transcend, or reduce violence. While for many in philanthropy and civil society security is a new topic, we urgently need a stronger partnership between actors in these two sectors if we are to have safer communities in the future.

At the same time, we have silently assisted in the past years at diminished levels of official cultural diplomacy, indicating a narrower interest of diplomatic actors in people-to-people relations. Given the reduced levels of cultural diplomacy between western countries and Eastern Europe, it comes with no surprise that populist and authoritarian perspectives are capturing citizens’ minds and hearts. In this direction, philanthropic organisations, and civil society in general, not only that they can do more, but they have both a responsibility and an existential interest in doing more. Increasingly authoritarian regimes will not only centralise economic power but will also use their political power to reduce individual rights, including the right to assembly, which is at the basis of the existence of both philanthropic and civil society organisations.

Last, but not least, philanthropic organisations and civil society find themselves in communities which in times of profound transformation need guidance and support to navigate and cope with emerging new realities, both positive and negative. The willingness to assist and focus on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) reflect that this role is increasingly accepted by different types of philanthropic organisations – from community foundations to large international foundations, or corporate foundations. This trend is to be enhanced and strengthened if we are to increase the resilience and sustainability of local communities in front of some of the challenges listed above and others that are yet to come.

Stefan Cibian, Ph.D.
Center on Global Affairs and Postdevelopment at the Făgăraș Research Institute and The Association for the Practice of Transformation

Tagged in: PEXForum 2022

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