In a moment of emergency, foundations need to define their roles


Giorgio Righetti


If I have to imagine Institutional Philanthropy in the future, I would imagine it extinguished.

It is a provocation but, at the same time, a vision that can help to chart a course.

If I had to imagine an ideal society I would think of a whole community of citizens taking care of their needs and desires.

A society where deciding the interventions in favour of the many is not left to a few good people but where everyone takes care of the problems of their entire community.

The most precious good of this kind of society is the fact that citizens don’t wait for others to fix their problems but they activate themselves because they have internalized the idea of the common good.

If we agree on this vision and on the fact that the purpose of institutional philanthropy is to contribute to create a ‘better world’ here are some of the different actions to put into practice.

Participation and Pluralism vs Efficiency and Efficacy
Institutional philanthropy seems to be the victim of the chains that itself created. Efficiency and efficacy seem to be the only indicator that can measure the goodness of a project.

The impact evaluation mantra has brought measurement from being a tool to becoming the ultimate goal of philanthropy.

I believe that efficiency and efficacy should be substituted by pluralism and participation. If we want a better world, we need to involve citizens alone or associated to build it.

Institutional philanthropy must support its actions with pluralism and participation; the process is better than the content in this case.

Help to act vs Doing on our own
There is a lot of debating on how philanthropic entities have to do their job. In the vision described above, the goal should be to help to act and to enhance the citizens’ capability to organise for the common good.

Collaboration vs Competition
A lot of actors take care of the common good, either public or private, and all of them, legitimately, propose their solutions and ideas. This identity approach, if not controlled, can help the spreading of market culture, creating competition on how to better ‘make good’. Instead of this logic, we propose collaboration, in which everyone gives what he has and together with others explores new shared paths of personal and individual development.

Philanthropy actors know very well how to create partnerships and collaborations and can play a fundamental role in promoting and spreading them.

Accompany vs Evaluating
If the goal is to grow the ability of organisation of the community, the evaluative approach should be substituted or at least flanked by an accompanying approach. We should not just select projects properly, control their execution and evaluate the results, but to make a path together with the recipients of the resources allowing them to grow their competences in activating the community.

We need to get off our high horse and make a path together with the people we say we want to help.

Immaterial resources vs Financial resources
Resources should not be only financial but also immaterial. Foundations should offer training, experiences, relationship, human capital. These are just the main resources to make available together with financial support that must not be exclusive and central.

To Prevent vs to Cure
Finally, philanthropy subjects intervene to repair the damages that our society creates. We assume that the conditions of our society are not modifiable and we just intervene to alleviate the pain of the last that our same society creates. Well, if we want to be a bit more ambitious, philanthropic entities should carry out their role in advocacy to limit as much as possible the production of ‘last’ and fight inequality. First of all, we need to believe in it and then to act.

This last part is now clearer than ever. We know for sure that this crisis is striking people in a very different way, highlighting how deep are inequalities within our society. This emergency is going to end but if we don’t work to eradicate inequalities in our society the next crisis is going to hit us harder. Local communities in Italy are proving to be ready to help each other in this moment and that is something that needs to be encouraged in the future as well.

I want to reassure everyone: it will take many years to realize what I have written in the opening of this article.

But if we don’t try to define the role of philanthropic entities, to understand their unexpressed potential and to imagine a better world, their effort, even if praiseworthy, will be the same of Red Cross nurses in a world full of wars.

Giorgio Righetti is General Director of ACRI, the Italian association of Foundations of banking origin

Tagged in: Covid-19 Funding practice

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