The PEXForum 2020, the first of its kind, organised by AEF and DAFNE, brought together various European stakeholders from all over the world. It provided a unique space to create a European philanthropy identity as a common ground and to jointly advance the philanthropy ecosystem in a changing world.
Closing the first day the participants had the chance to take part in an open session, which had the goal to dig deeper into questions that arose. The questions evolved around the Sustainable Development Goals, a joint initiative for climate action started by the Association of Charitable Foundations, data driven questions and many more. I also joined Hanna Stähle from DAFNE to discuss the future of philanthropy.
The starting point of our discussion was the German Next Philanthropy project that started last year, targeting younger stakeholders in the sector. We looked at the topic of the future of philanthropy not from a broad angle, but focused on the next generation of philanthropists. Looking at the crowd of people from all over Europe, who are working in philanthropy associations and foundations themselves, one thing becomes obvious very quickly: the group is not very diverse, when it comes to age. The young voices, of the next generation, are missing. The decision makers are at least 20 years older than the ‘young’ target group that they often refer to. Maybe this is due to the fact, that young activists are not part of the work force yet. It could also be the case, because the way philanthropy works now is not fast, innovative and responsive enough for young activists, who want to make system change happen. The existing organisations may be too ‘old-school’ for them. Maybe they do not even know about the philanthropy sector. A running gag of people working in the field is that nobody understands what they are really doing. Asking people what they think philanthropy is, leads to the funniest answers.
What do these findings mean for us working in the foundation sector? It is urgently important to make young voices heard and not only discuss about them without involving them. We need to teach philanthropy literacy in order to find ways to work together on the most pressing issues of our time, such as the climate crisis or the growing gap between the rich and the poor. We need to find a new way to explain philanthropy, we need to change the story we tell. Moreover, we need to find a way to keep that dialogue going, constantly involving the young voices, the grassroots movements, the regional problem solvers. We need to get out of our silo thinking and start collaborating. We need to do this now. Pressing issues do not leave us any more time to wait. It is time to act. Together. Existing philanthropy organisations, foundations and other forms of civil engagement, such as grassroots movements and social businesses.
I am leaving the forum with many new ideas. When thinking about the future of philanthropy I am thinking about initiating a stakeholder dialogue, inviting young stakeholders, who are tackling societal issues and start a regular conversation with them on how to change the system and on how to do this together. We need to start a relationship on eye-level and start to try to really understand each other. ‘Doing good is not good enough’, was one of the quotes from the group that we took away as a finding. We have to find better and more collaborative ways of doing good, We need to get out of our individual ecosystems and really start involving others, listening to others and working together. That is the only way to stay relevant as a sector and the only way to give system change a chance.
Ruth Williams, MSc is Secretary General Austrian Foundations Association