Over 160 participants logged in to unpack the values that unite European philanthropy, the future of philanthropy and explore collective action as we started a new decade in the midst of a global pandemic, a climate crisis and rising social inequality.
As plans for PEXforum 2021 in Istanbul were put on pause and after a year of wrestling screens of different sizes, Ariadne, Dafne and SenseTribe skilfully created an engaging virtual space for two days. Harvesting sessions to create tangible action were mixed with disruptive keynotes, and artistic summaries through music and poetry.
As we manage our own virtual spaces, the importance of connection was a fitting starting point as Heba Kandill of Thomson Reuters of Foundation, started the discussion on European philanthropy identity, by talking about the power of storytelling to bring about social justice. ‘To reach the public we rely on storytelling – to make the abstract concrete. To help reach the people we are helping.’ Heba continued by sharing her personal journey of being caught up in the facts and figures of interest rates and war statistics leading to frequent editorial retorts of ‘Why do I care?’ and ‘What’s the point?’. It framed the following discussion perfectly, after I thought about my own role in telling a multi-dimensional story at Alliance magazine. As a publication, we deal with figures – how much money, where it’s coming from and what is it funding – but over the last year, how have we ensured these stories connect.
Max Von Abendroth of Dafne, made a strong case for why: ‘With the pandemic the PEXcommunity gained a new momentum: the need to connect and compare notes with peers became fundamental. The need for philanthropy come out of its comfort zones and explore new scenarios.’ Julie Broome of Ariadne spoke of Covid-19 not being the leveller as perceived, and how it actually brought to the surface inequalities that already existed. We’re in the ‘same storm in different boats’ and it’s time to tell that story.
Specificity and strategy
It was fascinating to gauge the thoughts of such a diverse group at PEXforum 2021. Whilst dissecting how to enhance the public value of philanthropy, it emerged that there was a desire for specific guidelines on how to communicate the role of philanthropy, beyond the regional and national levels. The thinking behind this was that it would help create the snowball effect of support. There was also a noteworthy point about language, as one attendee questioned whether ‘collaboration’ should be used at all, and whether a term like ‘exchange’ would be more encouraging of specific outputs. However, there was also words of caution as one attendee noted that we need to be strategic to stop the snowball becoming an avalanche. Should any philanthropic vehicle go on forever? A strategic approach would ensure putting out fires now, doesn’t lead to other issues later down the line.
No ego, no boundaries
PEXforum 2021 also looked forward, to examine how philanthropy can help respond to future crises and provide equity and justice. Geoff Mulgan of University College London shared what philanthropy could be doing more of: Scanning ahead, sharing intelligence, sharing what’s working and what isn’t, and collaboration.
There were nods of agreement throughout in the gallery, but what made Geoff’s points more powerful were his observations about the missing ingredient in global philanthropy – infrastructure. Widening equality, social injustice and the climate crisis has united philanthropy with the freedom to act, to take risks and manoeuvre more effectively in this space. The whole is more than the sum of its parts, Geoff continued, and true collaboration will underpin moving towards a humbler type of philanthropy without brand egotism.
Fantastic keynote by @geoffmulgan, referring to the role of philanthropy infrastructure as the one of plumbers – it is not glamorous but this is what makes the home running. As @HannaStaehle suggested – we are visionary plumbers!
Share your key takeaways! #PEXforum2021
— Dafne (@DafneHQ) January 28, 2021
Walking the walk
As discussions moved on to how philanthropy needs to change to be more innovative, pockets of the PEX community spoke of the necessity to have honest conversations about our practice, our field and creating more space for this to happen. Outwardly, this was linked to transparency about our motivations across the board. Being honest about sources of money and our aims and interests. Inner reflections from the community discussed how we might need to stop nurturing the big philanthropy that we are aiming to change. If the public need to support and be exposed to more niche causes, then we need to take the lead. Philanthropy is an ivory tower and has to get back to the organisers on the ground. How can we create ‘sandboxes’ to scale up, and find a collective rationale with all aspects of society to create a sustainable and just society.
This was just a taste of the wider discussions at PEXforum 2021 as I bounced around breakout rooms, and I’m certain there were more ideas that were collectively harvested that will challenge and inspire our practice. One lasting reflection of mine is that many of the stories I heard and discussed aren’t linear. They involved sentiment, humanity, purpose and emphasis on both the individual and community. These complexities will challenge us, but it’s a challenge being embraced by the PEX community.
Zibran Choudhury is Communications, Partnerships & Membership Manager at Alliance magazine
Read more reflections from PEXforum 2021 here.