Philea launches: good news for European philanthropy

 

Charles Keidan

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It took over ten years for a merger of the US Foundation Centre and Guidestar to create Candid. It’s taken the Donors and Foundation Network in Europe and the European Foundation Centre less than two to finally come together as one.

While that seems like an age for those of us inside the philanthropy sector – and probably longer for those inside the convergence process – today’s launch is a milestone for European philanthropy. Dafne and the EFC are now Philea, an acronym that stands for Philanthropy Europe Association. According to its first official statement, Philea will offer ‘one united voice’ for the European philanthropy sector.

The news has been both long trailed and widely welcomed in philanthropy circles. Most practitioners I speak to recognise a clear logic in bringing together representative networks of national foundations from across Europe with the pre-eminent umbrella body for institutional philanthropy in Europe. The long-awaited convergence brings undoubted opportunities to tap into a much wider pool of foundations beyond EFC’s approximately 230 members, deeper and better-coordinated access to national and European institutions, and the potential to connect with a new generation of philanthropy practitioners.

What does each side bring?

EFC brings the formidable weight of Europe’s largest foundations and funds, ranging from Bosch and Bertelsmann Stiftung in Germany, Calouste Gulbenkian in Portugal, La Caixa in Spain, Fondation de France, and the powerful foundations of banking origin which dominate Italian philanthropy. But it’s not just EFC’s members who make it so potent but also what it does. It manages working groups on a range of topics from disability to climate to the arts. It runs peer exchanges connecting European philanthropy practitioners to counterparts in China, Russia, and India. Perhaps most of all, it convenes Europe’s most important gathering of European foundations. The EFC’s Annual General Assembly is where Europe’s largest funders come together to network, debate, learn and let their hair down.

Philea will offer ‘one united voice’ for the European philanthropy sector.

Dafne also brings much to the table not least its access to national associations across Europe and indirectly its member foundations. While Dafne’s small staff team limited its ability to exploit the potential of the thousands of foundations nominally under its rubric, it still represented a point of access arguably lacking to the EFC. Second, the arrival of Dafne director Max Von Abendroth in 2017 brought the direct experience of working with European and national political institutions – a key plank of Dafne’s work in recent years. In a recent interview, the incoming Philea CEO, Delphine Moralis provided a glimpse of how policy work might develop with Dafne on board telling Alliance that Dafne’s policy reach is ‘one of the opportunities that comes with this convergence’ especially around European-focused policy-making in national capitals across Europe.

Dafne has also brought a sense of energy and innovation in recent years with its youthful staff and progressive disposition. Dafne has also played an important developmental role under the rubric of PEX harnessing a new community of philanthropy practitioners. PEX held a widely praised meeting in Madrid in early 2020 just before the pandemic. It has since sustained a virtual presence connecting practitioners across the continent. How the PEX group, and its offshoot Next Philanthropy, will look at the time of its meeting in Istanbul later next year will be an early test of the fusing of organisational cultures.

Long and winding road

The convergence of EFC and Dafne has seemed all but inevitable since an announcement in December 2020 – a question of when and not if. But that sense of inevitably should not mask the long and winding road.

In recent years, Dafne begun to assert itself. While Dafne had been incubated by the EFC, it successfully registered as an independent Belgian nonprofit in 2018 no longer under the fiduciary wing of EFC. So, while Dafne was located at Philanthropy House, the announcement of its independent status seemed like Dafne was flying the nest or at the very least a ruffling a few feathers.

Europe doesn’t have the equivalent of MacKenzie Scott – the philanthropist who has showered millions on US philanthropy infrastructure organisations

By this time, Dafne was organising sophisticated convenings with European institutions, showing how philanthropy and international bodies can and must join forces. The EFC were part of all or almost all these convenings as far as I’m aware, but the impetus and energy seemed squarely with Dafne especially since the EFC’s ultimately unsuccessful efforts to create a common European foundation statute.

Changes of leadership at the EFC appear to have diffused whatever tensions may have existed and the arrival of Delphine Moralis in mid-2020 – with a background working with member associations and a mandate to deliver the convergence – paved the way for EFC and Dafne to get back together.

Who gains?

Who gains from the union? The most senior roles have gone to the former EFC CEO and Chair with Delphine Moralis and Angel Font assuming these roles for Philea.

But Dafne own stature is reflected in a senior position for Dafne’s Max von Abendroth as chief strategy officer and Dafne’s Carola Carazonne becoming Philea’s Deputy chair.

Personalities should not be overlooked too. Carazzone and Font, her new boss, are recognised for their collegiate approach. The same is true for Moralis and Abendroth. Assuming they can make the relationship work, advocates will say that European philanthropy is the clear winner. That would seem like a fair conclusion given that there is now a new institution keeping intact and combining the expertise and talent of all sides.

Can it achieve its ambition?

So can Philea be the ‘one united voice for the sector’ it hopes? That remains a tall order given the divergence of interests, forms and focus of organisations across European philanthropy.

But there is no doubt that Philea can emerge as a strong voice for the sector especially if it shows a willingness to respond to the pressing needs and issues of our times. Younger philanthropy professionals, in particular, are calling for more leadership on climate change, greater diversity on foundation boards, a reckoning with wealth inequality and a host of other issues. Some of the challenging conversations at the EFC’s gathering in Vienna in October suggest that it might be willing to be a bit bolder – but only to a point. After all, it’s primarily a membership organisation not a campaigning one. Too many false steps and you can lose not just members but also funders.

Funding

In a context where philanthropy infrastructure organisations rarely get the funding they deserve, the stakes are high. Europe doesn’t have the equivalent of MacKenzie Scott – the philanthropist who has showered millions on US philanthropy infrastructure organisations. And I’m sure that the EFC leadership is keenly aware that the number of EFC staff went down in recent years prior to Moralis’s arrival.

But while we wait to see the full complement, number, and lineup of staff at Philea, there are good reasons to think the organisation will grow and flourish in the years ahead.

The organisation has a new name, leadership, and progressive direction. Some of Europe’s largest foundations are governing body members and stakeholders helping to clear the path to this brave new world for European philanthropy. The success of Philea is also a test of their own credibility – as well as the credibility of European philanthropy as a whole. It seems likely that with this convergence, Philea will have the backing it needs to be smart enough – and big enough – to help European philanthropy respond to pressing challenges in the years ahead.

Charles Keidan is Executive Editor at Alliance.

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