The fairground arts of philanthropy


Silke Breimaier


As my train departs from Paris Gare de l’Est, I leave with a bag full of impressions and thoughts from what has been my first EFC AGA and Conference.

It has been fascinating to see the philanthropy sector coming together for three days to discuss a whole range of issues.

Talking to colleagues from all over the world during the at the Musée des Arts Fourains, this fantastic place displaying fairground arts, has left me with some reflections on philanthropy in general and European philanthropy in particular. While I watch the jugglers showing their skills and colleagues entering the historic carousels, it all becomes an epitome for what we are trying to do.

As philanthropic actors and organisations we are juggling several topics, questions and projects at a time, trying not to let slip any of the pressing causes we ought to address. However, it might happen that one “ball” drops, leaving a particular issue or project neglected, although it might have been the most relevant one in hindsight. This is why practicing and learning from each other are key competencies for our daily work: it is how we get better.

In the sight of the historic carousel, I wonder: are we, as a sector, going in circles, riding the same old horses? Philanthropy can be self-enforcing and perpetual in its structures and powers. The ongoing discussions, particularly in the US but increasingly also in Europe, on philanthropy’s role and legitimacy in society are a reflections of this and a critical self-assessment of our tools and actions are necessary conversations to be had.

Nevertheless, isn’t philanthropy more like this other game, we also enjoy this warm Paris evening, where putting balls in different holes let’s a figure leap forward: We take the balls, we are juggling with, to work with them as efficient as possible to find the sweet spot for progress and impact. This requires practice, patience and a steady hand. Something, philanthropy is able to invest in and provides a unique advantage compared to other sectors: the ability to react swiftly and flexible on changing environments where needed, but to also adopt a long-term perspective and strive for sustainable change.

In the end, philanthropy is about people coming together. Like these hundreds of colleagues from different countries and organisations, mingling around in the museum, each of them with a variety of topics and issues they are passionate about. This is what is at the heart of this sector: exchanging ideas and building relationships. These relationships are the fabric of our daily work and essential for successful philanthropic action.

Silke Breimaier is Senior Manager to the Board of Management at Robert Bosch Stiftung GmbH

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