The power and potential of philanthropy


Liz Hayes


‘Liberte, Egalite, Philanthropie’ was the focus of this year’s EFC AGA, and while interesting discussions of freedom and solidarity flowed among the many philanthropic institutions gathered in Paris, it was the talk of equality that resonated most with me over the three days.

The main plenary on Egalite posed a call to action for foundations – to utilise their resource, their influence and their freedom of decision making to invest in systemic and structural change. The role of philanthropy should be to tackle the inequalities that current governments and markets are failing to address. While foundations cannot – and should not – try to replace the state, they have an obligation to support innovative solutions to challenges so they can prove their worth. As was pointed out during one of the Next Generation talks I attended, the money we as foundations have is in essence risk capital – we don’t expect to get it back, so we need to be bold with it. While that doesn’t mean the abandonment of good governance, there is an argument for us to take risks where the public sector cannot.

Through the work we support and partnerships we develop as a sector, we are able to see patterns of change emerging. We are able to help identify the barriers to equality that people face now and see what may be the next great struggle for civil society. This, along with our resources, gives us a power that we must own in order to fight for change. Dhananjayan Sriskandarajah, Oxfam GB’s Chief Executive, highlighted that this long-term view was a privilege of foundations. We are not curtailed by political pressures or market changes; we can invest in a vision for the future and, most importantly, see it through. This means not only repairing the problems of today but tackling the root causes of inequality to create a fairer and more just society.

We are in the midst of a climate emergency and, as Mary Robinson explained in one of the sessions, inequality is only going to become more stark over the next ten years unless we act now. One of the closing remarks was that structural change is the work of many hands, and it is the responsibility of the philanthropy sector to use its convening power to build bridges between the private sector and civil society to work together towards a common goal. Our sector has a unique voice and now is the time for us to use this in even more decisive ways.

Liz Hayes is Assistant Manager at Connect Fund, Barrow Cadbury Trust

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