The urgency of the opportunities


Maria Palomares Arenas


The Wien Conference has been my third EFC Conference, after Warsaw and Paris. Everything has changed in these years. I have changed, after 10 years working in Calala Women’s Fund, I’m starting to feel more comfortable in places like this. The EFC has changed, it is about to disappear to merge with Dafne into a new entity. The world has changed. This is the first conference of the philanthropic sector after the pandemic. Has it influenced the way we meet, network, and party together? I don’t know for sure. I felt the conference was almost like previous ones, and my first impression of the programme was that it was optimistic, compared with the situation we are living in. We are still talking about opportunities when crises we are facing are bigger than ever.

This year, I had a clear goal for the conference. As one of the coordinators of On the Right Track, a cross-regional initiative of European and Latin American Women’s Funds to strengthen feminist and LGTBI+ movements to face the uprise of anti-gender and far-rights groups, I was interested in the Democracy track of the Programme. Since we consider that those actors are not only attacking the advances on gender laws, but democracy itself and Human Rights values.

That goal made me miss some feminist allies that participated in different panels. There are always a few of us at the EFC Conference. For example, Marion Schaefer, from Fondation Chanel, who participated in the session on Empowering groups and people. Or Zohra Moosa, from Mama Cash, who spoke about participatory grantmaking in the session Legitimacy and the need for new behaviours.

What I found on the democracy panels was that we didn’t discuss the threats democracies are facing nowadays or democratic values themselves. We found ourselves, or maybe, lost ourselves, talking about the tools we need to improve democracies in this century: independent journalism, big data, and new technologies. As Lakshmi Sundaram, the facilitator of the panels, stated at the closing conference, we were afraid to talk about politics? What are we doing talking about democracy without politics?

I redeemed myself attending the side event on anti-gender rights organisations, where we were actually talking about democracy, with one of the stunning panellists that participated, Faika El-Nagashi, a lesbian feminist from the Green Party, member of the National Council of Austria, in the government with the conservative Christian-democratic and liberal-conservative party. She was explaining about contradictions of being part of that government, and what they can and cannot achieve in there.

Happily, the closing plenary, where the four women who have facilitated the four tracks of the conference programme, compensated my frustration. They were giving voice to the contradictions over the three days. Lucy Bernholz, coordinator of the philanthropy panels, opened the session saying that we don’t have to avoid the incommodity and feeling of estrangement we have when meeting people after months of restrictions and screams. Lakshmi Sundaram almost begged for some sense of urgency to face the multiple crises we are living in. Elizabeth McKeon, from IKEA foundation, gave voice to the rumours about luxury and food waste that surrounded this kind of events. And Claire Boulanger, from Fondation de France, reminded us that even though we all know how to drive impactful support (core support, long accompaniment, linking to movements) we are not doing so as much as we could. The four of them argued that we need to create safe spaces for political discussions. And philanthropy is a privileged actor to settle those spaces.

Finally, the next Conference was announced – it will be in Barcelona, the city I live. The main issue is health. It is the right issue we must talk about it, in this time of the pandemic. Health means care to feminists. Next year, it is urgent we talk about the weakness of our bodies and our planet. It is urgent we reconsider that we need to put in place a system that takes care of everybody. And how urgent is that philanthropy fund this new world.

María Palomares Arenas Cabral, Calala Women’s Fund.

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