We still have a long way to walk


Fiona Montagud O'Curry


Nearly 10 years have passed since my first European Foundation Centre conference in Sarajevo. I remember entering a very homogenous space where women, the LGBTQ+ community, young and racialised people, were an absolute minority.

At last week’s Philea’s conference in Šibenik, Croatia, I found myself in a slightly different space, a bit more diverse, where important discussions on issues around intersectionality, women’s rights or the need to incorporate changes in traditional grantmaking are starting to take place. But we still have a long way to walk.

It seems climate change is now a priority for many funders in the room. But climate change does not occur in a vacuum. It is the consequence of a system that puts economic growth for just a few in the centre. A colonial system that is built over the backs of racialised people. A patriarchal system that is only possible with the unpaid (or very badly paid) domestic and care work of millions of women.

We cannot address climate change if we do not dismantle the system that is causing it. In the open plenary, when participants were asked, one of the issues that were of their interest was decoloniality. But are foundations prepared to do the work? I have not seen many discussions on what would it mean to incorporate a decolonial perspective in European philanthropy.

These discussions would force us to make ourselves some questions around the composition of our foundations from an antiracist perspective. Also around the connections of slavery with the creation of wealth that is behind many philanthropic actors. There are many conversations that we still have to have with our coworkers, with our boards and with our pairs in Philea, and we need to have them now.

These discussions would also remind us that, for social change to happen, we need to support the social movements that can fuel this change. We need to move to a different kind of philanthropy, one that is trust based, gives long term flexible funding, that breaks silos and is also directed to people with lived experience.

We cannot be afraid about funding something that is ‘too political’, as I have heard in several conversations, while most of the US funding from foundations to support anti gender organisations are going to Europe, as we learned in the session about democracy and equality organised by Philea’s Gender Equality Network. We cannot forget about how these anti gender organisations are closely linked to far-right movements and political parties that are trying to undermine democracy in our countries.

But there are three good news.

The first one is that, as we learned in the open plenary seeing the answers of the attendees to some questions, funders are, at least in theory, interested in bringing intersectional and decolonial perspectives to philanthropy and their top priority is moving towards more flexible funding.

The second one, that there were people in the room that were bringing and deepening these debates, such as, but not only, Nani Jansen, Sophie Ngo-Diep or Rob Berkeley. We want more speakers like them.

The last one, that there are funders that are already trying to do things differently, and that are open to share their practices. To start finding inspiration I strongly recommend reading about the  European women’s funds grantmaking model.

Fiona Montagud O’Curry, Director of Programmes, Calala Women’s Fund

Tagged in: Philea Forum 2023

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