What’s next for PEX?


Filiz Bikmen


I like the ring of that, and for me, as a closer and one who appreciates discussions reach a conclusion, it summarises my sentiments perfectly. In meetings, there are openers and closers. Openers like to open discussion, promote inquiry and exploration. I truly appreciate openers and the safe and encouraging spaces that allow such discussion. (By the way, I recently read a great article on tips for doing this, a method called ‘question bursts see here). Closers on the other hand, lean toward achieving just that – closure. They like coming to conclusions, keen to get working on what is next.

So on that note, I made a list of topics discussed during PEX which inspired some conclusive reflections.

Conclusion 1: Convenings among peers are always a good thing – especially among philanthropy support professionals. Having assumed various roles in different philanthropy networks over the years (staff, member, board member) I know well the burden and loneliness it can bring. We work in small teams, and more often, in remote offices and locations. We have members, but, not unlike our mothers, they too often have little understanding of exactly what it is we do. Just as it is for members of our organisations, it is also important for us to also feel we belong and to share the journey with other like-minded and like hearted people. So in this case, more is certainly better.

Conclusion 2: We need to focus more on the value propositions of European philanthropy. There is a lot of buzz about European philanthropy being under attack, about having to define its values, about philanthropy’s image problem and so on. I’m not convinced of this, yet I assert philanthropy faces challenges in communicating its value proposition. This was discussed during Lisa Jordan’s session, at my table were citizens from the UK, Italy, Albania and Turkey. When discussing European values, we all looked at one another and wondered what exactly those values are anymore, and how difficult it is to ascribe to them as a whole given the vast diversity of perspectives (migration, Brexit and so on). We agreed that it may be more important to instead explore how can we talk about the value proposition of philanthropy without focusing on values per se.

Conclusion 3: We have to accept that the field of philanthropy support is like abstract art; everyone who looks at it sees something else. I had this thought in the museum la Caixa, during the tour and evening graciously hosted by la Caixa Foundation. At one point during group discussions, a PEX forum colleague admitted that she’d worked in many sectors before and by far, this was the most complicated. On one hand we have to be at peace with this abstract interpretation and complexity (quite expected given vast diversity of donors, interests, cultures and approaches to giving). Yet on the other, this brings me back to focusing on values vs. value propositions: please refer to Conclusion 2 and the need for coming together with peers, Conclusion 1.

Conclusion 4: We need more studies with data and analytics to make the case for philanthropy’s value proposition. The session organised by the Swiss Foundations Associations and PwC presented outcomes of ‘An empirical study of the economic costs and benefits of charitable grant-making foundations in Switzerland’. Well worth the investment of resources (I suspect was not small), they presented an analytical response to the philanthropy image problem – the assertion that philanthropy is a tax evasion mechanism, and if more taxes were paid, public goods would be better achieved. There are many more issues to debate and factors to consider (e.g. efficiency and effectiveness etc.) but this is a start and it would serve us well to have more such studies to bring some facts and figures to the debate.

Filiz Bikmen is founder/Advisor of Constellations for Change and founding director of Esas Social Investments (Esas Sosyal)

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