ACF 2007 Conference

Caroline Hartnell

The importance of civil society’s campaigning role, engaging with new philanthropists, mission-related investing and climate change were among the topics discussed at this year’s conference of the UK-based Association of Charitable Foundations, which took place in London in September, drawing some 270 participants.

In the opening plenary on the state of civil society in the UK, all three panellists saw a key role for foundations in creating space for civil society and funding alternative voices. People automatically look to the state for solutions, while civil society is increasingly dependent on government contracts. The ‘extraordinary importance’ of young people engaging in civil society was stressed.

In the second plenary, Matthew Bishop (The Economist) admitted that not that much is really new about the so-called new philanthropists. But one of the few new things is the scale of their ambitions: they’re used to achieving things on a global scale in their businesses, and that is being carried over into their philanthropy. However, they have little to do with more traditional foundations, said Bishop, who warned of the danger of a parallel sector emerging. Ways to get the two camps to communicate need to be found.

In a session on climate change, three generalist grantmakers talked about why they are starting to consider climate change in their grantmaking. Joseph Rowntree Charitable Foundation and Comic Relief, realizing how much climate change is going to affect the poor of the world, are seeing it as a social justice, not just an environmental, issue. City Bridges Trust, meanwhile, has already started to do specific climate change grantmaking, offering eco-audits to London CSOs.

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