Well, seven stars in Rome, I’m told … Going to a philanthropy conference tends to feel like being in a five-star bubble hovering way above people’s everyday lives discussing important issues of poverty and exclusion. In the case of the EFC, conferences have been held in a wide range of beautiful and historic cities – Rome, Lisbon, Madrid, Stockholm, Istanbul, to name just a few.
Belfast is historic too, but its immediate history is what is most present and it’s not obviously beautiful, especially not in the persistent rain that we experienced last week. It’s traditional to show a film in an opening plenary but the one shown this year was not typical: it didn’t show beautiful buildings, stunning tourist attractions and world-class restaurants but 35 years of communal conflict and violence. In Belfast the conference felt grounded – we were in a city with a turbulent recent history, which has found its way into a new era of peace, a transition in which a select group of foundations have played their part.