Europe is one of the most generous continents in the world and home to the largest number of public-benefit foundations, the majority of these were established in the last three decades – a result of Europe’s growing stability, prosperity and solidarity.
The philanthropic sector continues to demonstrate dynamic growth today, and the sector’s economic contribution remains significant: there are more than 147,000 philanthropic organisations in Europe with an accumulated annual giving of nearly €60 billion.
But it isn’t just about money. From Covid-19 to climate to social justice, the philanthropic sector is working tirelessly through myriad programmes and initiatives to help get us out of the mire of crises we currently find ourselves in, and which are testing everyone’s resolve. These crises will not allow us the luxury of facing them one at a time, in fact quite the contrary – not only are they inextricably linked, they are clearly symbiotic, with each significantly intensifying the impact of the other.
And yet despite this maelstrom of difficulties, in the past couple of years we have seen inspiring examples of philanthropic ingenuity and solidarity, from vaccine funding and research to supporting the most at-risk populations, all the while striving to meet the Sustainable Development Goals deadline of 2030.
Philanthropic organisations have found common cause in helping to nurture the health of both the planet and of the people living on it. Despite one of its advantages being an ability to think and act longer term, philanthropy isn’t about maintaining the status quo… it’s about making the most of its ability to leverage reach, ideas, independence and resources to effect positive social change.
At this critically important juncture comes Philea – Philanthropy Europe Association, launched on 7 December as the way forward for a convergence of the Donors and Foundations Networks in Europe (Dafne) and the European Foundation Centre (EFC). Once it is established, its membership will comprise 250 of the largest foundations & 30 National Associations representing some 10,000 foundations. It will soon embody one of the values it holds dear: coming together for the greater good to increase collective impact.
Philea has been conceived as a new, future-facing platform for philanthropy in Europe with a unified voice, governance and budget, inclusive of the entire spectrum of philanthropy, and fully representative for the sector. Its gaze will always be on its membership and the wider philanthropy ecosystem, but it will also scan other horizons for potential partners with whom to scale up the valuable work of the sector based around its core values of trust, collaboration, transparency, innovation, inclusion and diversity.
This is, without doubt, the time to do it.
By strengthening the infrastructure of the sector during a time of enormous change, Philea will guide and support European philanthropy to meet complex challenges in a meaningful and sustainable way and consequently improve the resilience of our communities. As it emerges, Philea will strive to open up a greater understanding of the role and value that philanthropy brings to society.
But is it only about philanthropy? No, it’s about more than that.
Philanthropy doesn’t have superpowers. Crises can’t be solved by beaming a silhouette of the Philea logo up into the cloudy night-time sky. And despite the variety of initiatives and innovations that philanthropic organisations carry out around Europe, the reality is that no one sector can hope to go this alone. The ambitious reforms embodied in the European Green Deal, the new push for democracy, ensuring gender equality, creating an economy that works for all, digital transformation… these can only become reality if all sectors – government, business, research, media and civil society – are pulling together as part of a holistic approach. When something is described as being a ‘global’ crisis, it’s because its nature has the capacity to impact everyone, so everyone needs to be part of the solution.
Just as Philea will look to build partnerships with other stakeholders, so too will it continue to promote the advantages of working with and learning from peers around Europe. Philea’s members work increasingly across borders, and in collaboration with partners from all over Europe, despite the legal barriers they often encounter. Cross-border solidarity has never been as urgent in Europe as it is now. Philanthropy’s ability to help tackle the climate crisis, poverty, conflict and migration, to advance digital transformation and support medical research and public health, necessitates being able to work without friction across country borders.
The time has come for Europe to make a concerted effort to mobilise financial, human and non-financial resources to implement this agenda and recognise that philanthropy is an important vehicle to partner with. People donate money because they care; they establish foundations and invest their legacies because they want to help their communities thrive, and they volunteer because they want to help those in need. In the age of disinformation and mutual distrust, it is important to facilitate these kinds of horizontal connections and increase citizens’ engagement and giving in Europe.
Philanthropic values are European values. There is clearly common ground and common agenda. Philea has been formulated to catalyse the European philanthropy space, improve understanding of its role and the value that it brings to society, and mobilise its collective resources and skills for a more just, sustainable, democratic and inclusive Europe.
Let’s do this together.