Despite the fact that Monday was a national holiday in the states, a number of American guests/participants are beginning to arrive in Brussels for the EFC’s Annual Conference. As I’ve shared with Gerry Salole, the Executive Director of the EFC, this is a conference I can always attend and network – as opposed to our own when schedule demands leave almost no time for conversation. I probably am able to visit with even more Council on Foundation members here than I am at our own – simply due to available time.
More than one American colleague asked me what I hoped to gain from traveling to Brussels. And that answer is really quite simple. My hope is that many of the speakers might be willing to move beyond the planned agenda and topics for their presentations to address the current European economic/debt crisis and its impact on philanthropy. While the subprime mortgage crisis, which began in the U.S. might have contributed to a global recession it is now clear the rest of the world’s market is dependent upon the European response to the current challenge.
When we gathered in Denver just a month ago, we did so with a sense of optimism that the economic recession was over. Since then, there has been no good news. The S&P 500 has dropped 10.5% from its late April highs. During May the Dow Jones dropped just under 8% — the largest decline since February of 2009. I used our conference as the time to declare that the economic recession impacting philanthropy was over. While I still believe that in the longer term that is the most likely scenario, the past month has given all of us time to pause.
The European debt crisis offers the same challenges to European philanthropy that we face globally. First, of course, is the markets and their impact upon our available resources for addressing the challenges of current day. Second, however, European philanthropy is likely to face many of the same challenges we have faced in America. With governments reducing their safety nets, the question of philanthropy’s role increases. If indeed, governments in various European countries make the difficult decisions in response to their nation’s fiscal imbalance, the question then before us is how will European philanthropy respond? Will this change the focus and mission of Europe’s philanthropy?
Whether it be the speeches and conversations in the formal sessions or the networking in the halls, another new chapter in philanthropy’s role in global society will define this conference. I, for one, am looking forward to hearing the answers.