Comparing Conferences: Brazil, US and Europe

Fernando Rossetti

Fernando Rossetti

Having the privilege to attend three of the main foundation association conferences in two months – GIFE-Brazil, CoF-US, EFC-Europe – it is inevitable to identify similarities and differences between these gatherings.

Brazil is – obviously – livelier, noisier, colorful. The information andknowledge it has is very well packaged. From the programme to the name tag, in the whole environment there is a visible investment in design and communication. It also tends to be the most informal.

The US event is more focused, content driven, and conveys very quickly someof the best information.  It has the most elaborate business plan: you can pay for full attendance or simply join a dinner, being possible to customize participation at different prices.

Europe is about tradition and innovation. Centuries old foundations engage in dialogue in some of the most creative formats. It is the meeting that conveys best a feeling of diversity, due to the many nationalities that compose the conference.

This year in the US and in Europe there was a clear emphasis on the dialogue with the state and government representatives. In Brazil many participants criticized the lack of government presence. None of the three conferences had a clear promotion of NGO involvement.

The presence of businesses and corporations were notable in the US and Brazil. In Europe, one can scarcely see any business participation.

The age of the public varies a lot. The Brazilian audience is the youngest. The US has a good mix. The average age at the EFC meeting is probably the highest – although in this conference the participation of young people appears to be growing.

Both in the US and in Europe there seems to be an ongoing generational change in philanthropy leadership. In Brazil the whole philanthropic sector is in its early teens.

The meals are very revealing of each culture – especially what goes on during the meal. The European lunch is the longest: up to two and a half
hours. Brazil reserves two hours for eating.

In the US, during the one and a half lunch plenary sessions, and in early breakfasts, you are supposed to consume food and information at the same time.

Only in Europe is wine served at all times. In the US, when there is wine, you might be asked to pay.

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Confessions from a Eurosceptic

Filiz Bikmen Bugay

Filiz Bikmen Bugay

There is a website in Turkey called itiraf.com. Itiraf in Turkish means ‘confession’. And I have a confession to make (though this is likely to be way less colorful than the majority of entries on that website… enough said!).

When I first saw that the theme for EFC 2010 was “A Conversation with the Institutions” I was disappointed and thought it had no relevance to our work in Turkey which is not (yet?) a member state. And Brussels? I’ve been to this city several times, always running in and out. It’s never had any appeal for me. So there I was- destined for an unsexy conference in an unsexy city! But I was wrong- very very wrong! And I thank EFC for proving me so.

I have no idea about the stories of other delegates who applied the conference theme- literally- to their work this week.  But in a surprising manner, I was among those that did. And it wrecked all of my pre-judgments about how inapplicable this would be for our work in Turkey. How so? There were three A-HA moments below which summarize what I consider to be a major success story for EFC 2010 and for Turkish foundations.

The first was dinner with TUSIAD (Turkish Industrialists and Business Association, the main EU advocacy organization representing Turkey in Brussels) on 31 May. Dr. Bahadir Kaleagasi (Permanent Representative ) and his team graciously hosted the Turkish delegation at their lovely office. We were briefed on the latest developments in the EU and EU-Turkey relations. The highlight of the night was the moment that Turkish foundations realized that EU-Turkey relations was not only a job for others (e.g. private, public, academic sectors) but also something our foundations needed to take part in. It was great to see the revelation that we do have a role starting to creep in to minds around the table.

The second moment was the following day at the panel on Turkish Foundations (1 June) in which I was a speaker along with other foundation colleagues- 3 from Turkey,  and 1 each from North Cyprus and Germany. There was great audience engagement and discussions which included those about Turkey looking East or West- or both. One of the comments was from  Anna Maria Corazza Bildt (MEP, EPP Group, Sweden) . I was quite honestly shocked and pleased to see her come on her own time at her own will without any invitation from us. It was encouraging and sent yet another message to us foundations that our work ‘on the ground’ was important input to the accession discussions and process. We really did start to get the feeling that EFC 2010 would be an important turning point for us.

The third and final moment was on Wednesday, 2 June, when we had a series of meetings with high level officials at the European Council (Head of Unit for Turkey) and following that the European Commission (Member of Cabinet and International Relations Officer for Turkey) and the Turkish Ambassador. One specific outcome of the meetings was the idea to prepare a ‘foundation report’ of activities and share it with the unit that prepares Turkey’s annual report card (technically known as Turkey’s Progress Report) published every October. It’s actually a very useful tool for moving change albeit in a very carrot and stick kind of way. But our input will balance the report by including examples of the positive social change foundations are helping to create in Turkey and the Turkish government’s support (and when needed, by sharing the bad news and lack of support as well!).  This series of meetings was the perfect crescendo, as our group shared with a great sense that our horizons were expanding to include Europe and European relations.

So indeed, I confess: I arrived feeling very apathetic about ‘conversations with the institutions’ and about the cold and dreary Brussels weather. But much like the turn in weather and face of the sun, I am leaving Brussels tomorrow with not only a heightened level of awareness and optimism about the value we as foundations can add to this process, but also a stack of cards and great interest from individuals that drive this process from Brussels. And to add to that stack, today we lunched with the Head of Unit for Integration of people with Disabilities and others from the Commission which was organized by the EFC’s Disability Rights Consortium of Foundations (led by ONCE, of which Sabanci Foundation is a member).

Tomorrow, I suspect, will be the icing on the cake: My fourth and final engagement as a speaker this week is on a panel regarding Foundations Advocacy work with the EU. I was asked to speak on behalf of the EFC’s Disability Rights Foundation Consortium (referred to by Miguel Cabra de Luna as a ‘second generation EFC interest group’ which is now, in its Consortium form, a first of its kind and pilot for the EFC), and share this work as an example and case for how and why foundations should – and can- do more advocacy work. I hope some of you will read this post in time to come to the session where we’ll be talking about how foundations can and do influence policy through action and not (only) through creating new policy…. and much much more. And if not, maybe (just maybe) I’ll write about it when I’m back in front of my computer next week…

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Gloria, Universal Education Foundation, discussing the short film ‘The secret pain’ Dir. Mette Knudsen at the EFC’s Cinema Corner at Foundation Week

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The Juicy stuff @ the Foundation Week

Bhekinkosi Moyo

Bhekinkosi Moyo

Are you bored, lonely, tired or miserable on the fourth day of the conference? This is a page for you. Its contents are as close to truth as the hand and a glove-yet so distant from lies as the north and south poles. Like you, after almost a week in Brussels and my three blogs I began feeling bored and lonely. I have been routinised: go to a session, write a blog, eat and sleep.

Bang, party time!

Yes, some party went down after the reception last night-just a few metres from the reception venue.

The dance floor!

I had hoped to tell you what went down there. I wanted to break from the norm and tell you who has the moves and who is damn boring among foundation executives. It is not be-because as you might imagine, I am equally implicated in what I was about disclose. In addition, I forgot my mental notes perhaps due to a ‘tipsy condition’ I shall hold responsible for this loss. However I can assure you that if it was by me, day four and five of the conference should have more of last night and very less of this serious stuff.

If this helps, let me share some of the quotable statements that I picked up in between sessions. Please treat these as ‘dangerous humour’. Imagine the following dialogues:

The first is a meeting between an experienced foundation executive and a university professor. ‘I will be going for a sabbatical’, says the foundation executive. ‘Will you be studying”? asks the professor.

The second is a story of an African woman activist. After giving a brilliant presentation to a European audience, a white gentleman says to her; ‘You damn good; I am going to hire you’.

The third is a story of a leading foundation executive who studying many years ago in Britain, made a strong academic presentation that provoked an American professor to remark; ‘You made such a good presentation. You are very good. You must come to my university and I will sell you’.

The last one for today was made at a session I attended on emergency responses. A discussion on Haiti revolved around who responded when, how and a lot of mention of scientologists and the US military in also responding to the disaster. ‘What the hell were they doing there’? asked some presenters. But more telling though was an intervention by a Haitian in the room who said; ‘I had an aunt trapped under the rubble and frankly I don’t care whether she was pulled out by a professional, a scientologist or some crazy guy, all she wanted was to be saved, and I was not there’. That my friends is a call for humility in the work we do!!!

Oops, just when I thought I was done, some chap has just made an astounding quote, ‘this business of removing people from the rubble is the biggest scandal in the world’. And the response from a fellow panellist, ‘we are the suckers, for many this is a racket’

Melek Muderrisgil, TIKAV, talks about the “open and interactive” session on the ‘European Year of Volunteering’

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From counting the trees to picturing the ecosystem: research about foundations in Europe

Marta Rey Garcia

Marta Rey Garcia

This morning Anthony Tomei chaired Wioletta Gradkowska from EU DG Research, John Healy from the Centre for Nonprofit Management Trinity College Dublin and myself, in what turned out to be a exciting debate with all participants in a crowded room about the state of, and future perspectives of, research about the foundation sector in Europe. We all basically agreed upon the idea that knowledge about the foundation sector in Europe is scarce, but very much needed. Anthony pointed out that reasons why include: the interest of foundations in evaluating their own practice, the interest of sector networks and platforms in presenting the sector’s impact to policy makers and potential partners, and the urgency of building critical thinking and reflection about the role of foundations in society from a European perspective.

Wioletta shared the perceived benefits of the FOREMAP project, including the identification of areas of improvement and effective action in the field of public-private research partnerships, and graphically concluded that “we understood where we misunderstood foundations”. John expanded on the difficulties of getting a pan-European view about philanthropy and proposed reinforcing the quality and international scope of some of the existing centers for research and teaching on philanthropy in Europe, rather than creating new ones.

The session provided me with the unique opportunity to share and test the research initiative that the Institute for Strategic Analysis of Foundations is undertaking about the Spanish foundation sector with smart colleagues and friends with an acute critical capacity. The research project of the INAEF, which is promoted by the Spanish Association of Foundations, focuses as much in generating knowledge about the sector as in communicating it to society. The first step is to generate a “map for the archipelago” (RESEARCH), that is to gather data about some 11.000 foundations (approx.) registered in the country and to use them to quantify the impact of the sector in terms of income, expenditures, business models, direct and indirect employment, volunteering, geographical distribution, profile of founders, beneficiaries, areas of activity etc. Our goal for the medium-term is to provide the sector with tools to build its capacity and evaluate its performance for continuous improvement (DEVELOPMENT). The long-term goal of the INAEF is to explain and grow the (perceived) value added by the sector to society (INNOVATION).

The debate that followed reminded us that a sustainable agenda for research about foundations in Europe requires not only the commitment of donors’ associations, supervisory entities, and statistical agencies, but also that of foundations with accountability and transparency. It also requires capturing the interest of mainstream academic researchers who are willing to apply their theoretical models to explaining the foundation sector. And it requires a focus on international comparability that starts with streamlining data gathering methodologies and exchanging best practices in philanthropic research, as we are already striving for from the European Research Network on Philanthropy.

My personal concluding remark would be that it also requires from all of us interested in researching the sector a new view of the forest of foundations: once we end up counting the trees, including the bonsais (so far we had no choice but to estimate the size of the forest from the couple sequoias existing), we should make an extra effort to understand the ecosystem where foundations enter in long-term relationships with the public and the business sectors, other nonprofit organizations, and civil society in general, and to understand how these relationships can ultimately generate social capital.

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Standing room only! High demand for session on disaster response

High demand for session on disaster response

Delegates keen to get involved in the ‘Beyond the Emergency: Lessons from disaster response’ session.

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