A Blueprint for Europe?!

Earlier this year, GrantCraft formed a partnership with leading philanthropy scholar-blogger-tweeter Lucy Bernholz to make Blueprint 2013, her annual industry forecast, available as a free benefit for registered GrantCraft users. Rosien Herweijer, GrantCraft Director at the European Foundation Centre, recently interviewed Luc Tayart de Borms for his take on Blueprint themes in a European context.

Luc Tayart de Borms serves as Managing Director of the King Baudouin Foundation in Belgium and as a member of the Governing Council and the Management Committee of the European Foundation Centre.

When asked about a Blueprint for Europe, Luc Tayart de Borms’ first reaction was, “that’s complicated!”

In the past, Tayart has mapped the different European philanthropy traditions. He finds Europe has a diverse and quite different “philanthropy eco-system” compared with the United States. He also feels very strongly that European foundations should not see US philanthropy as a benchmark or model that they should aspire to emulate. “That said, it is obviously interesting to see what is going on in the US, and I like Blueprint 2013 for its bold insights,” he added.

So what developments does he see in Europe? “Compared to Lucy’s definition, in Europe you would have to exclude political giving from your concept of the social economy. Considering the limited role private financial resources play in elections in most parts of Europe it does not really make sense to include this kind of giving when you assess what is going on in the social economy, ” argues Tayart. “Our political systems, cultures, and realities are different.”

But aside from the political giving aspect, most of the other components of the social economy as described in Blueprint 2013 are present in Europe and the developments that Lucy flags resonate, according to Tayart: “Using endowments for your mission, social investments, and, more generally, the use by foundations of a broader variety of financial tools; all of that is certainly happening. We also see more and more co-creation of ventures by different actors and the emergence of all kinds of hybrid organisations, which you can expect to become increasingly important over the next few years. We work with a lot of NGOs in Belgium, often we help them overhaul their business models. Compared to traditions of the past, there are no givens any longer in how they generate revenues or with whom they partner and currently many successful ventures involve very diverse actors; this trend will certainly go stronger.”

In his view foundations have an important role in fostering such hybrids and he cites the example of how the King Baudouin Foundation brokered between a national supermarket chain and a Belgian NGO working in international development. Regarding what he calls the bubble around social investing Tayart is more cautious: “Do not expect too much in terms of the volume or financial return on investment anytime soon.”

Has the economic crisis fundamentally changed the practices of foundations in Europe, and what trends does he predict for the coming years? Tayart observes two contradicting trends in response to the crisis: some foundations and philanthropists are becoming more inward looking, focusing on their immediate, geographic environment and addressing needs of those who are close by. At the same time, other foundations are reaching out, and collaborating and investing across borders. Which of these trends dominate the philanthropy landscape in Europe? “Hard to say, I see both. But retracting to your own territory and trying to solve the global crisis locally is no solution in the end,” he reflects.

A key message of Blueprint 2013is that foundations will go big on data. In a previous article in Alliance magazine on “what can data do for philanthropy", Tayart warned that there is danger of overpromising. “With King Baudouin Foundation we have invested in data, we brought GuideStar to Belgium for example. However, in our sector, generating quantitative, comparable data is complicated and expensive. So we may not see a massive investment in data collection in Europe just yet.” Also he feels that maybe more important than investing in numbers, foundations can easily be more proactive in listening closely to those who are stakeholders in issues they aspire to address.

But aren’t data also about transparency and needed for advocacy? “Just providing loads of information and data will not be enough for foundations in Europe to deal with the issues of legitimacy that they face,” argues Tayart. “The efforts of responsible foundations to be more open and transparent are important but I think that over the next few years scandals will hit the reputation of foundations in Europe harder and harder. This economic crisis hits poor people in Europe hard and our politicians want to show that it does not spare the rich.” He adds: “Taking on foundations and taxation incentives for philanthropy is an ideal way for politicians to show they are doing something, but in fact it is counterproductive.”

Tayart’s final observation is about developments in the legal context for foundations in Europe, in particular the European Foundation Statute: “We are fighting for it, but it is impossible to call. I can predict one thing however: we will either have European Foundation Statute in 2014 or we will NOT have one for the next ten years.”  

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