The term “existential crisis” usually refers to the wide variety of feelings and questions we have related to the meaning and purpose of our lives. But another reading of the same characters – to me at least – hints at a crisis which threatens our entire existence. While not wanting to sound alarmist, this latter interpretation may be what needs to be applied to the polycrises faced by the world today.
Two years ago, as the first cases of what would become a Covid-19 pandemic were being registered here in Europe, there were 10 years left to achieve the SDGs. Early reports soon after the crisis broke evidenced that the pandemic risked erasing a decade of development, increasing inequalities within and among countries. Mid last year, the UN IPCC furthermore issued a stark warning that limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius or even 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels “will be beyond reach” in the next two decades without immediate, rapid and large-scale efforts.
Now, in 2022, we need to accelerate the transition from creative thinking to creative doing. Philanthropic organisations across Europe have responded to this urgency and are implementing new approaches and strategies to face the situation at hand. As leading infrastructure organisations, EFC and Dafne too were keen to seize the momentum to create Philea, and this year we move from convergence to fully-fledged entity, born into a world rife with crises and inequities that will require it to mature quickly and help catalyse the immense potential for philanthropy in Europe.
Too often, excellent work is being done in isolation. There is no shortage of inspiration, or even concrete solutions, but complex, interconnected crises require smart, interconnected solutions. This is apparent not only within our sector, but within the entire ecosystem on the planet. If we are going to move things forward effectively – and within the required timeframe – we need to better connect the dots. That’s why bridge building and providing space for intersectional conversations will be a key part of what Philea does. It has been specifically built to combine and leverage decades of knowledge and experience from both Dafne and the EFC. In doing so, we will extol philanthropy’s reliability and openness to collaboration and the role it can play in a coordinated, cross-sector response to the challenges we all face.
Philea will bring together 250 philanthropic organisations and 30 national associations which together represent more than 10,000 public-benefit foundations that seek to improve life for people and communities in Europe and around the world. Each and every one of them is truly sui generis, whether it is in terms of how they are structured, which causes they support, which populations they help or how far afield they work. What they all have in common is their desire to improve life for people and their communities. Our goal, via six clusters, is to unleash the potential of this multi-layered European philanthropy tapestry.
Conscious of the bespoke programme areas European philanthropy is involved in supporting, from education to environment, from culture to community development, it’s clear that such a diverse sector needs a strong, representative and reliable infrastructure to support it. At this critical juncture, as we lurch from one crisis to another, we need to ensure that European philanthropy is the best it can possibly be, and that means collaborating more. It means finding synergies. It means inspiring innovation. It means striving to advocate equitable policies that affect positive change in a sustainable manner. And we can’t afford to wait any longer, not when faced with global challenges such as the climate crisis, the fallout of which we see clear evidence each and every day.
Based on Philea members’ voices heard during the process of convergence between EFC and Dafne, three cross-cutting themes were identified – climate, democracy and equality – and these will provide three lenses which we will apply to the conversations and initiatives we have planned. One of the ways in which we will implement this will be by continuing to support the Philanthropy Coalition for Climate: to create a powerful movement for change to mobilise philanthropy across Europe and beyond to address the climate crisis and social inequalities. All sectors are having to recalibrate their activities to see how to best play their role, and of course philanthropy is no exception. We are in a unique period and position to take incisive action towards reversing crises such as climate change, but we need to speed up our work.
The Covid-19 pandemic resulted in an unprecedented response from philanthropy, a spirit of solidarity where desperate times called for innovative measures and a sense of pulling together to improve things no matter how dire the circumstances. It was a wakeup call and a catalyst for us – and the philanthropic sector – to think and work more collaboratively and creatively. No more lip-service. It’s time for that momentum and spirit to be applied to the SDGs… not soon, not in a few years, but right now, before it’s too late.
I opened with dual interpretations of existential crises as both questioning the meaning and purpose of life and extinction level threats. Perhaps the two are not mutually exclusive. Perhaps we, as philanthropy, need to sincerely question the purpose of our own work and whether we are really doing everything we can to truly push back against the great challenges of our time.
There is no time like the present.