It is hard to believe that it is now 12 months since the pandemic began to rapidly accelerate across the world. So much has happened in that very short space of time and yet in many ways there is a sense of living in a state of continued suspension. What we can say for sure is that the not for profit sector has done a fantastic job in stepping in and stepping up to meet many of the needs that emerged, while remaining focused on ongoing needs.
Philanthropy played an effective role, activating initiatives, responding to calls for support, seeking opportunities to collaborate. Our own research, Mapping the Philanthropic Response to COVID 19, highlights some of the responses. But it also raised the question on whether and how the momentum of giving, particularly strategic giving, can be maintained. As a contributor to the research noted, in order to ‘build back better’, more medium to long-term approaches are needed to solve societal issues. Maybe the reimagining of philanthropy can unlock new beginnings.
What can philanthropy look like? It is in telling the story, taking the abstract to the concrete – that is how we can message on philanthropy. By articulating the stories behind the concept of philanthropy we can bring philanthropy to life, the facts and figures can emerge in support. That is not an unachievable challenge, our own members’ activity provides a rich field of resources to articulate the stories of impact and outcomes to both inspire and inform.
Addressing a recent Dafne event, Michael O’Flaherty, Director of the EU Agency for Fundamental Rights, spoke about the role of philanthropy in supporting social justice. Suggesting that quick project-based approaches to funding are not working, he commented that philanthropy is well placed for long term approaches. Suggesting that philanthropy can champion rights-based approaches, he pointed to the opportunity for philanthropy to demonstrate the added value of rights-based approaches.
The pandemic has touched us all, hitting the pause button, prompting reflection. But it has fallen far short of being the great equaliser predicted by some. Yes, we are all in the eye of the storm, ships on the sea battling through. But an apt analogy is one where some are sailing through the storm on yachts while others are hanging on to a piece of driftwood. Philanthropy can address inequalities amplified by the pandemic. More importantly it can hold a space for development of vision on what the future can look like and how collaboratively we might get there.
The field of philanthropy in Ireland is diverse. But this characteristic can add a real richness and value. Core to all is a sharing of common values, many of which are shared with fellow stakeholders, not least government. The challenge is in harnessing that sense of common purpose, sharing knowledge and intelligence, listening, supporting, co-operating. Much of which is referred to as the ‘plumbing’ in an excellent reflection by Geoff Mulgan, of University College London and author of ‘Social Innovation; how societies find the power to change’.
Irish philanthropy has proven to be collaborative – Katherine Howard Foundation collaborating with Community Foundation for Ireland on the Nurture Programme; Rethink Ireland and Genio collaborating with government – these are just some examples. But at a time of crisis more is needed.
We need to find ways to walk the talk on collaboration. Not just internally with philanthropy stakeholders but with many of our peers and colleagues across civil society and the public sector. Maybe that is the first challenge we can address as we begin to imagine a new era for philanthropy in Ireland.