Philanthropy and Sustainable Development

"The strength of philanthropy is its ability to be ubiquitous and versatile."

Interview with Anne-Cathrine Frogg Spadola, Marc Salzmann and Laurent Douek from Swiss Philanthropy on the foundation's work and its engagement for a committed philanthropy among private and institutional donors, with a purpose of public utility. On the occasion of their workshop "Philanthropy and Sustainable Development" with students of the Joint Masters in Global Economic Governance & Public Affairs and EU Trade & Climate Diplomacy on 27 and 28 June 2022 in Nice.


Anne-Cathrine Frogg Spadola
Board Member at Swiss Philanthropy Foundation

Laurent Douek
Board Member at Swiss Philanthropy Foundation

Marc Salzmann
Project Administrator at Swiss Philanthropy Foundation

Ms Frogg Spadola, what’s the role of philanthropy in sustainable development and in which way is the Swiss Philanthropy Foundation engaged in this field? 
The role of philanthropy in sustainable development is quite natural and an integral part of what philanthropy seeks to achieve, positive impact. Philanthropy’s particularity is that it acts across a most diverse universe and is the result of goal-driven initiatives developed by individuals, companies, or organisations, mostly responding to a desire to promote a better world and enhancing the lives of its stakeholders. Sustainable development is an integrated element of this ecosystem.

With increasing awareness over the past decades that the world could no longer continue with its pace of growth without catastrophic collateral damage, sustainable development initiatives slowly introduced themselves into everyday language and into serious political and economic initiatives. Philanthropy’s inherent role in achieving sustainable development positioned itself as an important player in the discussion. Well-known philanthropists and foundations have contributed to making the role more public and more transparent. Emerging from a history of discreet and little talked-about actions, philanthropy has been able to open up, become less opaque, and show the way in which it can contribute to impactful initiatives, often hand in hand with government initiatives. For larger companies, it has also become a pressure point to be more aware, often resulting in the creation of highly operational and effective corporate foundations contributing to a global conversation around sustainability. The strength of philanthropy is its ability to be ubiquitous and versatile. It is not constrained in the way a government may be by its politics and electorate, and although not perfect, has a key role to play in advancing the most diverse set of causes with a nimbleness not always achievable by governments.

Swiss Philanthropy Foundation currently operates more than 50 hosted funds while providing advice and support to the donors. Although the Foundation cannot decide on the activities that a donor will engage in, the foundation provides framework and guidance in terms of structure, the choice of the cause they will support and how the capital should be invested to ultimately promote sustainability. The Foundation is strongly committed to ensure that, whichever activities the donors choose to engage in, there will be a positive impact on the sustainable development of the world. In addition, the foundation holds itself to the highest standards of governance by integrating and contributing to the UN Sustainable Development Goals.

Mr Salzmann, the Foundation had contributed significantly to the efforts of the WHO since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic. Can you tell us a bit more about this? Which current topics are you working on?  
To face the COVID-19 pandemic, the World Health Organization (WHO) launched the COVID-19 Solidarity Response Fund on 13 March 2020, co-hosted by the United Nations Foundation and Swiss Philanthropy Foundation. This was the only way for individuals, corporations and foundations around the world to directly support the work of WHO and partners to help countries prevent, detect, and respond to the COVID-19 pandemic, especially where needs are greatest.

Our mission has been to collect donations in Switzerland and Europe, which are then used by the WHO and its partners to assist countries according to the WHO COVID-19 Strategic Preparedness and Response Plan (SPRP), outlining the global public health strategies to combat the COVID-19 pandemic. The association of our European partners of the Transnational Giving Europe network and KBF Canada also helped to collect donations from European and Canadian donors.

676’626 donors (individuals, corporations, foundations) have participated in the global effort raising over $256 million. In Europe, $32 million have been collected through Swiss Philanthropy Foundation.
Since 13 March 2021, the newly created WHO Foundation officially takes over the activities of the COVID-19 Solidarity Response Fund and becomes the main agent in collaboration with the United Nations Foundation and a global network of partners. Swiss Philanthropy Foundation remains one of the global partners. 

Swiss Philanthropy Foundation is honoured to have participated in this collective effort and is very grateful to the World Health Organization and the United Nations Foundation for their trust in this major and international collaboration.

Mr Douek, it’s already the fourth year where you teach CIFE’S Joint Master students. Which perspectives have been covered this time?
We have been teaching this master class on philanthropy, governance, and mission related investment since 2019 to a continuously growing audience of international students, starting from 9, 19, 27 to 58 students this year – the last edition included two Master Programs. The teaching objectives were defined as follows: 1/ Recognize the rising importance of philanthropy in today’s world, 2/ Highlight the role of philanthropists and foundations in today societies, 3/ Share critical success factors of well-functioning governance in foundations, and 4/ Present challenges for foundations to align the investment of their endowment with their mission. The last edition also focused on new trends and innovations in modern philanthropy.

The master class included presentations, polls and case studies as in the previous years. In 2022, we invited additional speakers to share their personal experience and views on different aspects of philanthropy we covered during class. In addition to the teachers, Anne-Cathrine Frogg Spadola and Laurent Douek, Marc Salzmann shared his work experience as a project administrator at Swiss Philanthropy Foundation. He highlighted his interactions with private and institutional donors, counterparties and service providers he works with on a daily basis, NGOs and beneficiaries especially around collaborative funds and advocacy related projects. Furthermore, Miren A. Bengoa, leading Swiss Solidarity Foundation (Chaîne du Bonheur) and former Executive Director at Fondation Chanel, was invited to share her view on public sector owned vs corporate foundations, emergency aid in Ukraine and neighboring countries, gender equality as well as new ways of giving. The 2022 master class was enriched by the intervention of these additional actors of the philanthropy eco-system, their passion and personal experience they shared with the students with authenticity.

And a more personal question: What feedback do you receive from the students, in which way do you personally gain from this dialogue?  
Feedback from students is overall positive towards our master class. CIFE ran a survey in 2021 which resulted in 93% positive opinions on the following aspects of the class: knowledge acquired, teaching methodology, workload and assignment method – the 2022 survey’s results are still pending. 
This master class gave us the opportunity to sense the students’ perception towards philanthropy. I also see a large interest of students towards sustainable development within governments, international organisations and private sector. Furthermore, the students ranked education, environment, basic needs and civil rights & advocacy as the causes they would give the most to, and arts, culture and religion & faith related causes ranking last. Finally, a final survey showed us that 79% of students would be interested in working in a foundation, a non-profit organization or a social enterprise.

And do you see a difference between them and the previous generations? In which way do you think will they tackle the challenges of the future? 
I am convinced that this generation has a different view towards philanthropy and how the world and the future can be changed, than my generation at their age. We were very conscious about poverty, famine, economical and societal challenges in developing countries, about global ecological disasters, desertification, discrimination, etc. 25 years ago. However, I don’t believe we were neither engaged enough or as aware of the impact we could have as the new generation today. The latter is aware and informed real time about anything impacting our planet and society thanks to technology and social media. They see the urgency and don’t accept the status quo any longer. They know they have the power to mobilize and change opinions and regulations impacting our planet, our society, and its human beings; they want to induce systemic changes. They understand that philanthropy is no longer a matter for wealthy individuals only, every citizen is concerned, can act and can impact the world, not only with money but also time, talent and network. The next generation is the agents of change. 



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