Community Philanthropy Bolsters Solidarity With Refugees And Asylum Seekers In Europe

Community philanthropy organisations and foundations that help refugees and asylum seekers met last week in Messina (Italy) to share their experience in response to the refugee crisis in Europe. The event was organised by the Global Fund for Community Foundations (GFCF), in partnership with Assifero and the Open Society Foundations. Infrastructure organisations are active agents in this conversation.

Twenty-two organisations met to exchange their experience on how community philanthropy can support refugees arriving in Europe. Participants also learned how the Fondazione di Comunità di Messina has supported local efforts to welcome over 15,000 asylum seekers to the city since 2010.

“This initiative aims to strengthen the network of community philanthropy organisations in Europe working on refugee issues, to foster mutual learning and to build a body of knowledge that can help inform the response,” said Jenny Hodgson of the Global Fund for Community Foundations. “We realize this is a complex and topical issue so we hope we can expand the network of community philanthropy actors willing to engage in building inclusive communities, by making refugees feel welcome in their new home.”

“We are proud to be part of this initiative, which brings together community philanthropy organisations and allows for open and informative, solution-oriented discussion in addressing one of the most pressing issues of the current times.” said Andreas Hieronymus from the Open Society Foundations. “We are strongly committed to promoting human rights, solidarity and inclusion in Europe, and elsewhere in the world.”

In January 2017, GFCF and the Open Society Foundations launched a grant programme to support local activities that promote inclusion and highlight value the newcomers bring to their new communities. The first grants were awarded in June to seven community philanthropy organisations in Europe.

Community philanthropy has significantly grown in Europe for the last ten years and plays a crucial role in sustaining community owned efforts in a wide array of cultural, economic and social spheres. Spread over 27 European countries, an estimated number of 670 community foundations are enabling local communities to tackle social challenges, to promote civic participation and to fight for social justice.

Assifero is the national membership association of Italian grant-making foundations and private institutional philanthropy. Founded in 2003, it currently supports more than 100 private foundations: family, corporate and community foundations. It aims to be a strategic partner of human and sustainable development to grow and sustain Italian philanthropy.

Fondazione di Comunità di Messina was launched in 2010 to promote human development in Messina, a city caught in the poverty threshold trap for years. Here the Foundation is experimenting with a new model of social policy structurally entwined with productive, civil economy clusters. The aim of the experimentation is to design socio-economic paradigms that can set individual rights of weaker people and the growth of their capabilities, as well as environmental sustainability, as external constraints to profit maximization.

Global Fund for Community Foundations is a grassroots grant-maker working to promote and support institutions of community philanthropy around the world. Through small grants, technical support and networking, it helps these local institutions to strengthen and grow so that they can fulfil their potential as vehicles for local development and as part of the infrastructure for sustainable development, poverty alleviation and citizen participation.

Open Society Foundations work to build vibrant and tolerant democracies whose governments are accountable to their citizens. Working with local communities in more than 100 countries, including in Europe, the Open Society Foundations support justice and human rights, freedom of expression, and access to public health and education.

“As a membership organisation for grant-making foundations and other forms of institutional philanthropy (including community foundations) operating in Italy, we know the power of working within local communities to foster people-led initiatives that reinforce trust,” said Carola Carazzone, Secretary General of Assifero. “There is no doubt that the influx of asylum seekers to our shores has created anxiety, yet if we work to empower community based initiatives, we can overcome mistrust and foster mutual understanding.”

While many communities have shown hospitality, and sought to help welcome refugees and asylum seekers, other have experienced the raise of social tension, resentment and xenophobia. Migration was seen to be a top priority in the 2016 Eurobarometer survey results, illustrating the need for strengthening efforts for local engagement and nurturing tolerance.

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