Axelle Davezac is the Director General of Fondation de France.
1- Can you please tell us a bit about you and Fondation de France?
Fondation de France will celebrate its 50th anniversary next year. It was founded at the end of the 1960’s as a tool to develop private philanthropy in France and to respond to the most urgent needs of society in every field (education, health, culture, social services, sciences, environment, etc.). Fondation de France now hosts over 800 individual funds (donor-advised funds). Most of them are individual and family foundations and 100 were created by corporations. Thanks to these funds and 25 programs of our own, Fondation de France grants 175 million euros per year, mostly in France (80%). Our international programs are devoted to major global issues (the environment; HIV-AIDS; migration; prevention of radicalization) and international emergencies.
How did I join Fondation de France?… Well, after 15 years spent in various large industrial groups, I decided to use my experience to serve the philanthropy sector. I thus joined Fondation ARC for Cancer research, which I headed for more than 10 years. New challenges then called me at Fondation de France in 2016 and I happily accepted them!
2- The development of philanthropy appears as one of Fondation de France’s main pillars? Why and how are you putting it into practice?
It has become clear in most regions of the world that public authorities can no longer meet by themselves all the growing social needs of our societies, nor face the environmental and cultural challenges.
Philanthropy is recent in France, and we know that its development is not self-induced. To continue to grow, it needs favourable conditions: stable legal and tax frameworks, networks of actors that learn to work together, and common rules of governance and transparency.
Philanthropy is recent in France, and we know that its development is not self-induced. To continue to grow, it needs favourable conditions: stable legal and tax frameworks, networks of actors that learn to work together, and common rules of governance and transparency. , Fondation de France works in France and abroad to promote these aspects which are essential to build an efficient and strong philanthropic ecosystem.
3- How would you describe the philanthropy sector in France today, what are the main trends and challenges?
The philanthropy sector is developing fast, and getting more and more professional. Over half of the French foundations have been created since year 2000. Over three quarters of French foundations are grant-making foundations (as opposed to operating foundations). Corporate philanthropy developed earlier and is still growing and professionalizing, but today there is a majority of individual and family foundations.
French foundations mostly operate in three fields: social issues and education; health and medical research; arts and culture. As in many other developed countries, international development and environmental issues come far behind in the ranking, but tend to slowly grow.
Another emerging trend is the rise of community foundations. They certainly are a very useful tool to address local issues in a globalized context. The challenge however is to keep them at the community level, and to avoid them from being instrumentalized by local public authorities.
4- Is the ecosystem supporting philanthropy strong enough: research, advocacy, networking and coordination, research and academic centers, etc.?
Learning to work together and building a strong and independent research community are two important challenges for our sector.
Regarding the first point, international philanthropic consortia have managed to do great work on the issues of global migrations and climate change. Fondation de France is an active member of the European Program for integration and migration (EPIM) coordinated by NEF (Network of European Foundations).
As for research, we created our own research unit – the Observatory – 20 years ago, to produce and analyse the figures and trends of philanthropy in France. We conduct surveys and publish studies available for the whole sector, the media and the general public. We are also a founding partner of the first academic Chair in Philanthropy in France, at ESSEC Business School. Last, but not not least, we recently developed research partnerships with ERNOP (European Research Network on Philanthropy), and with a department of Harvard’s Kennedy School, for a project on global philanthropy. Philanthropy is still very recent in academia, and it is often not considered as a field of research per se, but rather as a discipline of business studies, or humanities. New academic centers devoted to philanthropy have nevertheless emerged in many European countries for the last couple of years, which proves to be an encouraging indication of vitality and maturity for the sector.
5- Fondation de France has had a key role in developing this ecosystem in France and in Europe, can you tell us how and what are your main achievements in this area?
In France, we worked together with other major players to create the collective organizations that promote with the legislator the role of foundations and their added value, and ensure a high level of trust and transparency among foundations, especially those raising funds.
In Europe, together with the European Foundation Center (EFC) and community foundations networks, we work to build more bridges between local, regional, national and European actors, so that everyone can be as efficient as possible, in a dense and vibrant European philanthropic fabric. We also initiated, with a group of national foundations, the Transnational Giving Europe network: this platform enables donors to make cross-border gifts and donations to organizations in 18 European countries, while receiving the same tax benefits that they would when giving in their own country. It is a milestone towards the Europe of philanthropy that we want to build.
6- You will speak at the international meeting for funders of philanthropy infrastructure organized by WINGS March 26-27 in Barcelona: what are you expecting from this gathering and how do you think more foundations can put philanthropy’s development on their strategic agenda?
I am very much looking forward to the Barcelona meeting. First, I am eager to share best practices with other foundations, and to learn from positive or promising experiences. Our common challenge is the following : how can we make philanthropy’s essential role in society better known and understood? How do we make our actions and impact more visible?
I also hope to share with foundations that have an ambitious and strategic vision to support the development of philanthropy in developing countries.
And even in our own countries, I think it is crucial that all stakeholders of the philanthropic sector come together and recognize the worth of collective effort and action, which gives momentum to individual work and increases our impact.