An interview with Axelle Davezac, Chief Executive Officer
In 2020, the pandemic disrupted our lives and in 2021, its impact continued to be felt. Given the context, what are your thoughts on the past year?
It’s important to highlight that our society weathered this unprecedented crisis thanks, in no small part, to French people’s civic engagement. This was true of nonprofits, volunteers on the ground, foundations and donors, whose loyalty was remarkable. In 2021, donations increased even more! And as we speak, the mobilization for Ukraine once again shows us the power of our donors’ willingness to take action. French people don’t want to watch helplessly as crises and tensions create divisions in the world. They want to act for the common good and contribute to building our society. Civil society is motivated to engage, complementing the work of government agencies. This momentum motivates individuals, and also companies, which are increasingly ready to engage in philanthropy.
2021 was also a year for rethinking the Fondation de France model. What does this model aim to achieve?
Like any other organization, Fondation de France has to regularly take action and also acknowledge the need to adapt to change, fine-tune its objectives and re-define its priorities. The pandemic accelerated the process, homing in on one key question: how can our society be more resilient in the face of crisis? Our model has now been structured around four major themes: inspire, support and take action – locally.
Does “inspire” refer to Fondation de France’s place in the French philanthropy sector?
Yes, but there’s more to it than that. This is a vision that lies at the heart of Fondation de France’s mission, but its scope is even broader. Its overarching aim is to develop philanthropy, to encourage everyone to act, to make their contribution, to engage in a collective project bigger than them. As the leading philanthropy network in France, the part played by Fondation de France is a major one, as we hold special responsibility in this sector. Inspiring philanthropy also means promoting the uniqueness and value of its contribution to addressing our society’s challenges, by showcasing some of its flagship projects. Another of our tasks is to build a solid corpus of knowledge on the sector, largely thanks to the Philanthropy Observatory surveys. Lastly, we develop collaborative projects, by helping French and international stakeholders to come together.
You’ve pointed out the sustained and powerful nature of donors’, founders’ and corporate sponsors’ engagement. How do you meet their expectations?
Our mission consists in supporting all forms of engagement and all forms of generosity. More than 900 donor-advised funds and 400,000 donors place their trust in us and we owe them transparency, proactiveness and efficiency. It’s up to us to devise and offer the most effective assistance we can, by addressing individual expectations. It’s also up to us to get all these stakeholders to come together to exchange views, share good practices and organize discussions and meetings. In 2021, the success of the workshops we held on various causes is evidence of the need for such meetings and joint projects – bringing together donor-advised funds, experts and nonprofit stakeholders. Fondation de France is a home for philanthropy and its windows are open to the world.... Its reach extends to the French regions and but also to other countries in particular in Europe, as there is so much that we can learn from other countries and so much we can achieve with them.
In 2021, close to 11,000 projects were supported by Fondation de France, through its programs and donoradvised funds. A powerful force! How should it be deployed, now and in the future?
The needs are huge and philanthropy can’t address them all, but Fondation de France needs to work out where its impact is greatest, new solutions are being tested and value is being added. The goal here is: “taking action – locally.” 2021 focused on reworking the strategy of our charitable programs, which prioritize our work. We have identified two interconnected issues. The first is the increase in community breakdown, which translates into social isolation and higher levels of vulnerability including “dropping out” in certain social groups. It saps social interactions, threatening the very possibility of a more dispassionate and constructive public debate. The second issue is related to the rapid changes in our environment. How can we develop lifestyles that prevent – and where possible, reduce – the impact of climate change? How can we structure an entirely digital society without ignoring those most at risk, while also ensuring that it is inclusive and embraces solidarity? On these two action themes, philanthropy can and must mobilize not just resources but also the wonderful abundance of energy and collective creativity that our country has shown it can deploy.
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