22 October 2021
Interview with Rosa Gallego: “Foundations are responsible citizens of this world”
In this interview, Rosa Gallego (Spanish Association of Foundations)
discusses the role of philanthropy in tackling climate change, philanthropy ecosystem developments, community philanthropy movement and her personal story.
“I think the indicators are so clear now that people cannot look anywhere else to avoid the problem. If we do not address the climate emergency now, where we will be in 10 years? Foundations are citizens of this world, and we are responsible for the impact we have on the environment by looking at what we are doing and what we can do to contribute in a positive way to tackle climate change.” In this interview, Rosa shares her thoughts on the role of philanthropy in addressing the climate crisis, the developments within the philanthropy ecosystem in Europe and Spain, her commitment towards the community philanthropy movement in Spain, the differences between US and European philanthropy, her passions and personal journey.
By Dr. Hanna Stähle, Michelle Rossi and Karalyn Gardner
What is your personal life story, what values have shaped you as an individual?
I come from a very small family. It’s a family of very hard-working and honest people with great respect for others. This deeply impacted who I am. My parents have always encouraged me to study and to get a university degree to improve my opportunities, I am the first person in my family to have one.
One of the biggest opportunities I had was receiving an Erasmus scholarship to study in the Netherlands. Besides Portugal, this was the first foreign country I visited at the age of 22. This experience enhanced my curiosity and fascination for international work and the possibilities we are given by collaborating at a larger scale and learning from others.
Any particular inspiring moment that you would like to share? Have you met someone who made a difference?
I am always very impressed by humble people that take others very seriously and listen to them even if they are extraordinarily wise. One of the persons I admire is Rien van Gendt.
When I started working at the AEF, during my first EFC conference, I listened to him talking about the governance of foundations, and I was quite impressed by his knowledge. He is not only highly intelligent, wise and has great expertise, but he is also very curious and keen to share his knowledge with humbleness and when he commits to do something he never fails to do so.
You have been working for over 20 years with the Association of Spanish Foundations (AEF). How has the sector evolved in these years; what trends have emerged?
“As a membership association, you can move the sector along by advancing certain topics.”
The sector has changed enormously, so it has society in Spain, and we have been the direct witnesses of this at AEF through our near 850 members. I see three key trends and developments emerge:
- The first one is how foundations have professionalised their activities and management. Running a foundation implies two distinct aspects: you need to know the theme you are working on, but you also need a very strong organisational management able to comply with several legal obligations and administrative requirements. We have seen a huge improvement in that.
- The second aspect is that foundations have become aware of how important is to communicate their work to the public. I will bring you the example of how the AEF has encouraged its members to put their annual accounts on their websites to bring transparency and support the reputation and trust of the sector. This demonstrates that, as a membership association, you can move the sector along by advancing certain topics.
- The third element is cooperation. The meaning of cooperation has changed within the sector: it started as cooperation among foundations, but, in the last years, it has shifted towards more enhanced cooperation with other sectors. In more concrete terms, especially when it comes to cooperating with the private sector, foundations several years ago would essentially look for economic resources to support their programmes, while now, they look for partnerships in which each institution, foundation, and company, agree on the best way each of them can contribute to a project that will benefit society.
It is important to relate this development with the changes in our societies, with citizens increased concerns on new topics and with increased interest in collaboration.
If you look now at the European level, what trends and developments have you seen within the philanthropy ecosystem?
“We have become much broader in the scope of what we do at the legislative level: we are not only concerned about those regulations affecting foundations because they are foundations, but we have moved one step higher to have a voice in those spheres of society where foundations can act, such as education, environment, culture, gender equity, racial justice, etc. Foundations are finding their place in these domains, engaging with other stakeholders outside of the sector and becoming more sophisticated in the topics they deal with.”
It is similar to what we have observed in Spain. When I look at what we as support organisations were concerned with some 15 years ago, and what key issues are now, it mirrors the shift in focus at the foundation level. At the time, most of us, support organisations, were what can be defined as “transactional organisations”, to which members paid a fee to get a service, as everyone faced similar challenges and needed to learn about basic administrative things such as: how to prepare an annual report, file taxes, etc. This had to do with, among other things, the need to comply with the growing legal and fiscal regulation requirements towards philanthropy.
Now the role of philanthropy infrastructure organisations has changed a lot, and this is also because foundations have changed too. We have become much broader in the scope of what we do at the legislative level: we are not only concerned about those regulations affecting foundations because they are foundations, but we have moved one step higher to have a voice in those spheres of society where foundations can act, such as education, environment, culture, gender equity, racial justice, etc. Foundations are finding their place in these domains, engaging with other stakeholders outside of the sector and becoming more sophisticated in the topics they deal with.
PEX has been important in creating a platform for fostering connections and enabling philanthropy networks to bring new topics to the table and move forward as a sector.