After three years of collaborative work by a dedicated group of researchers, the EUFORI Study was presented in Brussels on December 14th. It was clear that the study gave an appetite for more, and resulted in the Philanthropy and Social Investments Fostering Research and Innovation conference on April 21-22 in Amsterdam. The April conference will be a kick-off for the creation of an expert group that will focus on developing (new) innovative financing forms.

Attendees were welcomed by EC RTD Director Innovation Union and European Research Area Peter Dröll, who noted that it is clear that the financial contribution of foundation to the research and innovation area is large, but relatively invisible. The EUFORI Study contributed to a large extent in making this contribution better visible. After these words of welcome, VU University and ERNOP President Professor Theo Schuyt gave an enthusiastic introduction about the subject of the day, philanthropic support for research and innovation. According to Theo, philanthropy is about private action for the public good. Philanthropy may come from companies, foundations, individuals or communities. Compared to government, there is a major distinction regarding legitimacy. Government strive to tackle societal problems and create opportunities with public funding. Foundation aim to achieve the same, but rely on private funding. Philanthropy can be regarded as one of the pillars of modern western democracies, where liberty is provided by market actors, equality ensured by government, and fraternity by the philanthropy sector. Preliminary results from the Giving in Europe feasibility study indicate that the philanthropy sector in Europe accounts for at least 90 billion euros per year.

A European policy context was given by Mr. Jean-David Malo, head of unit on SMEs, financial instruments and state aid. He congratulated the research team and underlined the ambition that the European Commission is determined to give this study a follow-up.

As member of the coordinating team at VU University Amsterdam, Barbara Gouwenberg presented the main results. Considering 5 billion as an absolute amount, we might conclude that foundations do play an important role in the R&I domain. However, compared to other actors, foundations play a modest role. Foundations regard themselves as complementary, which seems to be in accordance with the amount available for grants. Nevertheless, the untapped potential of foundation lay in their endowments. With 120 billion euros available for investments, new ways of investing these means could be considered as a next step to leverage foundations’ support for research and innovation.

Foundations as a way of funding research and innovation comes with some strings attached (see also Cathy Pharoah’s presentation at the ESRC Seminars in this Newsletter). For example, strong characteristics of foundations are that they might be considered as risk takers, funding sources for niches, strong in generating public attention and dissemination of scientific research, financially sustainable in their funding and flexible in their aims. On the other hand, some foundations might also be framed as financially weak, lack organizational capacity and a research identity.

Building on these results, the EUFORI Study team recommended to build on the strengths of a number of foundations, by forming collaborating infrastructures with their weaker siblings. In fact, collaboration is key in achieving many goals that are formulated by the foundations themselves, but will also increase the visibility of foundations in Europe and might contribute to a stronger actor in the policy domain of research and innovation.

Different case studies presented during two panel session further showed the advantage of learning from each other, both in sharing best and worst practices.