Part I – Generating hope beyond the spotlight: The impact of the COVID-19 lock-down on Italian civil society and the response of the philanthropic sector

Part I – Generating hope beyond the spotlight: The impact of the COVID-19 lock-down on Italian civil society and the response of the philanthropic sector
avril 23, 2020 Hannah Stevens

In this interview, Debora Guidetti, Ariadne’s European Programme Manager, speaks with fellow Italian Carola Carazzone, Secretary General of Assifero and Ariadne Advisory Board Member, about how Italian civil society and philanthropy is responding to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Italy, my country of origin, has been under the spotlight as one of the countries first hit, and hit hardest, by COVID-19. Consequently, it was the first European country to implement a strict lockdown, and its philanthropic sector was the quickest to respond to the crisis. As Italy appears to have reached the plateau of the pandemic, I spoke with Carola Carazzone, Secretary General of Assifero and Member of Ariadne’s Advisory Board, about how the Italian philanthropic sector has responded to the pandemic.

Carola, how did you first respond, and what’s new about the approach of Italy’s philanthropic sector?

The pandemic hit Lombardy, and Italy’s other Northern regions, abruptly and brutally. For eight-to-ten days, people with COVID-19 continued to visit regular medical centres, and it took almost two weeks for the authorities to understand the magnitude of the pandemic, and to move from partial lockdowns in Lombardy to a country-wide lockdown on 11th March.

Inequality in Italy is huge and, although the weak public health systems of the South have so far been protected by the containment measures, the most vulnerable in the Southern regions are already experiencing the consequences of the lockdown. The response of private philanthropy has been immediate, and striking, but unfortunately it has mostly focused on health, emergency hospitals and civil protection (e.g. 21m for the development of a new camp hospital in Milano Fiera), and it has mostly addressed the Northernmost, wealthiest, regions.

Community foundations all over Italy have been amazing; demonstrating their ability to be nimble, effective, creative and close to people in their response, and capitalizing on their material and immaterial assets, social trust and local capacities. At the European level, community foundations have been doing an incredible job of tackling this crisis (see ECFI website for more information and updates).

As a philanthropy support organisation, we at Assifero wanted to step up and provide thoughtful leadership from the very beginning of the crisis. Following our call to action on 13th March for foundations to move from project to core funding, many organisations signed statements and adjusted their strategies in Italy and beyond.

On 18th March we launched, in collaboration with Italia Non-Profit, “Coronavirus: filantropia a sistema.” This online portal has a dual purpose. Firstly, it maps the initiatives of foundations, companies, and individuals (for donations over €100,000) and makes them publicly available to raise awareness and spark collaboration. Secondly, it aims to investigate the short- and medium- term needs of third sector organisations, through a survey which has already been completed by more than 700 non-profits. Through this, we hope to support a more informed dialogue between non-profits and funders.

I am also very proud to say that our new portal has served as an inspiration for other networks, such as Ukrainian Philanthropy Forum who have completed a mapping exercise and Centre Français des Fonds et Fondations who launched their portal by matching funding needs with funding opportunities (Actions Fondations Covid19). 

What are you learning about this situation that could be of interest to Ariadne members or to other countries?

For sure, the importance of networks and philanthropy support organisations in times of crisis. I am particularly proud of DAFNE (Donors and Foundations Networks in Europe), creator of PEX.  This community of practice, launched at the end of January 2020, engages national, regional, and thematic philanthropy support organisations in Europe, including Ariadne. It is a safe space for sharing information, forging collaboration, accelerating the learning process, scaling innovative solutions, and capacity building. Boosting the collective voice and impact in times of emergency is more important than ever. I hope that more funders will invest in networks and philanthropy support organisations.

The complexity and speed of the ‘glocal’ challenges we are facing make it clear that no one, not even the biggest foundation, can deal with them alone. To rise together, we need to work together, engage all relevant actors, share information, and work in partnership. In this framework, national and regional networks play a vital and strategic role.

What is left to do now and for the future? 

What we are also witnessing is how this crisis is making foundations more inclined to rethink the way they operate, becoming more aware of the huge impact of how they fund. And it is our duty, as philanthropy support organisations, now more than ever, to express thoughtful leadership. I am proud that the joint statement issued by DAFNE and EFC – in which we encourage European funders to use their flexibility and freedom to rethink the way they support third sector organisations, shifting towards core support – has been signed by 173 foundations and philanthropic institutions, 40 of which are Italian.

The current challenge is not to focus solely on, and direct all resources to, the immediate healthcare crisis. The effect of the pandemic on social, economic and cultural life are inconceivable. We need a long-term vision that encompasses true empowerment and support of third sector organisations. This crisis can indeed be regenerative, in particular in the relationship between funders and grantees. Only with strong, resilient and creative third sector organisations will we be able to rebuild the social fabric of our countries and our planet.

Thank you, Carola! I’m from the North-East, the Veneto region, and Carola is based in the North West of Italy, both of which have been getting most of the attention due to the higher death toll. But I would also like to hear the perspective of the South and you will be able to read more about this and the effects of the lockdown on disenfranchised populations and Italian civil society, in our next interview.

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