Grantmakers East Forum
Creating equal opportunities: Overcoming divides
30 September – 2 October 2015
Generously hosted by Vehbi Koç Foundation, the 2015 Grantmakers East Forum, now in its 20th year, took place in Istanbul at the Research Centre for Anatolian Civilizations (RCAC). Representing the intersection between Asia and Europe, but also a great variety of cultures and challenges, Istanbul was an ideal venue to reflect the conference theme “Creating equal opportunities: Overcoming divides”.
Moderated by David Hulse, both the opening and closing plenaries, gave participants an insight of the different lenses of inequality.
The Opening Plenary introduced a worrying theme which would be repeated throughout the conference – social inequality. Kathleen Lynch, Professor at the University College Dublin, spoke about how global and national inequality are dysfunctional for humanity. Her contribution focused on the four dimensions of inequality: resources; respect and recognition; representation and power; and relational justice in love, care and solidarity. Filiz Bikmen, Social investment and philanthropy advisor based in Turkey, began by asking whether we are really productive enough as foundations and urged those present to focus more on systems integration. She suggested that systems integration is vital, even more important than grant making itself – and added that foundations have the agility to play a key role in ensuring this.
Thematic break-out sessions, spread over two days, focused on inequality through its various relationships with Youth employment; Social entrepreneurship; Gender-sensitive grant making; Freedom of expression; Social fabric in contested territories.
In addition, workshops on storytelling (getting practical with data) and impact strategy provided participants with inspiration and practical advice on how to best work on the issue of inequality.
The Closing Plenary tied up the discussions from the across the two days, stressing the need for foundations to examine the dynamics of structures that cause injustice, rather than simply implement initiatives which ameliorate the symptoms of inequality. The speakers, echoed by comments from the audience, raised the concern that inequality is both the largest challenge we face today and a major cause of conflict and, worryingly, the gap is getting wider. Foundations must ensure that they work in collaboration, but given their time, independence, resources and ability to take risks they are ideally positioned to tackle inequality.