Recently the EUFORI Study was published, in which a network of experts coordinated from our Center for Philanthropic Studies at the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam mapped the support from foundations for research and innovation in Europe. Read the synthesis report here. The research was based on an extensive survey of 1 591 foundations supporting R&I in Europe and a qualitative analysis of 29 different country reports. We concluded that foundations contribute a significant amount of money to R&I: annually at least €5 billion, out of an asset base worth at least €127 billion. These are lower bound estimations, because it was impossible to estimate contributions by foundations that did not participate in the study.
The final chapter of the synthesis report presents six recommendations. The main objective of the recommendations made in this final chapter is to increase the potential of R&I foundations in Europe. Considering the underlying potential, actions towards greater support by foundations for research and innovation should and must involve engaging all actors: national governments, EU institutions, the foundations themselves, the corporate sector, universities and other research institutes, and the public at large.
Recommendation 1: Increase the visibility of R&I foundations
This recommendation is addressed to foundations, national governments, the EC and EU administration, businesses and the public at large. It relates to the current fragmented landscape of R&I foundations in Europe. The landscape of foundations in Europe is characterised by a few well-established foundations and many smaller foundations with modest resources mainly operating in the background. Growing visibility will enhance the impact of existing funding. If foundations become more aware of each other’s activities, the effects and impact of their contributions can be increased. Moreover, the other stakeholders involved such as the business community and research policy-makers will become knowledgeable about the foundations’ activities. From the perspective of the beneficiaries, research institutes, universities and researchers will more easily find their way to foundations. Visibility will lower the transaction costs for all the parties involved. For foundations, governments and businesses it will increase their knowledge about ongoing research/new research funded and vice versa. For grantmaking foundations it will facilitate the review process of research proposals and submissions; it is to be expected that more visibility will reduce the amount of incorrect applications. For the beneficiaries of the foundations’ support (research institutes, universities and researchers) – the grantseekers – it will increase their funding opportunities, they will more easily find their way to foundations, and it will facilitate submission processes. For potential (major) donors it will offer visible causes to benefit. Increasing the visibility of R&I foundations could have a positive effect on potential (major) donors as it could encourage them to support a research foundation. Increasing the visibility of and information about R&I foundations was already addressed by an expert group in 2005. They argued: ‘.. foundations and their donors would be more aware of the foundation landscape (increasing collaborative working and, possibly, giving), foundations’ contribution to various sectors could be properly assessed and the information could inform policy-making in this area. It is in fact a prerequisite to other actions’. The present EUFORI study is a step forward. A lot of information is now available. Next to this synthesis report, 29 country-reports, new data, an active network of researchers and the EUFORI website can contribute to the profiling of the R&I foundation sector in Europe.
With the exception of some large and well-established foundations in Europe, there is a lack of a common research identity among the foundations supporting R&I in most countries. Research and innovation are often not seen as a purpose/field in itself but are instead used as an instrument for other purposes and areas in which foundations specialise (such as health, technology, society). This is reflected by a lack of dialogue between the foundations supporting R&I (occasionally between foundations that deal with similar topics, e.g. foundations supporting cancer research). Bringing foundations together at a European level and following the recommendations of the expert group from 2005, the European Foundation Center (EFC) created the European Forum of Research Foundations. This forum provides a platform for a group of large and well-known R&I foundations in Europe. In order to increase the visibility of foundations supporting R&I at a national level, the encouragement of the creation of national forums of research foundations is recommended as the next step. The opportunities and mutual benefits for foundations supporting R&I at a national level should be explored. The next step: Explore the opportunities and mutual benefits of the creation of national forums of research foundations.
Recommendation 2: Explore synergies through collaboration
Unity in diversity is one of the main challenges for all the players involved in the R&I domain. These players can be distinguished in the domain of research (governments, business, foundations and research institutes/researchers), each with their own distinctive role. Together these groups can make a difference in increasing the potential for R&I. They can create synergy through collaboration, which should be interpreted in the broadest sense, varying from information sharing, networking, co-funding and partnerships. Mutual advantages can be derived from pooling expertise, sharing infrastructure, expanding activities, pooling money due to a lack of necessary funds, avoiding the duplication of efforts and creating economies of scale.
Get to know each other, meet and see where to reinforce each other’s efforts
Based on the conclusions of the EUFORI Study there is an indication for the need for improved dialogue, information exchange, networking and cooperation between the foundations supporting R&I, as well as between foundations, governments, business and research institutes (researchers). The needs, opportunities, mutual benefits and barriers for collaboration should be further explored, including mutual responsibilities when cooperating. The creation of national forums or networks of foundations supporting research and innovation, regular meetings between the foundations and other stakeholders involved (national government, EU government, research institutes and business) could bring these groups together.
An EU-wide study is recommended on the needs, opportunities, mutual benefits and barriers for collaboration between foundations, national governments, the European Commission, the business sector and research institutes. A network of national experts (mostly members from ERNOP) built for the EUFORI study can be of added value for this study and can facilitate the collaborative relations between the EC/ RTD, the R&I foundation sector and other stakeholders in Europe. It would be well-advised to set up an independent expert group before the start of this study with selected experts and stakeholder representatives in the field of foundations, the business sector, research institutes and public authorities at a national and European level. The expert group should provide input for the design of the study and could adopt an advisory role. Subsequently, it is recommended that the study will be finished by a follow-up conference for all the players involved aimed to discuss the implementation of the outcomes of the Collaboration Infrastructure Study. In this call for collaboration we have to consider two possible, interrelated pitfalls; namely the danger of ‘substitution’ and the danger of threatening the independence of foundations. Foundations, and civil initiatives in general, make their own choices and preferences and are based on social democracy. Governments, on the other hand, have their own responsibility based on political democracy. Businesses have their own market-driven values. Sometimes they reinforce each other, sometimes they may act as opponents. It concerns different worlds, differing in terms of constitution, values, legitimacy and organisation style. The independence of private R&I foundations should be respected. Foundations derive their legitimacy from many contacts with the ‘capillaries’ in society, thus offering them the opportunity to function ‘as the eyes and ears’ for innovation. This grass-roots connection represents the philanthropic tradition in Europe: ‘voluntary action to serve the public good’. The next step: Launch a Collaboration Infrastructure Study.