How and why might UK foundations engage with EU-based initiatives after Brexit?

This was the question for our most recent Members’ Policy Forum event on 26 March. Hosted by Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation and chaired by its Director Andrew Barnett, the session aimed to identify ways that UK foundations currently work with and in the EU, and what the opportunities and challenges might be for foundations going forward.

An expert panel provided a range of insights. Sara Llewellin, Chief Executive of the Barrow Cadbury Trust, and Stuart Pritchard, EU and Public Affairs Manager at the Wellcome Trust, gave two distinct foundation perspectives; Sara focused on the societal impact of Brexit, social cohesion and migration policy, while Stuart discussed the impact on scientific research and the operational aspects of Brexit upon foundation practice, such as data flows. Both speakers emphasised that the need for engagement with the EU does not end with Brexit, rather it is heightened.

Sharing a perspective from within government, Tom Leftwich, Head of Engagement and Strategy at the Office for Civil Society, talked through the two angles from which they are approaching their work. Domestically, the government’s Civil Society Strategy aims to address many of the issues that have been surfaced during the Brexit process. Internationally, Tom emphasised the government’s commitment to the UK being outward-facing global nation, seeking new opportunities to engage with and beyond the EU.

Finally, Max von Abendroth, Executive Director of DAFNE, the network of foundations and donors in Europe, presented the recently-launched Philanthropy Manifesto, which aims to improve the operating environment for philanthropy across Europe, as well as their other work to connect foundations in Europe with their peers and with policy-makers. Max encouraged UK foundations to stay closely connected, and urged foundations to make use of ACF, DAFNE, and other European networks in their future engagement.

The discussion that followed honed in on specific questions facing different parts of the foundation world. Issues raised included: learning from other EU neighbour countries, addressing the causes that led to the current situation, identifying gaps where foundations might make a unique contribution, and the risks and merits of taking a ‘wait and see’ approach while the political turbulence continues.

Amid the uncertainty about what shape the future relationship between the UK and the EU will take, it was clear that there is a strong willingness and need for foundations to engage with European institutions, governments and organisations. UK foundations have a great deal to offer in terms of experience and expertise; the challenge herein is to demonstrate that in the new context. To paraphrase Stuart Pritchard’s closing remarks: “ask not what the EU can do for us, but what we can do for the EU” – this means being more active, being more present, being more visible than ever to policy-makers in EU capitals.

For ACF, this means building on our close relationship with networks like DAFNE and the European Foundation Centre, and ensuring all our members who want to engage with Europe are able to do so confidently and effectively.

If you would like to raise any issues or suggest any future Members’ Policy Forum events, please email Max and Emma at

Emma Hutchins
Policy & Communications Manager, ACF

We support UK foundations and grant-making charities