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New pan-European study on the role of foundations as a ‘mother’, ‘father’ and ‘midwife’ to organisations

In recent decades the dominant assumption among foundations has been that the main role of foundations is grant-making, supporting existing organisations or operating their own programmes. Indeed, many foundations prefer not to impose their values and goals on society or appear to add competition among existing voluntary organisations.


In reality, however, many foundations have chosen to create new organisations in order to achieve their goals in pursuit of social change. Beyond their inherent role, foundations choose to act as ‘institutional entrepreneurs’ involved in the conception of something new which the foundation backs financially and supports in other ways.


The ‘inventive foundation’ is the subject of a new pan-European study by Diana Leat, supported by Barrow Cadbury Trust, Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation (UK Branch) and the Paul Hamlyn Foundation. This study examines nine examples of foundation generated organisations of varying size and purpose across Europe and intelligently explores the fears, trepidations, challenges and opportunities of foundations in acting as social entrepreneurs.


The short report argues that foundations, with their knowledge, networks and resources, are well positioned as institutional entrepreneurs and reveals why foundations decide to create new organisations, the processes and the issues arising in this activity in a range of different settings across Europe. The nine case studies included are each based in different countries with differently developed non-profit sectors, are engaged in different fields of activity, and have generated different types of organisations.


While there has been much discussion over the years on ‘venture philanthropy’, this study instead focuses on the neglected topic of the venture entrepreneur and the importance of the role of foundations as ‘mother’, ‘father’ and ‘midwife’ to an organisation. It is a useful piece in highlighting some of the issues foundations may wish to consider should they decide to create their own organisation or institution and raises further issues on the role of foundations in civil society and their relationship with partners. The full report, ‘The Inventive Foundation: creating new ventures in Europe’, is available to read here.