20 years ago I remember turning up to a little event in London launching a new initiative The European Venture Philanthropy Association. Back then Resonance was itself a baby and I wasn’t quite sure what we could bring to this movement. I didn’t engage and broadly forgot about them. Some 10 years later, finally with Resonance emerging with its own funds under management I found that a number of our UK social impact investor peers were heading off to distant parts to engage with a now flourishing EVPA. Despite its deep commitment to philanthropy EVPA had made it clear that it wanted to be the home for those in the investment world who were working to mobilise catalytic capital for impact. Investment capital was clearly being recognised and pursued by its members as a legitimate tool to change the world. In fact done well it enhances and extends the power and vision of philanthropy without compromise to the intended social transformation. I felt I was missing out and started turning up.
Despite arriving in different corners of Europe - Malmo, Amsterdam, Brussels, The Hague, Venice, Porto it always felt like I was coming home. EVPA is much more a movement than a membership club, people turn up less to pitch or show off and more to learn, collaborate and explore what more good we can do together, when on our own it feels overwhelming.
The conference circuit can feel a little forced and draining at times, but what I found in my EVPA family was a creative oasis, an inspirational challenge, a perspective enhancing personal development retreat.
I’ve made some meaningful friendships with some pretty awesome people. And even when the UK had its own crisis of confidence in its relationship with Europe in 2016, never was I made to feel we were no longer part of the EVPA family. It was clear we were going to have to work a bit harder to prove we were interested in working with and learning from our European colleagues than before, but we were still united in our movement to transform lives. English is still the default language at the event and when after 16 hours since the day began, I was feeling exhausted, I had to remember that most other delegates had been engaging for a whole day in a second language.
This year I had the great privilege of sharing our story, both challenges and successes alongside fabulous colleagues from Erste Bank, Habitat et Humanisme and Feansta – all pushing the envelope of what is possible to tackle homelessness through using capital at scale across the continent. Of course, at EVPA many in the audience are equally as qualified to be on the panel in most sessions; panelists are at most framers of a discussion with fellow experts in the room to explore how we can sharpen each other. EVPA have been pretty impressive on the whole as champions of a format that creates space for creating value in the room not just an information deluge from fragile men (sorry boys it is mostly us that do the ‘mansplaining’ let’s be honest). I constantly have to remind myself when asked to speak that most audiences are there to meet their neighbours not listen to my ‘wisdom’.
What was clear from the energy in the room (even on a dark November evening in the middle of the men’s world cup football competition), that housing is a big issue right across the continent. Providing, Safe, affordable, healthy, low carbon homes remain our ambition and clearly a priority for others too. I sense the need for a new coalition of partners mobilising capital at scale for people facing housing crisis across Europe. With different housing markets, welfare systems, legal processes as well as languages and currencies it’s easy to dismiss the opportunity to collaborate as too difficult but I’ve always found the desire to explore the ‘art of the possible’ amongst trusted colleagues always unlocks value.
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