The Editors’ Post: Reflections from Venice

Julie Pybus global editor

We talk with some of Europe's most forward-looking corporate foundations at the EVPA Business of Impact conference in Venice to find out how they are influencing the industries in which they operate. Plus other highlights from this week in the Pioneers Post newsroom.

Some conferences are held in more interesting places than others. I’m writing this on a boat bumping across the choppy waters of the lagoon between Venice and the Italian mainland on my way home from EVPA’s Business of Impact conference. It took place in a fabulous building just off Piazza San Marco which – other delegates told me – made the event quite a draw to attend.

In addition to admiring the breathtaking surroundings, the delegates – a couple of hundred representatives of foundations, purpose-focused businesses and other elements of the impact ecosystem – were there to discuss how to accelerate corporates’ journey towards positive impact. 

One of the workshops (which I was delighted to host) focused on some of the most ambitious corporate foundations: those that are aiming to transform entire industries.


A well regarded example is Laudes Foundation, led by current EVPA chair, Leslie Johnston. Formerly the C&A Foundation, it has moved beyond its original focus of combatting the worst practices of the polluting, rights-repressing fast-fashion industry to push forward a transition to an economy that is fairer to people and the environment. And this change (which you can read more about in our interview with Johnston) has allowed the foundation freedom to increase its impact further by working with a wider range of partners at the same time as maintaining close links with the dynasty which founded and continues to support it.

As many of the most forward-looking corporate foundations are demonstrating, their unique position in the marketplace can be enormously powerful

Discussions at the EVPA conference revealed that some other foundations may follow Laudes’ lead by fundamentally reconsidering their relationships with their founding companies. 

As many of the most forward-looking corporate foundations are demonstrating, their unique position in the marketplace can be enormously powerful. The discussions in our workshop highlighted how foundations’ independence can help them bring together competing industry players alongside policymakers and campaigning groups. They can reach out deeply into communities, building trust by working with grassroots organisations. And they can multiply the impact of their funds (which can seem tiny when compared with the scale of entire industries and the environmental and social challenges that they create) by taking risks that others won’t or can’t to act as a catalyst bringing in more investment from other sources like governments, the private sector and other philanthropists.

(Coincidentally, the untapped potential of catalytic capital is the subject of one of our stories this week.)


How to react to the ‘polycrisis’

As we face what many are calling today’s ‘polycrisis’, the EVPA event highlighted that foundations must ask themselves big questions like whether they are doing enough with their money, fast enough to make a real difference. Is a sunset clause – like that of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation – something that they should all consider? 

As Venice’s tourists marvelled at the magnificently fading Venetian edifices ­­– remnants of a glorious past when the city was a global centre of commerce and finance – but which are now ever so slowly sinking into the sea, there was a little pool of people right next to them looking upwards and outwards. By rigorously examining their role, the world’s corporate foundations could really help transform today’s economic system. But – as many of the discussions this week concluded – they need to take bold action.


This week’s top stories:

From Quebec to Mozambique – three cities putting sustainability first

Up to £480m more catalytic capital needed for UK social ventures each year, new report shows

Supporting women entrepreneurs: The world’s agents of inclusive economic growth


Header image: Venice in May 2023, by Julie Pybus 

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