Corporate citizenship and philanthropic initiatives in the community have a long tradition in Italy, starting during the industrial revolution with the provision of "paternalistic" welfare services. Also due to budget constraints in public finances, there is a growing trend to pursue public/private partnerships, to tap other sources of funding and problem solving capabilities.
The role and scope of foundations expanded substantially in the last 2 decades (especially those originating from saving banks) and regulations were revised in the year 2000 to facilitate setting up new entities. While only large corporate pioneers established foundations up to the 90s - mainly devoted to research in economic, social, cultural, scientific fields - since then a growing number of founders, including SMEs, resorted to this vehicle for philanthropic initiatives and diversified activities also into grantmaking.
Corporate foundations, as a recent community, cannot rely on a strong culture and know-how, and also sharing of experience, benchmarking and cooperation take place only on a limited scale. Furthermore many are suffering from a lack of focus in activities and fragmentation of resources.
Upload of the Observatory within the portal of the "Culture and CSR Commission" of Confindustria (the largest employer federation in Italy with about 140.000 associates). The ideal setting, as the distinctive feature of the Corporate Foundation typology is a close cooperation between the company founder and the foundation. The cultural drive to enhance the value and effectiveness of philanthropic initiatives can thus reach a broad and potentially interested business audience.
Objectives and functions of the Observatory:
- enhance the visibility of and appreciation for corporate foundations and philanthropic initiatives with public institutions and other stakeholders, contributing to a more enabling environment;
- showcase in a virtual setting existing corporate foundations, encouraging the sense of belonging to the same community, a new mindset facilitating mutual knowledge, networking and creation of affinity groups, thus overcoming current fragmentation/isolation;
- provide a "common platform for progress", fostering shared learning and awareness of key challenges, joint efforts to enhance knowledge and competences, leading edge initiatives to address most complex issues;
- support with a "help desk" companies, especially SMEs, interested in setting up new foundations, in the evaluation and establishment process.
Mobilising the competences and resources needed to design and implement the Observatory.
Co-building is essential, tailoring its features to the real needs of both corporate founders and foundations, current and prospective. The learning curve of the Italian and international pioneer and most successful corporate foundations must be fully leveraged, avoiding pitfalls in the regulatory and fiscal environment, clearly outlining the options in governance, organisation, processes (need assessment, planning, evaluation etc.)
The first baseline survey on Italian Corporate Foundations - conducted in 2009 by Fondazione Sodalitas in a partnership with Università Cattolica and Fondazione Giovanni Agnelli with its database - allowed to surface this emerging community (doubled in size during the last 10 years) and profile its key features and challenges. The investigation covered in depth the following issues: (1) relationship between the foundation and its corporate founder (governance, resources); and (2) main typologies (research and grantmaking); organisation (staff, key processes, stakeholder engagement).
Findings were discussed and assessed both in the foundation community and "Culture and CSR Commission" of Confindustria, leading to a consensus about business needs and foundation issues to be addressed. Agreement was also reached about the most suitable tool, the Observatory, its initial content and services (showcase, common platform, help-desk etc.)