From October 18-20, Europe’s philanthropic leaders convened in Vienna for the European Foundation Centre’s (EFC) annual conference. For this year’s event “From Crisis to Opportunity - How Can Philanthropy Accelerate Sustainable Change?” Central European University (CEU) served on the Host Committee as the first university partner in the conference’s history alongside Vienna-based foundations and civic organizations. As part of convening, CEU additionally showcased the site of the university’s future campus, the Otto Wagner Areal (OWA), leading one of the conference’s Coffee House Talks.
Andreas Treichl, chairman of the ERSTE Foundation and member of CEU’s Board of Trustees offered opening remarks at the plenary session October 18, kicking off the program designed to focus collective philanthropic conversations and around some of today’s most pressing issues. A group of eight CEU students and alumni were also selected via a competitive application process and, based on their expertise, participated as researchers, facilitators and documenters of the conference’s parallel sessions, organized into four thematic tracks: climate, democracy, philanthropy and society.
“CEU’s role on the host committee and overall contributions to the conference program provided an unprecedented opportunity to further European philanthropy and provide our students and alumni with an opportunity to work directly with leading foundation leaders from across Europe, a key goal of our philanthropy education work at CEU,” said Jason Weedon, CEU’s Director of Philanthropy and Strategic Partnerships.
In step with CEU’s commitment to climate action, the October 19 site visit and Coffee House Talk, "Confronting History - Transforming a Historic Site into a Carbon-Neutral Campus For the Future", was led by Weedon and Vice President for Development, Trisha Tanner, with Environmental Sciences and Policy Professor Laszlo Pinter and Environmental and Sustainability Officer Logan Strenchock (ENVSCI '12).
During the session, 15 attendees, including executives and program directors from organizations such as the Aga Khan Foundation, European Cultural Foundation, the Fondazione Compagnia di San Paolo and Riksbankens Jubileumsfond, toured the OWA site of CEU’s future campus, concluding in the theater building, where the “coffee house” ensued in the Jugendstil atmosphere.
Here, participants learned about CEU’s plans for the transformation of a site into a hub for intellectual inquiry and scientific exchange. The talk covered the historic restoration and development process preserving and enhancing the heritage, architecture, and biodiversity of the site, as well as the university’s climate-forward approach to community engagement, education, and advocacy.
Pinter, for example, who is part of the team advising on the environmental aspects of the project, recently piloted a web-based scenario planning tool for the OWA. The tool, called the Urban Nature Explorer, was developed for use in participatory planning processes. Its interactive interface supports stakeholder understanding of sustainable solutions tailored for a specific site as well as their potential cost and impact.
Student and alumni participation was also an integral part of CEU’s contribution to the EFC conference. “It was very helpful to have inquisitive students join the conference and help document the content and direction of panel discussions. Hopefully enriching for them and rewarding for us as well,” commented Liz McKeon, Head of Portfolio, Climate Action at the IKEA Foundation, who served as the facilitator for the conference’s climate thematic track.
Student participants from CEU included Sevinj Novruzova, Eszter Szedlacsek, Maria Zakaryan, Anastasia Prokhorova, Lea Roswell, Victoria Kobzeva, Elmira Kakabayeva and David Almasi.
Novruzova, a CEU alumna (IR '20) and contributor to the climate track was heartened by the inclusion of academics in the conference. “Convening with participants deepened my understanding of the interconnected and interdependent nature of progress in the modern world…,” she reflected.
Another CEU graduate and participant in the philanthropy track, Kakabayeva (SOCI '21) Elmira Kakabayeva) shared that “It was energizing to meet such inspiring experts and speakers as Kumi Naidoo, Lucy Bernholz, and Lakshmi Sundaram. They catalyzed meaningful conversations on human rights in the Global South, shrinking civic space, digital rights and freedom of speech.”
“It was exciting to come back to Vienna after graduation and be at the center of a major face-to-face philanthropic event,” commented CEU alumna Prokhorova (IR '21) In producing a conference reader for the democracy strand, Prokhorova contributed her perspective on the developments in the region. Further, she reflected on the conference and concluded, “To find a way forward, we [societies] need to translate existing diagnostics into creating policy solutions, deepen collaborations and invest in longer-term, more ambitious projects.”
From focused student participation and the university-hosted Coffee House session, to the sustained engagement as part of the EFC’s host committee, CEU continues to foster strategic thinking at the intersection of today’s major global challenges and philanthropy--weaving students, faculty and staff into conversations shaping new directions in the field.
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