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Learned in lockdown: ‘Pandemic has given philanthropy sector new energy’

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Published: 19 July 2021

This summer Impact Investor talks to investors and entrepreneurs about how the pandemic has shifted priorities. This week: Delphine Moralis, the new CEO of the European Foundation Centre.

Delphine Moralis
“As leaders, we need to provide for more flexibility towards people in our team’, says Delphine Moralis of the European Foundation Centre. EFC


  • Chief Executive Officer, the European Foundation Centre in Brussels since September 2020.
  • Secretary General at Terre des Hommes International Federation 2018-2020.
  • Several years of international experience in building and leading pan-European organisations in the human rights and development sectors, such as Missing Children Europe, Child Focus and Cable Europe.

Taking up a new leadership role in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic certainly came with some challenges. After almost a year into the job, Delphine Moralis, the first female CEO at the European Foundation Centre in Brussels, still has not met all of her colleagues.

“I have had to be more proactive as a leader,” Moralis tells Impact Investor.

“When you come in as a CEO you have conversations with people, you see how people are doing and can observe their body language. When all the meetings are online you need to ask these questions about how the person is doing in a more intentional way than before.”

The European Foundation Centre (EFC) is a Brussels-based platform for institutional philanthropy, gathering associations and corporate funders from Europe and beyond.

A big part of EFC’s business model is to bring people together to resolve issues (that) philanthropy is dealing with. When the pandemic hit Belgium in March 2020, all of this suddenly had to be done online.
“I am very impressed about how that worked out. EFC started to engage differently, with more agility and obviously with a reduced environmental footprint from travelling less,” Moralis says.

Meetings online socially more accepted

Moralis joined the EFC in September 2020, a few months into the pandemic. “Under normal circumstances people would have expected me to take a plane to come and meet them for a couple of hours of conversation to get to know each other. I had the kind of luxury of not having to do that,” she says.

Instead, she was able to schedule “really good conversations with many people” online and reach out to far more people than usual.

“I am glad to see that it is now socially acceptable to have more meetings online. Of course I will continue to have meetings face to face, but I will be doing it in a much more conscious way”.

A more humane way of working

As a team leader, Moralis wants to hold on to some of the changes that came with the lockdown. She thinks teleworking has brought a better understanding of how people are juggling the different parts of their lives, and an acceptance that a good work-life balance needs to be taken into account in the way their work is organised.

“As leaders, we need to provide for more flexibility towards people in our team. It must be OK to take an extra hour in the morning to take care of your sick son.”

Her own organisation is now looking into how to structure future working practices, combining home working with going into the office. The EFC has also set up a task force for health and wellbeing.

Solidarity gives hope

For a person who finds her energy in meeting other people, Moralis found new sources of inspiration during the lockdown, such as acts of kindness in her own community.

“During the lockdown, you had a sense of community with people coming together and helping each other out, which I find really beautiful to see in action”.

It could be small things, like all the children in the neighbourhood coming out on their balconies every evening at 8 PM to applaud the frontline workers fighting the pandemic.

“I could really see how that had an effect on my children, and on me,” says Moralis, adding it gave her “a sense of belonging.”

The pandemic also provided the philanthropy sector with a renewed sense of purpose and urgency. “There has been new energy to give and to volunteer in many parts of the world. That is really great to see. It gives me hope.”

Changes in the philanthropy sector

“The ongoing pandemic has made it obvious that the problems we are dealing with cannot be solved by one single actor,” she says.

The situation calls for more collaboration, both within organisations, but also between organisations, to pull funds together and find more synergies.

Philanthropy also changed its relationship with its grantees. The processes for issuing grants were simplified to increase unrestricted and core support rather than project support.

“With the crises, we see that we all, more than ever, need to pull together and that collaboration between the public and the private sector is very much something we need to continue to foster. I am very excited about the future from that perspective.”

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