“The current growth model needs to be revised, orienting it toward inclusion and sustainability”


In 2019 over 43 million Spaniards benefited from the activities carried out by foundations, a figure which, according to the experts, will have increased following the COVID-19 crisis. The 9,000-plus non-profit organizations that make up this sector, including Fundación MAPFRE, contribute social and economic value, generate thousands of jobs and enable the social capital of volunteering to be channeled. These are data from The Foundation Sector in Spain: Fundamental Attributes (2008-2019), the most recent snapshot of the sector, which not only shows its capacity for adapting to the crisis, but also its resolute response to current demands and needs.

The pandemic has kept this professor with a PhD in Economics very busy. Over the last year, Simón Sosvilla (Santa Cruz de Tenerife, 1961) has studied the threefold crisis (health, economic and social) to establish a complete picture of the consequences (which are many and very serious), and he has been working on research to highlight the importance of foundations in social and economic development, something that, in his view, few people know. This year, his overriding challenge will be to gain a mor e profound understanding of the economic impact of loneliness in Spain, a worrying issue and especially relevant during lockdown.

It is said that the pandemic has had a negative impact on the foundation world, as needs have multiplied in a very short space of time. How do you feel many of them have reoriented their activities to continue dealing with these new social demands?
Foundations have undoubtedly experienced organizational, labor, and financial stress, having been forced to respond to soaring social demand as a consequence of this crisis. In addition to all this, there remain needs yet to be resolved from previous years, during which time the opportunities provided by the expansionary phase of the economic cycle were not grasped. Faced with this challenge, the sector reinvented itself to prioritize the most vulnerable groups, adopting a proximity approach and relying on the logic of the common good. It also explored new ways of getting closer to the general public and enhanced internal synergies so as to be more agile, effective and innovative, overcoming territorial fragmentation with transversal projects.

This pandemic is generating greater inequality. What are the most serious problems we are facing?
Inequality has increased worldwide as a consequence of COVID-19. In Spain, although its effect on income distribution has been somewhat mitigated, partly by government intervention – basically through state benefits and ERTEs (employment furlough schemes), recent studies indicate that inequality has rocketed to maximum levels, something that particularly affects young people, women and immigrants, given the job insecurity they face in the labor market. To mitigate this situation, I believe the existing limitations should be eliminated, so as to foster access to education on an equal footing. Incentives such as scholarships should be boosted and women’s rights in the labor environment protected, duly increasing their participation. It’s also important to create decent job opportunities, generate safe livelihoods for all, and bolster redistributive policies by establishing a fair, proportionate tax regime. Underlying all these challenges is the urgent need to revise the current growth model, orienting it toward inclusion and sustainability by promoting high value-added and high-productivity sectors, as well as ensuring a stable institutional environment that enables companies to thrive.

“Foundations are presenting a more optimistic view than that offered by private companies”

We are talking about millions of beneficiaries in a sector that responds swiftly and effectively to their needs. Can you highlight what these are?
Health, housing, education and research are the areas of activity whose importance has increased the most in recent years. However, the ones that have slipped the most are those related to culture and international programs.

Do you feel governments and we citizens are prepared to tackle these issues?
The COVID-19 crisis has revitalized the social contract. Governments around the world are working ever more closely with both the private and the third sector in order to strengthen their citizens’ economic safety net, supporting access to basic goods and services, and securing the incomes of workers and businesses. These measures have raised those expectations which determine how risks and benefits are to be shared between individuals and institutions. We must take advantage of this to totally rethink the institutional arrangements which govern the economic aspects of the social contract, boosting equal opportunities and mutual support networks in such a way that no one is left behind.

How do you think this crisis has affected foundations?
COVID-19 has posed a fresh challenge for the Spanish foundation sector and generated great uncertainty about the evolution of its working model; however, at the same time, it has also provided an opportunity to redefine it, preparing for the future. The results of our study suggest that the pandemic will have a negative impact on foundations, although this will only be temporary. Their average level of activity will be reduced and they will face a drop in the funding they receive. Even so, foundations are presenting a more optimistic view than that offered by private companies.

The foundations are considered key to the development of our country. What strengths do you feel all of them possess?
Their good performance in the labor mark et is really striking. During expansionary phases, these entities are more dynamic when it comes to creating jobs and, during recessions, not only do they not destroy jobs, but rather they manage to maintain their drive. What’s more, I’d also highlight their capacity for adapting to new emerging needs, and proof of this is that the number of beneficiaries will be increasing in 2021. As key players in the welfare state, I believe that foundations should receive more European aid, as they are not only actively involved in the fight against the adverse social effects of the pandemic, but also, in many cases, they take the place of public intervention and cover needs that neither the public nor the priv ate sector can meet.

Simón Sosvilla

Do you feel our sector is different from that in other countries? In what way are we most different?
As in other European countries, the foundation sector depends on the development of civil society and the welfare state. The role of organized civil society in Spain is still relatively small compared to other European countries. While there have been noteworthy initiatives during the pandemic in favor of the most vulnerable groups, I believe that greater civic engagement is needed. In Spain, the response to COVID-19 highlighted the fiscal and institutional constraints of the welfare state and, consequently, the need to combine institutional strengthening of the State with the strengthening and sustainability of the third sector.

Do you believe criticisms that the sector lacks transparency are warranted?
It is true that the dispersed data sources hinder acquiring reliable information on the number of effective foundations, the activity undertaken, the resources with which they operate, and how many people benefit, among other aspects. Hence the need to make estimates every now and again in order – insofar as is possible – to obtain a true and fair view of the sector and complete it with the Foundation Activity Indicator, which can assess the foundation sector’s perception of the Spanish economic and social reality. Moreover, in order to increase transparency in the sector, I also feel that it would be highly advisable to increase the presence of foundations on the Internet and on social media, key to being better known to society at large. Interestingly, in 2019 only 39.83 percent of Spanish foundations currently active had their own website, and barely ten percent had a presence and participated on social media.

There is an ever-increasing number of people engaged in the sector as patrons, volunteers, and both direct and indirect employees. How would you encourage citizens to become more involved in foundation activity, as volunteers for example?
Collaborating with the third sector brings many benefits, including feeling useful, building links with the community, putting our abilities to the test, improving our self-esteem, fostering generosity and becoming an agent of change. The foundation sector offers a wide range of opportunities in which to contribute the scarcest resource that exists – undoubtedly this is our time – something we cannot store for future use. Likewise with the skills, interests and aptitudes each of us possess and which enable some of the needs of society and the environment to be covered.