PEX through Paintings #7 – “Signal of Distress”

Tuesday 4 February 2020

Alongside yesterday’s diversity theme, PEX 2020 also saw explicit debates about foundations and the United Nations’ (UN) Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Thus, today’s painting for a PEX 2020 reflection is Homer’s “Signal of Distress”.

With DAFNE asking whether “foundations could find themselves on the wrong side of history by failing to act in the face of climate crisis”, the UK’s Association of Charitable Foundations (ACF) and the European Community Foundation Initiative (ECFI) led the way on how to take things forward. The former, ACF, presented its Funder Commitment on Climate Change. Launched last November, this commits signatories – 14 so far in the UK – “to consider how their investments, operations and funding programmes can contribute to a ‘fair and lasting transition to a post-carbon society’”. The latter, ECFI, shared insights on how community foundations can work with, and contribute to the SDG agenda, with a new ECFI community foundation tool/framework forthcoming.

The accompanying materials and discussions were surprisingly open and forthcoming; they included some of the difficult questions individuals and institutions in the foundation landscape need to address about their own conduct and contributions vis-a-vis SDGs. A poignant closing remark was made by the chairperson of one of Europe’s major foundations: if a young lady from Sweden can influence global policy and behaviours, there is a serious question about what foundations do, about what foundations achieve. Refreshingly frank!


This short blog series reflects on ten overarching points relating to the 2020 Philanthropy Europe Networks (PEX) Forum through ten paintings from the Thyssen-Bornemisza collection. All images featured in the series are photos taken in line with the museum’s policy allowing no-flash photography. Free acess to digital versions of the paintings and accompanying information on copyrights are provided on the museum’s webpages at

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