• Corporate philanthropy

“Since its creation, the Foundation has been guided by a pioneering spirit of innovation”

To mark the 40th anniversary of the BNP Paribas Foundation, discover an inspiring conversation between Antoine Sire, Head of Company Engagement and Isabelle Giordano, Head of Group Philanthropy and General Delegate of the BNP Paribas Foundation. From its genesis to its current evolution, this exchange looks back at what has guided the Foundation since its creation.

Antoine Sire and Isabelle Giordano, conversation in two voices

Antoine Sire: In the profit-driven 1980s, companies started searching for something more, an extra touch of soul. A few visionaries had understood that the conquering power of the market economy needed to be tempered by what the philosopher André Comte-Sponville calls kindness. For example, it was thanks to the patronage of a public institution that sociologist Pierre Bourdieu was able to publish his 900-page survey on World Poverty (La Misère du Monde). Against this backdrop, the creation of the Paribas Foundation showed that companies also had a role to play in this area, by building bridges with the most vulnerable and with those who work in the field of the imagination. Ten years later, Michel Pébereau extended this approach and developed patronage on a regional scale, presenting a face for all Group employees, throughout France, that had meaning and, I’d go as far as saying goodness.

Isabelle Giordano: Forty years on, the Foundation’s DNA remains unchanged. It still cultivates the spirit of innovation that sets it apart. When it comes to topical issues such as the erosion of biodiversity, the integration of refugees or our response to humanitarian crises, we can see that our corporate philanthropy has often been pioneering where others have sometimes turned a blind eye. And as Europe’s leading bank, BNP Paribas is more aware than ever of the need for high-impact philanthropy. Furthermore, these values can be deployed in our three areas of activity - culture, solidarity and the environment - since we are one of the few foundations in France able to act with a triple impact. And we’re committed to creating links between these three levers, for example by targeting access to culture at the most disadvantaged. 

Antoine Sire: Each of them has its own specific requirements. Supporting culture means proactively affirming the presence, within the company, of this intangible asset that I mentioned earlier. Supporting solidarity initiatives is our response to the failure of systems, irrespective of what they are. The inability of systems in place to bring universal prosperity means that each and every player has to get involved, especially when they have substantial financial and human resources at their disposal. Finally, defending the environment means acknowledging the end of a dream, in which nature’s capacities were infinite and inexhaustible. We now need to adopt a new way of thinking, where resources are renewable and used sparingly. To solve this challenge, we first need to understand all the aspects of the problem, which means supporting investment in research.  

Isabelle Giordano : Our other special feature is the constant commitment of the Bank’s employees. Whether through the charities they’re involved in, or in their day-to-day professional lives, BNP Paribas holds the record for the number of mentors and engaged employees. They are the company’s lifeblood and a source of strength that others envy - in short, an incredible source of lifeblood for changing the world. That extra touch soul is here too. Their active presence and involvement contribute fully to the richness of patronage that we strive to ensure is collaborative, participative and based on dialogue.

Antoine Sire: All employees of the Group can, if they wish, become involved in the Foundation’s activities, but can also benefit from the Foundation’s support for their personal community involvement. This has enabled some employees to learn more about themselves and become real players in civil society. It’s incredible to see that we can change lives: the lives of our employees, the lives of the young people they mentor, the lives of the beneficiaries of the scientific research we fund and the lives of the artists whose work we support. One of my most vivid memories is a large-scale musical show created around ten years ago at La Cigale in Paris by jazz pianist Jean-Pierre Como. At the end of the concert, he got quite emotional when he thanked the Foundation for having finally made it possible for this project, which was particularly close to his heart, to see the light of day.

Isabelle Giordano: As for me, I’m always amazed when I meet young people from Seine-Saint-Denis returning from one of the Odyssée Jeunes school trips, of which we are a partner. Through their feedback, on their faces, we see horizons opening up, a moment of realisation. That’s when we know that these few days will have a decisive impact on the development of their personalities. That gives you energy for the next forty years! We want to be an incubator of knowledge, optimism and beauty, and we intend to continue adapting the principles that guide us in our changing world. Our motto could be “Let’s be more daring, always more daring”.

Antoine Sire : Or “Making the impossible possible”. And that’s going to keep us busy for a while yet...!

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