Five Questions on Philanthropy: Francine & Patrick Violas
Francine and Patrick Violas talk to us about their philanthropic initiative, La Tanière, an animal refuge they set up with a little help from the BNP Paribas Wealth Management individual philanthropy advisory team.
"We have decided to focus on a cause where we believe we can make an impact and make real change with the help of the people around us."
There is a long history behind our philanthropy. We have been involved in multiple initiatives in the past, helping children and disadvantaged people; we also established an educational farm to help children and adults alike learn more about the natural world. Our journey led us to La Tanière: an animal refuge that we recently set up near Paris. La Tanière welcomes animals from laboratories, those seized by customs and those in need of special care and attention. Our goal is to rescue, rehabilitate and if possible find a suitable wildlife park for them. The animals we rescue cannot be released back into the wild.
We are used to helping those in need. We have received enough over our lives and our careers and we want to give back, to contribute to projects we love and others love.
It is important to emphasise that our philanthropic commitment comes from the heart.
A number of causes are important to us. However, there are problems that we cannot fix alone, notably ecological issues and climate change and these issues have become extremely political. We decided to focus our efforts on a cause where we can make a difference and effect change, with the help of people around us. We can and do improve the lives of the animals we shelter. Some of them had never seen the sky before!
Our project’s main objective is to save animals, not just to protect them. We want to give them another chance or a second life. We have seen a real change in society’s attitudes towards this type of project, there is much less judgment and acceptance of what we are doing, than there was in the past. People will happily give their animals to us – something that would not have happened 10 years ago. We work with circuses, with individuals but also with various scientific laboratories. We offer a shelter, a new home to animals who need one and often are not indigenous to Europe.
We are funding this initiative with our own money but our financial resources cannot fully match our ambitions, so we are also trying to build a broad commitment from others to the animal cause.
In that respect, the media coverage our refuge has received from TV, radio, national and international press has been key.
We worked with the BNP Paribas Individual Philanthropy team to strengthen our governance and organisational processes. This is an important step in building trust with our supporters, families and entrepreneurs in our network. Building trust is key to expanding our ambitions.
We are proud of what we are doing. We are constantly expanding the project, always aiming for more impact. We can’t yet house forty elephants but we can shelter a couple. Our ambitions for the project are growing over time!
Our aim is to be as inclusive as possible with our project and we are lucky to have the support of a wide range of people. We already have 500 registered volunteers, with about 100 regularly giving their time. Most of our volunteers are women and our volunteers have already proved their incredible dedication, courage and sensitivity.
We still have a lot of work to do. The construction of the site is not entirely finished. Nevertheless, we can already see how the project itself helps our cause, the impact it has on the animals themselves as well as people’s reactions and empathy for the anims.
Without any doubt – it is paramount to clearly identify the cause and to be 100% committed to it. You should also surround yourself with experts and people who are as committed as you are and make sure you focus on communicating.
Scope everything out first. It is critical to know exactly what you want to achieve at the outset. It will always be broader in the end anyway. There will always be obstacles to tackle, barriers that have not been taken into account at the start. These often stem from administrative issues but not exclusively! Identify your objective and do not lose sight of it– believe in it and pursue your goal until the end.
You may be lucky and hit the jackpot but not every project succeeds. Ask for help, share your experience and seek expert advice. It is very important to be surrounded by people – including experts – that can help and contribute to your project. You also need people who are “doers”, who can find solutions, not only identify problems.
Finally, make sure you communicate! Explain the importance of your project to people around you, they may have not be aware of all your hard work for a greater cause.
We are very grateful for the advice and guidance we have received from the individual philanthropy advisory team at BNP Paribas Wealth Management. Our philanthropy adviser has been at our side from the beginning of the project, advising us at every stage, helping us to anticipate the risks without losing sight of the cause as well as introducing us to key individuals.
The individual philanthropy team is very well structured and we are working with them to broaden our impact. We are exploring the creation of an umbrella foundation, a platform which would provide a host structure for other families and entrepreneurs who want to support the animal cause but don’t have the time, resources or desire to embark on their own project.