In Mexico City, WINGSForum attendees from 41 countries adopted the Mexico Declaration which articulated a shared commitment to ‘respect for cultural diversity and global collaboration, reducing human inequality, protecting the natural environment and promoting development.’ Over 4 days, this global network of philanthropy networks shared strategies for working in changing political environments, discussing the role of philanthropy infrastructure within increasingly nationalistic contexts and the need for global solidarity around shared values within philanthropy.
Issues of the enabling environment and the closing space for civil society have been regular topics of conversation in our sector over the last 5 years. Doug Rutzen of ICNL shared during a pre-conference that he had been invited more than 60 meetings on the topic in the last 2 years.
And yet, in Mexico City, we were talking about the how a newly elected president would likely restrict civil society – not in contexts like Russia or India or China, but in the United States, in England, and across a growing list of Western, liberal democracies.
For perhaps the first time, networks from countries like mine were talking about our issues at home, not just the issues foundations from our countries face when engaging abroad. As we face new political realities that impact our members, there is a lot we can learn from peer philanthropy networks who have been dealing with this issue for decades.
Speakers at the forum repeatedly called for foundations and networks of philanthropy to be ‘political not partisan’ – to take a stand when the inherent values of our sector are being threatened. Research released at the conference also showed that almost 70 per cent of the WINGS network is currently engaging in advocating for policy change in their country.
Today, our world needs strong, global solidarity across philanthropy and true exchange of lessons learned, especially for countries where we thought these issues were about ‘them’ not ‘us’.
As politicians promote building walls, the current political moment requires that we build bridges – not just to connect societies and promote openness, but also to bridge experiences from philanthropy working in closing civic space around the world. This problem of closing space for civil society won’t be solved with a silver bullet or single global strategy.
However, as we aim to move from diagnosing the problem to action on the issue within our unique domestic contexts, it’s clear we don’t have time to waste in finding ways to build solidarity, with a dash of humility from those of us who thought these challenges of nationalism and populism wouldn’t happen in our borders.
Luckily, WINGS as a growing global network provides an ideal platform for sharing of ideas, strategies, and tools for working on these shared challenges together.
Natalie Ross is Senior Director for Global Philanthropy and Partnerships at the Council of Foundations.
Catch up on coverage from the 2017 WINGS Forum here.