Some degree of closing space for civil society is a trending reality in over 90 countries. Governments around the world are increasingly adopting restrictions on funding at both the domestic and cross-border levels, which in turn, limits civil society’s freedom and space to operate.
As part of the civil society ecosystem, philanthropic institutions are also affected by these restrictive measures as shrinking space affects their capacity to support civil society organizations and carry out their programs effectively.
On the bright side, organizations supporting philanthropy play an important role in creating an enabling environment for philanthropy to operate. By advocating for stronger, more long-term partnerships with government and CSOs, philanthropy support organizations can help build and consolidate an empowering legal framework, a tax structure that provides incentives, an accountability system that builds confidence, and institutional capacity to implement effective solutions for philanthropy. This is accomplished through interventions like law reforms, advocacy, media campaigns, and public education.
Many of WINGS’ members are engaged in such activities. In a recently completed survey of 63 members, which will be introduced at the WINGSForum 2017, 67% of those philanthropy support organizations report they are extremely or moderately engaged with advocacy. In fact, advocacy is among 5 of the most frequent activities of support organizations, widely recognized as a way to build a better environment for philanthropy and civil society.
Many challenges remain. The research among WINGS members shows that despite the high engagement of respondents with advocacy activities, most still assess their capacity to positively impact policies as medium or low.
How do we increase the capacity of support organizations to engage in advocacy, work better with media, and pursue other activities that help create a better environment for philanthropy and civil society organizations in their countries and regions? What can we learn from those who have been engaged with these issues? How can we collaborate and harness an organization’s individual strengths without neglecting local cultures and challenges? Can we do a better job of advocacy at a global level, and what kind of alliances should we build with other actors from the broader civil society?
These are some of the questions that will be addressed at WINGSForum 2017, the only global conference for philanthropy support organizations, taking place February 22 -24, in Mexico City. The Forum will gather leaders from philanthropy support organizations and other sectors to explore both emergent trends and some of the contentious issues of the day.
Topics to be discussed include the closing space for civil society, philanthropy support organizations as political actors, advocacy and communication, power differentials in the sector, and when and where to apply business solutions to pressing social problems.
The discussions that will take place at WINGSForum 2017 are part of ongoing efforts, led by WINGS and its members, to bring critical issues to the forefront of philanthropy. In March 2016, a group of 35 representatives of philanthropy infrastructure organizations from Africa, Asia, Europe, North America and South America met in Lisbon to discuss the current situation regarding the ‘disenabling environment’ for philanthropy.
Among the conclusions drawn were that we need to do more to build up our constituencies in-country and globally. We can collaborate more effectively as well to put in place rapid response mechanisms when new legislation is under consideration or organizations come under threat. Next steps include continuing this conversation at the WINGS Forum and building a collaborative agenda for the upcoming years.
Promoting an enabling environment for philanthropy and civil society is an important objective for WINGS. We support our members engaged in advocacy activities by building the network, promoting the exchange of knowledge and experiences, and offering useful tools.
At a global level, we are engaging in dialogue with other international networks promoting an enabling environment for philanthropy, like CIVICUS, Ariadne, International Peace and Social Justice Funders, and The International Center for Not-for-Profit Law (ICNL).
We hope to see you in Mexico for WINGS Forum 2017 to continue the discussion!
Pamela Ribeiro is a Knowledge Management Coordinator for WINGS.