ICSW2016 – Recovering trust in philanthropy

 

Carolina Suarez

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During the CIVICUS International Civil Society Week – ICSW2016, held in Bogota, Colombia, I had the opportunity to participate in the session led by Jenny Hodgson: “Rethinking the resourcing of civil society: Local philanthropy’s role in supporting citizen action.”

This session brought together various representatives of civil society organisations, mostly from Latin America, who expressed their opinion and enormous scepticism about the role of philanthropy in promoting social change.

I confess that the expressed thoughts in the session caused in me an immense amazement. As executive director of AFE Colombia, an Association in Colombia that brings together the most representative corporate and family foundations of the country, I am convinced of the importance and the value that corporate philanthropy can bring to society. There is a misunderstanding regarding the real role of foundations. The public assumes that all corporate foundations are created for evading taxes, that they are entities co-opted by the State, or that they want to compete with civil society entities. That is not true.

However, I think we cannot act like an ostrich and not publicly acknowledge the enormous scepticism and lack of trust towards philanthropy.

Given this reality, there is a huge challenge to regain the confidence in philanthropy. This challenge can only be achieved, if philanthropy decisively bets on innovative projects, engaging with and originating from the community. Projects with a long-term vision that are aware of the importance of strengthening local assets. Those that have the ability to take risks with their own resources whilst maintaining independence, without being co-opted by particular interests. These are examples of what should guide philanthropic actions.

Philanthropic organisations need to be more transparent. They should benefit all society, and be driven toward serving the most challenging social causes of our world, framed on the 17 SDGs.

Similarly, after listening to Jenny’s excellent presentation to the AFE Foundations, with the valuable participation of Felecia Lucky, Executive Director of the Black Belt Community Foundation in Selma, Alabama, and Anderson Da Silva, one of the leaders of The Iberoamerican Network of Community Foundations and Executive Manager of ICom -Community Institute of Florianópolis, I reaffirmed my belief in the importance of community foundations. As Andres Thompson wrote ten years ago for Alliance, community foundations represent a “valuable way of dealing with the local problems, while providing a space for community representation and involvement and securing a regular funding for the local programmes.”

Community foundations are one of the vehicles to strengthen the trust of society towards philanthropy, particularly in Latin America, where this model is still under development. After the session with Jenny, I felt that community foundations are crucial for achieving social transformation, strengthening the social dialogue, and empowering communities contributing to the recovery of confidence required in philanthropy.

Carolina Suarez, Executive Director of AFE Colombia
@AfeColombia / http://afecolombia.org/en-us/


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