This autumn marks 20 years of leaders from Latin America and Spain building bridges and sharing ideas to strengthen civil society. The 20th anniversary meeting of the Encuentro Iberoamerico de la Sociedad Civil was held on 15 and 16 October in Madrid. ‘Civil Society is responsible for building our future’ was one of the major conclusions of the event attended by foundation, non-profit, government and corporate social responsibility leaders from Latin America and Spain.
The biannual conference has been held in locations throughout Latin America and has returned to Spain once every ten years. The Spanish Association of Foundations organized the event, which was opened by Enrique Iglesias, former head of the InterAmerican Development Bank and current Director of the IberoAmerican Cooperation Secretariat, sending a strong message that healthy economies and a strong civil society go hand in hand.
Three panels particularly exemplified the focus and energy of the conference participants, and the sense of urgency and conviction that their countries’ civil societies must evolve – and fast – to respond to dramatic challenges in their communities and their economies.
The first panel focused on what is the mind of many in Spain: jobs and supporting the entrepreneurs who will create them. Empleo, Emprendimiento and Emprendedores was moderated by radio and television personality Toni Garrido, and the Colombian Fundación Carvajal and Spanish SECOT described successful initiatives in their respective countries. The head of Ashoka Europe described Ashoka’s finely tuned model for supporting social entrepreneurs in Spain and throughout Latin America and talked about recent new programming. Human resources company Adecco described its pro-employment initiatives both at home (in Spain) and abroad (in Peru) and ways it leverages both the foundation and the company´s Corporate Social Responsibility mandate.
The roles of ‘new actors’ and ‘new forms of influences’ were the focus of another particularly notable session. New actors shared their experiences and (often still short) histories of activism, including Change.org in Spain; Goteo, a social network for crowdfunding and collaboration for creative projects; Melior, an online community which promotes social change; and Civic Citizen, which uses technology to fight for greater transparency and encourage ‘data journalism’.
Innovation dominated the agenda of the final standout session, which was moderated by another radio personality, the cofounder of the Spanish Foundation Gomaespuma. Social marketing, virtual/online volunteering, and new forms of social investing such as social impact bonds were all hot topics. The executive director of the Foundation Hazloposible shared how her organization has embedded innovation in its culture with tactics such as dedicating 10% of staff time to innovation, tracking innovation indicators, etc. And Idealista.org, which works throughout Latin America, the Caribbean and Spain, brought the concept of innovation back down to earth with a memorable example from Colombia: for 10 years Biblioburro has brought books and hope to poor children throughout the treacherous violence-ridden mountain terrain of the Magdalena province… by donkey.
The 2012 meeting also marked the formal handing over of the leadership of the Encuentro from the much-appreciated outgoing Board Chair Jorge Villalobos, executive president of Cemefi (Centro Mexicano para la Filantropía) to the incoming Chair, Luisa María Pulido of the Venezuelan Eugenio Mendoza Foundation. The board also announced its decision to expand board representation from two to three members from each participating country and recommitted itself to sharing best practices and working as a network over the next two years. Hasta 2014!
Catalina Parra is founding partner of Philanthropic Intelligence