Latin America by Latin Americans?


Andrés Thompson

Andres Thompson

Andrés Thompson

The most recent well-known update about trends in the field of philanthropy in Latin America is almost a year old, and very little reflection has happened since then. The report was produced by the Inter-American Development Bank and the Avina Foundation and, to be honest, many practitioners in the field still hesitate to accept that its results are really true.

Based on their own data collection (2007), the publishers reveal a first important fact: the main donors to the region are the governmental international cooperation agencies from ‘developed’ countries (mainly the United States and the European Union), accounting for 45% of total investments (US$ 3,497 million). In other words, the citizens from those countries pay their taxes, the governments collect them and distribute them abroad. So, to a large extent, social investment in Latin America depends heavily on the internal politics and correlations of forces in each one of the countries. A natural question stems from that fact: what is the role of Latin American civil societies in shaping those agendas? At the moment, I only know of efforts in Argentina and Brazil addressing this issue.

The broad issues or fields of intervention of these international donors, including now international NGOs and foundations, relate in one way or another to strengthening the democratic governance and civil societies of the region. This is a wise approach that is absent in the growing investments being made by businesses, which focus on more ‘practical’ issues like environment, arts and culture and education.

Another major issue highlighted in the report is perhaps the more controversial one: the rise and growth of Latin American donors. Leaving aside the development aid agencies (ie public money), the investments made by Latin American organizations now surpass the amounts made by their European and North American counterparts. The top five Latin American private donors gave away a total of US$478 million in 2008, while the top five Europeans account for US$81 million and the US US$190 million. Worth noting is that the top five Latin Americans are all Brazilian (the Albert Einstein Institute for Social Responsibility, Bradesco foundation, Group Santander Brazil, Gerdau Institute and Petrobras), thus confirming in the field of philanthropy the impressive growth of the Brazilian economy.

If these trends continue in the same direction, the implications for the field of philanthropy are of much importance, in particular for Brazil. The growth of private donors, in particular related to the business sector, brings along new agendas where the role of civil society in shaping public policies will tend to receive less and less support in favor of more pragmatic solutions to social problems; social entrepreneurs will receive more attention than social movements and organizations; ‘high impact’ projects will be prioritized against social transformational causes. As I read some time ago, ‘donors will not fund revolutions’ any more.

What are the implications of these changes for Latin American civil societies? How will the non-profit, non-governmental leadership react? What other consequences these will have? To answer these questions, more urgent research and analysis is needed as a basis for further action.

Andrés Thompson is currently the general manager of streetfootballworld in Brazil.

Tagged in: Brazil Civil society Latin America Overseas aid Private donors

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