Hundreds of thousands of women across Latin America are demanding their rights and taking their own steps to transform their living conditions. They take victims of domestic violence women into their own homes; they create libraries to allow children without access to school to learn to read; they offer their savings to open community banks; they rescue girls kidnapped by human traffickers, and they take to the streets en masse to demand their right to abortion. However – and in spite of this effort and commitment – support in resources and money from local philanthropy does not materialise; local philanthropy does not even notice them.
It is devastating to see repeatedly how women engaged in different forms of community-based philanthropy must generate their own resources through volunteer work and their own contributions, with the consequent strain on their own lives and resources, job insecurity and barely the ghost of a chance of creating something sustainable, while wealthy women sit on their sofas and do nothing.
The ongoing research conducted by ELLAS on ‘Women, rights, and philanthropy in Latin America and the Caribbean’, whose main objective is to create knowledge and understand the relationships between women’s movements and regional philanthropy, notes the absence of corporate and individual philanthropy. International financing comes in dribs and drabs and goes mostly to large organisations – such as Women’s Funds – that play a key role in supporting feminist organisations. Nevertheless, the hundreds of collectives and smaller and informal community-based groups remain invisible.
Suddenly, businesswoman MacKenzie Scott has come into the picture. She decided to donate $3.9 billion to more than 1,200 organisations from around the world, including several from Latin America – particularly Brazil – focused on human rights, gender equality, LGBTQ+ and climate change.
With this gesture, Scott shook the conservative ecosystem of Latin American philanthropy to its core. She did not set up a giant foundation in her name, nor did she establish a hierarchical structure of professionals in the United States who would define the criteria for donating money to the global South. Scott went for more: she put into practice trust-based philanthropy and simplified the donation process as much as feasibly possible. With advice from a small group of experts, she made unrestricted donations of between $1 and $15 million to organisations whose mission and vision match hers, as well as to those led by women activists. In doing so, she took an unprecedented political position: supporting those who denounce and fight the patriarchal, abusive model of power, whose adherents are the main obstacle to social and gender equity and environmental justice.
The fact that the money she donated comes precisely from irresponsible capitalism is perhaps the most emblematic part of this story. By stepping out of the box, Scott made the other side of the coin visible – the stories of struggle of grassroots women’s organisations on the margins, who are creating collective, innovative ways to survive in the weakened, inefficient democracies of the South.
The cry raised by Scott is a global and resounding one. In Latin America, we look forward to seeing how the philanthropy industry in the region reacts to it. Will it take heed and back the movement and its unstoppable struggle to advance women’s rights? Or will it turn a deaf ear?
Florencia Roitstein is the CEO of ELLAS-Mujeres y Filantropia, and Andrés Thompson is Coordinator.
This article was translated into English by Mario Vazquez, interpreter and translator.