In a recent essay, writer, historian and activist Rebecca Solnit expressed, in a vivid and clear way, that although invisible and immaterial, we reside within many overlapping structures. ‘They are assembled from ideas, visions and values emerging out of conversations, essays, editorials, arguments, slogans, social media messages, books, protests and demonstrations. About race, class, gender, sexuality; about nature, power, climate (…)’. They also reflect ideas about compassion, generosity, collectivity. Large structures are formed and, over time, we come to live inside of them without necessarily seeing them.
Solnit is referring to structures of thinking which shape – at different levels of consciousness – the structures of a field. Since last October, the Donation Culture Movement, a collaborative network of people and organisations dedicated to promoting the culture of giving in Brazil, has been leading a process of mapping the structures of the giving field (professionals, organisations, actions, donors). And, also, the formulation of a strategic agenda for its development. Such mapping is based on findings from previous research and the current experience of its professionals, gathered in a series of interviews, workshops and talks with experts.
Making the structures of a field of action visible is essential as a guide for those who develop it or intend to develop it. The better your participants are identified, and challenges and opportunities are mapped, the better the efforts and resources will be used to strengthen it, avoiding overlapping programmes and identifying opportunities that are not yet being explored. The role of grantmaking is essential for this process and the development of Brazilian philanthropy will certainly move forward if it has a healthy financing structure for its initiatives.
However, this is not a new idea. It can be seen just by looking at countries who inspire us in terms of their giving ethos, such as the United States and England. However different from Brazil, culturally and in relation to its philanthropic history, the volume of resources available for donation and the results achieved is remarkable. To cite two out of many examples available: the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy, an American family foundation focused on increasing understanding of philanthropy and improving its practices, and the Charities Aid Foundation in England, which produces research and knowledge about donations, nationally and internationally, with some excellent works that also address Brazil.
What is new – or, in other words, not investigated and not known – is the structure of thinking that is holding the investment process up in Brazilian philanthropy. Historically, we know that Brazilian philanthropy was financed by resources from international cooperation, followed by some private international foundations. At a certain moment in history, however, such funders began to see Brazil as a country whose strengthened economy and internal wealth were capable of backing its philanthropic development process and began to direct their investments to poorer countries on the Global South.
Since then, there has been a discernible process of inner strengthening of the philanthropic field in Brazil, with an increase in structuring organisations both in the area of giving and fundraising. Still, compared to its existing wealth and numerous socio-environmental challenges, the philanthropic field can be considered small. The immediate question is: what is missing for resources to flood the strengthening of this field?
Looking further into the structures of thinking: regarding the resources that are already flowing through Brazilian philanthropy, what values are they carrying forward to the field in formation? In the United States approximately 18 per cent of resources are donated by foundations, five per cent by corporations and nine per cent by bequests, while 68 per cent are donated by individuals. It is important to notice that it is the privileged minority, in resources and formal education (which carries within itself certain archetypes of thinking) that forms the centre of the structural field of philanthropy and influences the remaining 68 per cent. There is an immense human and environmental responsibility in this centre, which needs to be recognised and taken care of so that grantmaking is a tool that fosters change and innovation instead of maintaining an unequal relationship of power (status quo).
In the United States the philanthropic field is at a more advanced stage of development than in Brazil, which means that there are examples to be observed. At the same time, we need to be careful and identify the archetypal background thinking of American philanthropy (and that of other countries) and decide whether these values are what we want to see in Brazil. Opening this space for reflection and awareness is a fundamental role of Brazilian grantmaking, allowing the Brazilian giving voice to be heard. To discover what is truly part of our culture and, having it as a starting point, can lead to a large-scale reflection of giving as a path to social integration, and of building a paradigm where each individual is an important part in the formation of the society that we want to see developed in the country.
The great advantage of being beginners in the process of building the structures of the field – even though we already have a few decades on the road – is that there is still time to stop, breathe, and observe the structures of thinking underlying giving and make conscious choices about the philanthropy and humanity we want to promote with our actions. The resources coming from grantmaking shape the philanthropic field itself and the causes around it, and current times – the pandemic and global challenges – ask us to stop and (re)think about the values we want inside and outside our structures, especially the Brazilian philanthropic structure.
This article was first published by WINGS on 29 October 2020.
Joana Mortari is Member of the Leading Committee of the Movement for a Culture of Giving and Board Member of Associação Acorde.