Philanthropy in Spain… but… does that exist?


Maria Palomares Arenas


Maria Palomares Arenas

I have only recently started working at Calala, the first women’s fund to be created in Spain, and I have to admit that entering this world has been quite a discovery for me.

I come from working in the international cooperation sector and I have always been interested in gender issues and advocacy for women’s rights. My entire working life has taken place in what is known in Spain as the third sector – nonprofit organizations – and yet the notion of philanthropy was not on my radar. I did not have connections with private donors and I had never stopped to think about how important it can be to have a network of individuals who support and believe in your cause.

In Spain, charities and organizations have traditionally been funded mainly by governments. Each citizen pays her or his taxes and a portion of this money must be used by the state to fulfill its obligations with regard to advancing human rights nationally and also in those countries with whom we have historically had a relationship. This is a funding model we refuse to abandon: as a country, we have a responsibility towards social progress.

Few organizations have integrated the ‘private funding chip’ (ie individual donor support), with the exception of large NGOs that are part of international networks. But all organizations – big and small – acknowledge the importance of having your own social constituency to be able to work autonomously from the governments and their different ideologies.

What, then, is happening to philanthropy in Spain? And particularly, what is going on now, in the midst of the serious crisis we are experiencing? Austerity policies currently being implemented are dismantling our welfare state. Public budgets no longer allocate money for the grants that social organizations used to receive. The current situation can be seen as a catastrophe. For instance, aid and grants in the women’s rights sector have been reduced by 75 per cent. The most prestigious organizations, with consolidated services and empowerment work, are seeing their professional teams reduced to the point of disintegration. In general, the third sector, which employed  more than 500,000 people in 2010 (according to Fundación Luis Vives’ Anuario del Tercer Sector de Acción Social en España, 2010), is holding on with minimum resources, to a degree never seen before.

We are all astonished by what is going on. Compared to a few years ago, fundraising campaigns and  micro-sponsorship platforms are flourishing, while individual solidarity is also increasing. Strategies that were never used before are now indispensable, and the best news is that Spanish society is responding. It has always been said that Spain was one of the most caring countries, as shown in cases of natural disasters when huge amounts of money were raised to support the victims. This solidarity is now being channelled to those affected by the crisis by individuals supporting small organizations, denouncement campaigns, cultural projects, food banks, social entrepreneurship and so forth.

But we are still lacking something. What are the large Spanish fortunes doing? Who is contributing the significant sums of money needed to make projects sustainable? Philanthropy is still the ‘unknown’ in Spain. As a concept it is scarcely used and often misunderstood. In Spain we have always spoken of charity, and charity was channelled through the Church. Big donations were made to religious organizations, and they tend to be given in silence. We don’t have celebrities showing their solidarity and inspiring others to do the same. The first case that involved this type of giving that was covered by the media was a €20 million donation by Amancio Ortega, one of the richest people in the world (the owner of Inditex, which is the largest Spanish company). The money he donated was given to the religious foundation Caritas.

In Spain we need major donors to come forward, like ordinary people are already doing with their small donations to organizations. And we need them to be daring and fund other kinds of projects aimed at social change, transformation and creating a strong civil society. This includes initiatives for women’s rights and building an inclusive democracy for everyone, including our migrant populations – in short, for the human rights of all. This has not yet been done in Spain.

What can help create this culture of philanthropy in our country? At Calala, a foundation committed to equality and women’s rights, we think that the responsibility lies with all organizations and foundations committed to human rights. But we also know that right now we need international support to create visibility and to show examples of committed social philanthropy. We can achieve this by working together.

María Palomares Arenas is executive director of Calala Women’s Fund (Calala Fondo de Mujeres), an organization that mobilizes resources to support women’s and feminist movements in Latin America, the Caribbean and Spain. It raises awareness and funds, and give grants to women’s rights grassroots groups, networks and organizations that are working on issues that are difficult to fund, such as reproductive rights, sexual health and violence against women. This article is part of a series posted by Mama Cash sharing the perspectives of the local and regional funds that are its grantee-partners.

Tagged in: Financial crisis High Net Worth Individuals human rights Spain Women's issues

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