Small, locally-focused but willing to work together: new picture of Colombian foundations


Andrew Milner and Charles Keidan


The Colombian foundation sector is relatively young, operates its own programmes, and is overwhelmingly focussed on young people and education.

These are some of the most striking findings of a new study of the sector produced by Asociación de Fundaciónes Familiares y Empresariales (AFE), the umbrella body for Colombian institutional philanthropy. Based on a survey of 100 foundations Foundations in Colombia: Characteristics, trends, and challenges is the most comprehensive study of philanthropy in Colombia to date. The study forms part of a Harvard University series of Global Philanthropy Reports commissioned by private bank UBS, with support from the New York based Ford Foundation. The Colombian report also received funding from the Inter-American Development Bank.

The study finds that 69 per cent of the sample of Colombian foundations are corporate foundations, many of which were created in the decade 2000-10. Nearly half of them have fewer than 10 employees and more than half (60 per cent) spend less than 5,000 million Colombian pesos per year ($1.7 million).

Diversity at board level may well be a looming issue. Women make up less than a quarter of the board membership in 41 per cent of the sample. In terms of beneficiaries, the most significant proportions are children and young people. Forty-four per cent of the sample listed adolescents and young people among communities served and 40 per cent primary school children (education absorbs a good deal of support among these groups with over 40 per cent saying they supported each of primary, secondary and post-secondary education). A similar proportion also said they served young adults (19-30 year olds). By contrast, only four per cent said they served grassroots communities, only six per cent migrants and refugees and none that they served LGBTQ groups. Perhaps most surprisingly for a country emerging from a turbulent recent past, only seven per cent said they supported conflict resolution and peace-building.

Surprisingly, given that many Colombian foundations run their own operations rather than make grants, 62 per cent of them say that they support registered NPOs with only four per cent supporting unregistered NPOs. Four per cent ‘always and only’ make grants, the lowest percentage in a region which is in any case characterised by a preference for operating foundations, compared with 47 per cent which are solely operating foundations.

Geographically, support is overwhelmingly concentrated in the local community. The proportion of those who work outside the country is negligible. Neither has the practice of impact or mission-related investing caught on to any marked extent. Only five per cent said they invariably used investments as a means of support for causes or organisations related to their mission. By contrast, the practice of collaboration is widespread. Ninety-six per cent claimed to engage in joint and collective design and planning of initiatives with other foundations, while 86 per cent spoke of partnerships with government and 76 per cent of co-financing projects with them.

Among the recommendations of the report are the promotion of diversity and the use of more grantmaking, the increase of alignment of initiatives with the SDGs and the promotion of transparency and public access to information by and about foundations.

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