“Why aren’t young Latin American researchers talking about philanthropy yet?” Reflections from a fellow scholar


Bruna de Morais Holanda


“Why aren’t young Latin American researchers talking about philanthropy yet?” is a strong question. It is raised from a personal perspective shaped by my experience as a PhD candidate and researcher in the nonprofit field of studies within public administration in Brazil. 

This perspective was further informed during a brief discussion at the conclusion of the PhD Seminar of the 13th Latin America and the Caribbean Regional Conference of the International Society for Third Sector Research (ISTR).

Over the years, the ISTR has hosted a pre-conference event known as the PhD Seminar. To date, this event has been conducted globally for seven editions. Its positive reception has led the ISTR to expand this initiative to the regional conferences. As of now, three editions of the PhD Seminar have been organised in Latin America and the Caribbean. The first took place in Quito (Ecuador) in 2017, the second in Medellín (Colombia) in 2019, and the third in São Paulo (Brazil) in 2023.

Having attended the last two editions of the ISTR conference and PhD Seminar, both the global event in Montreal in 2022 and the regional event this year, I can affirm that the PhD Seminar constitutes one of the most enriching segments of the conference. It provides PhD students, regardless of our research stage, with an opportunity to delve deeper into our areas of interest and career prospects. It also allows us to network with peers, researchers, and professors from around the world, gaining insights into the developments in the field of nonprofit studies.

In the closing section of this year’s PhD Seminar, an engaging exercise was introduced. Participants were asked to vote for the conference themes they considered most pertinent to the current state of the field and then vote for the topics they were actively researching. The themes included: 

  1. Civil Society, Social Movements, and Uncivil Groups; 
  2. Institutions and Regulation of Civil Society: Transparency and Accountability; 
  3. Management and Sustainability of Civil Society Organizations; Socio-state relations: Old and New Forms of Civil Society Participation in Public Policies and Collaborative Governance, Collaborations, and Conflicts; 
  4. Social Innovation, Social Impact, and Co-Production; 
  5. Civil Society in the Face of Climate and Environmental Crises; 
  6. Civil Society and the Confrontation of Racial and Gender Inequalities and the Promotion of Diversity and Equity; 
  7. Forms of Organization of Indigenous Peoples; 
  8. Corporate Social Action and the Challenges of Sustainability; 
  9. Networks, Digital Space, and Third Sector; 
  10. Teaching, Research, and Practice-Oriented Research on the Third Sector; and 
  11. Other topics.

Despite the irrefutable value of all the topics, in the discussion that followed, one of the questions asked was what the “other topics” were, on which only I and one other colleague voted. I promptly pointed out that my research falls within this category because it explores philanthropy. While we can establish connections between philanthropy and Corporate Social Action, the former is not confined to the latter and can manifest in various forms, such as individual charity or community and family foundations. In response to this observation, I was asked why I thought philanthropy did not play a more prominent role in the interests of doctoral students. My response was that it does, and I would even venture to say that in the previous year’s global edition of the PhD Seminar, it was among the primary research topics of the participants. 

This discussion lingered in my thoughts, eventually inspiring the question that is the title of this text. There could be numerous reasons for the relatively weaker culture of philanthropy research in Latin America. Some contributing factors may include historical disparities in the development of charity and giving concepts in the United States and Europe compared with Latin America, affecting the culture of giving. Additionally, issues related to tax incentives, state involvement, political instability, and ideological resistance, among other factors, may also play a role.

While I do not yet have a definitive answer to this question, I believe in its significance. Philanthropy is gaining increasing prominence in democratic societies worldwide, with numerous initiatives in Latin America standing out. It plays a key role in addressing a wide spectrum of social, economic, and environmental challenges. Moreover, it contributes significantly to the provision of social services, the promotion of cultural activities, and the stimulation of political engagement, among other aspects.

This entails neither romanticising philanthropy nor shying away from discussing its potential adverse consequences, its connection to capitalist principles, and its influence on young democracies, found in numerous Latin American nations. However, this underscores the growing need for shared governance in addressing complex issues of public interest, which requires the collaboration of all sectors of society. Such a topic needs to be discussed by Academia and, above all, by the young researchers who are starting their careers in it and will guide much of what will be discussed in the nonprofit study field in the future.

Bruna de Morais Holanda is a PhD candidate at the Getulio Vargas Foundation (FGV EAESP), Fulbright visiting researcher at the University at Albany (SUNY) and researcher at the José Luiz Egydio Setúbal Foundation (FJLES). You can contact Bruna at holandabm11@gmail.com.  

Tagged in: #ISTR2023

Comments (0)

Ronise Suzuki

Excellent comments, necessary reflections!

Lucas Custódio Alexandrino

Very good article!

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