A Shared Agenda for Social Justice and Peace Philanthropy in Latin America and the Caribbean

By Chandrika Sahai and Ana Criquillion
This post is also available here in Spanish.

At the current moment in time, Latin America and the Caribbean as a region is witnessing enormous shifts. Its economic landscape is changing and some of the countries in the region are now identified as emerging markets. Meanwhile social, economic and political structures continue to be characterized by inequalities that are rooted in a history of slavery and patriarchy. Until recently, philanthropy was a rare phenomenon, related mostly with charity for poor or sick people and in general for the needy. In the last three decades, most of the countries in the region have witnessed the emergence of new forms of philanthropy coming mainly from the corporate sector and linked to Corporate Social Responsibility initiatives. Despite the increase in giving, mainstream philanthropy in the region has in general tended to shy away and remained disconnected from grassroots movements for social change such as the human rights movement, women’s rights movements and community driven initiatives demanding policy shifts and accountability from governments.

Since the 1990’s, however a new breed of foundations have emerged across the region that are funding through ‘social justice’ lens and are rooted in the movements for social change. In May 2013, twenty-one of these foundations (including two major networks – Network of Independent Funds for Social Justice –Brasil and the Latin American and Caribbean Consortium of Women’s Funds) gathered in a room in Bogota to explore their collective strengths, develop a shared agenda to increase the impact of philanthropy and mobilize more resources for movements for structural and systemic transformation in the region.

The process began in January 2013 when in a bid to begin to explore the context that necessitates and shapes a social justice and peace lens to philanthropy in the region, the Working Group on Philanthropy for Social Justice and Peace undertook a study to map a baseline of this emerging field. The mapping culminated in the Bogota convening.

Even before we started, we were aware of the elephant in the room – the issue of language. Conversations and knowledge produced on social justice and peace philanthropy across the world has predominantly catered to and included voices of English speaking foundations. The resultant lack of communication with Portuguese and Spanish speaking foundations of Latin America that it creates is more than just an inconvenience; it impacts whose voices are heard and whose values and experiences shape mainstream philanthropic discourse. Therefore, right from the start of the mapping process we committed ourselves to breaking down the barriers posed by language in order to provide space for inclusive conversations that allowed for all perspectives to be heard. All research was conducted in Spanish, Portuguese and English and most of the resource materials at the convening were made available in all three languages.

At a two day convening in Bogota we discussed questions of what is common in our values and work, what binds us together, what sets us apart because of the different contexts that we operate in, our shared frustrations, our most gratifying achievements that help us make the case. We also talked about the need to find out which other foundations in the region share this same conceptual and strategic framework and about the need to broaden and deepen the impact of philanthropy for social justice and peace in Latin America and the Caribbean. On that line, we committed ourselves to four key agendas:

1. To better define social justice philanthropy to capture the theoretical and practical essence of the work in the Latin American and Caribbean context in order to make our voices heard and included in the mainstream philanthropy discourse
2. To share knowledge and tools and reflect on our own practice in order to be better at what we do
3. To promote the development of a local philanthropic culture in the region to support social movements and organizations in their struggle for social justice and peace.
4. To develop a community of practice that can help to do this

We were struck by the sense of community in the room and inspired by the promise we held as a collective voice. Over the coming weeks and months we will be following up on commitments made individually and collectively to move this work forward. Watch this space for the baseline study and for conversations to strengthen and grow the community of social justice and peace philanthropy practitioners in Latin America and the Caribbean.

In the meanwhile, we are excited to share with you in Spanish, the report ‘How can we grow the work? Ideas from practitioners of Philanthropy for Social Justice and Peace’, based on our conversations with twenty-four practitioners across the world. We are also thrilled to share with you in Spanish and Portuguese, ‘Social Justice Philanthropy: An Initial Framework for Positioning This Work’, a paper by Albert Ruesga and Deborah Puntenney discussing eight different (and overlapping) traditions of social justice on which philanthropic practitioners base their practice.

The Bogota convening on “Exploring a Shared Agenda to Advance Social Justice Philanthropy in Latin America and the Caribbean” was organized by the Working Group on Philanthropy for Social Justice and Peace (WG-PSJP) and Network of Independent Funds for Social Justice –Brasil (NIFSJ- Brasil) in collaboration with the Latin American and Caribbean Consortium of Women’s Funds (CONMUJERES).