This report, published in September 2014, summarises the findings of a baseline study on philanthropy for social justice and peace in Latin America and the Caribbean. It gives a glimpse of an emerging body of foundations that are providing resources for movements for structural and systemic transformation in the region.
The study reveals that the region is today dotted with small indigenous philanthropic institutions that identify themselves as women’s funds, community foundations, human rights funds. While they are often set up with international funding, they are characterised by a shared commitment to social justice in the region, support for a social change agenda that is locally owned and driven, and a commitment to long-term work towards the change they seek.
The emergence of these foundations marks a critical shift from philanthropic models that have previously dominated Latin America and the Caribbean. By and large the region is still characterised by religious giving. The Catholic Church continues to play an important role in all forms of philanthropy, as many observers have noted, and according to Sanborn and Portocarrero, much of the new philanthropy that is emerging ‘does not have a progressive impact.’ They note that a significant share of giving remains focused in urban centres and affluent communities and therefore reinforces rather than reduces social and economic disparities. For example, much of the private philanthropy in education supports private schools and universities for the elite, rather than addressing the inequality between education received by the privileged and the poor. Following the vogue for corporate social responsibility (CSR) in the region, corporate foundations have proliferated and ‘private social investment’ has come to be the dominant philanthropic model. But generally, this model has failed to address entrenched systemic and structural issues.
Funding for social justice and peace building work has generally come from the Global North. Not only is this now dwindling, but is also increasingly inclined towards funding for short-term projects with quantifiable results and remains beyond the reach of smaller grassroots efforts which the movements for social change in the region tend to comprise.
Because of this, indigenous foundations that are rooted in the region and have an understanding of the power structures have emerged across Latin America since the 1990s. The first women’s fund based in Latin America, Fondo Semillas in Mexico, was established during the 1990s. Since then several other women’s funds operating within a social justice and peace framework have been created in Brazil, Chile, Nicaragua, Colombia, Argentina and Bolivia, many of which are connected through the International Network of Women’s Funds. These funds have also created a Latin American Consortium (CONMUJERES) and work together in joint fundraising and grant-making initiatives.
Since 2003, Brazil has seen the emergence of a new breed of indigenous grantmaker with a focus on social justice and social change. These were set up either by activists or supporters of social movements. Despite their reliance on resources from foreign funders for their establishment, all are rooted in indigenous social movements.
We would like readers to see this report as only a first step towards recognising an emerging field of philanthropy in Latin America and the Caribbean. It is by no means comprehensive, nor could it be, given the present limitations on knowledge. Chief among these limitations is the language barrier; the restricted access to technology of many grassroots groups; regional differences in the terminology involved in the philanthropy and civil society sectors; and legal frameworks. We believe that there are other organisations in the region that are supporting local movement building and structural change, but, at the moment, we don’t have the means to know who or where they are.
The objectives of the report are therefore to:
- begin to describe and outline an emerging field of small indigenous foundations in Latin America and the Caribbean which are supporting movements for structural and systemic transformation
- focus more attention on both the value of, and challenges facing, these funders
- promote discussion of how the field can strengthen and develop itself in the region
 Sanborn, C and F Portocarrero (2006) Philanthropy and Social Change in Latin America, Harvard University Press.