Blog: Amplify

Latin America on the Cusp of Philanthropic Transformation

Most Latin American countries continue with high GDP growth rates amid the global financial crisis. While the nonprofit sector in these countries is among the smallest in the world, these nations are on the cusp of significant philanthropic transformation. This is due, in part, to a rising middle class, technology connecting more citizens and Next Gen awareness, and increasing corporate social responsibility (CSR).

I recently released a report on grantmaking in Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC) for 2010 to 2012. There are 45 countries in the region. Findings show that Canadian and European foundations favor funding programs in Central American and Andean countries, while Caribbean foundations almost exclusively fund within their own region. U.S. foundations favor Mexico and Brazil, although grants are made extensively across the region. Members of the Council on Foundations made 73 percent of all the grants to the region.

Both geographical and thematic trends emerge. Nearly two-thirds (64.2 percent) of all grant dollars went to two countries—Mexico and Brazil. Four other countries—Peru, Colombia, Argentina, and Chile—comprised the next 22 percent. The remaining 13.8 percent was distributed among the other 39 countries. Seven themes comprised 90 percent of grant dollars’ foci; the top three were the environment, international/foreign affairs, and human rights.

What are LAC-based foundations funding? Some countries, like Brazil, do not permit grants made outside their borders and we see grantmaking trends that reflect local perceptions of need. For example, in Argentina and Brazil, education is a priority and funding for the environment is somewhere down the list. In Mexico, funding for the arts and human rights prevail. Why the discrepancy between foreign and local grantmaker agendas? Do local foundations perceive a different priority or are they filling the void left by foreign funders? U.S. foundations could do more to reach out to Latin American-based foundations to understand what makes them tick. The Organisationfor Economic Co-operation and Development(OECD) Development Center’s June launch of the Global Network of Foundations is a step in the right direction to create a space where collaboration may be implemented.

While the LAC region lacks the strong tradition of grassroots civil society that is hallmark of the United States’ third sector, change is happening from the top down, and CSR is leading the charge. Last year, LANPeru flight attendants walked through the aisles before take-off to collect funds for at-risk children in the Andes. Nearly half (45 percent) of the foundations responding to the Centro Mexicano para la Filantropia 2011 survey were corporate foundations or programs. In May, the Inter-American Development Bank began promoting “innovation laboratories” in Latin American CSR and several heavy hitters—including Pepsico, Cemex, Citi, and Microsoft—threw their hats into the ring.

I believe that in just a few short years, Latin America will undergo a remarkable transformation in the sector not seen since the Spanish crown’s Sociedades de Beneficencia during colonization, or at least since the surge of mutual benefit societies that accompanied the massive wave of immigration in the late 19th century. Where are those who will lead it? It is time for family, independent, and community grantmaking organizations, in addition to corporate, to step back and see the forest as well as the Amazonian trees and step up to strengthen the philanthropic structure through advocacy, education, research, and collaboration.

Van Evans was the summer associate for global philanthropy at the Council on Foundations and is a Ph.D. student in Philanthropic Studies at Indiana University – Purdue University Indianapolis. He can be reached at

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