On November 18 and 19, EcoViva attended the 2015 Central America Donors Forum hosted by the Seattle International Foundation in San Salvador. It was the first time the event was held in Central America. The Forum convened donors, members of the private, philanthropic, and public sectors, as well as international development agencies. The program featured panels on topics including immigration, violence prevention, corruption, advancing the rights of women and girls, economic development, and education. The discussions that dominated the forum revolved around the problem of violence that the Northern Triangle countries (El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras) are experiencing and the tools that can be deployed to prevent it, including education and economic development. (For a complete agenda of the conference visit: http://www.seaif.org/2015donorsforum.asp)
Some of the key takeaways we learned from the forum were actually quite encouraging. For example, the audience received a sneak peek into some new figures on philanthropic participation in Central America. The good news is that there is a positive trend in philanthropy in the region. In the past four years, institutional donors have increased their giving to the region from $18 million to over $64 million. In 2014, 103 foundations awarded 333 grants for a total of over $64.7 million. Most of those grants were geared toward human rights and economic development. Environmental grantmaking ranked fifth highest in the grantmaking survey for El Salvador.
Corporate philanthropy and grantmaking as part of company’s corporate social responsibility platform are also a significant factor. This was the first year corporate philanthropy was studied and corporations’ total giving amounted to $137 million in cash donations. That amount does not include company’s participation through volunteerism and in-kind donations. Corporate philanthropy was most drawn to the issues of education and health.
This positive development in philanthropic participation is qualified by the finding that the corporate philanthropic sector has yet to apply much rigor to evaluating the effectiveness of its giving. The sector also does not work closely with grantees and the communities served in designing programs. Not having a close collaboration with those stakeholders can make programs unsustainable and ultimately less effective.
The other takeaway from the conference was the fact that the issues we’re addressing are not simple and that they require approaches that involve cross-sectoral analysis and participation. “Silver bullet” approaches do not work and one cannot just “copy-paste” solutions that work in one specific context onto another. Bill Clapp, a co-founder of the Seattle International Foundation, summed it up quite succinctly when he said, “we can’t do it alone.” To find solutions to systemic problems we are going to have to count on broad participation and collaboration across sectors: philanthropy, business, government, and most importantly the communities that are the intended beneficiaries.
Takeaways you can use as you plan your personal philanthropy:
Accountability. Is the organization being a good steward of its resources and is it marshalling those resources to achieve the goals that it has set out to achieve?
Collaboration. Does the organization collaborate with other organizations to leverage strengths and achieve results? How does the organization work with the local population? Are they only service recipients or are they active participants in the planning and implementing programmatic activities and projects?
Results. What results has the organization achieved and how does it monitor and evaluate progress towards goals? How does the organization learn from successes and set-backs?