A new dawn for Latin American philanthropy?

Article by: Guayana Páez-Acosta

In light of the declining trend in philanthropy giving coming into Latin America, I recently talked about the need for what I like to call an emerging philanthropy and solidarity-based innovation paradigm for Latin America that calls for a home-grown, culturally sensitive way of understanding and expressing philanthropy efforts.

Philanthropy in its origins
Philanthropy, etymologically a Greek word that means love to mankind[1], in its modern and broadest sense can be understood as the giving of resources, time, knowledge and other relational abilities to others in pursuit of their benefit towards a greater, common good. From that ample, life-embracing perspective, each one of us is, potentially, a philanthropist.

Fast forward 500 hundred years, philanthropy has taken on the flags of being strategic, driven by results and impact. Nevertheless, nowadays, an increased understanding of the complexity of the challenges being faced in Latin America, calls for a more mature debate on what philanthropic practices can deliver by contributing more effectively to addressing these challenges while working hand-in-hand with other actors from the government, civil society and private sectors.

A newer philanthropy
Some innovative practices that consider themselves to be part of a new philanthropy have started to emerge in Latin America. We are witnessing minority-led philanthropies, philanthropy thematic networks, as well as a community philanthropy movement[2] coexisting with established private social investing and international private funding-supported initiatives. While broadly speaking they have a shared mission toward the improvement of people’s lives, they are different in their institutional architecture, constitution, operations, definition of target themes and beneficiary populations.  They are all however necessary and are contributing to a denser local philanthropy fabric.

Additionally, an extended solidarity-based system, one would like to think, also needs to connect and effectively engage the current economic order while seeking to influence it to operate for the benefit of more equal societies.  This seems an indispensable task, and the expansion, still in the works, of social business models and practices, and of the Sistema B along with a recognition of the roles they play for a more inclusive development, are all promising efforts that seem to be pointing in the right direction.

Continuous reflection and action for a transformative philanthropy
Reflecting on and going deeper into what entails a more transformative Philanthropy, and particularly wanting to ascertain how to facilitate the enabling conditions for a vibrant, home-grown Latin spiced philanthropy, is what has motivated a group of professionals in Latin America to constitute the Regional Group on Philanthropy in Latin America (GRF-LatAm for its acronym in Spanish).

Inspired by the vision of ‘fulfilling the potential and necessary philanthropy for Latin America’, the GRF-LatAm – up to now mostly focused in watering its own seeds – will seek to inspire, strengthen and deepen a philanthropic action, by working in collaboration with a broad range of actors, that contributes to systemic and articulated solutions for the common good in Latin America and is recognized by other sectors for its contribution to social transformation.

The GRF-LatAm plans to advance this work by creating channels to communicate, visualize and articulate philanthropic efforts addressing, by way of a systems-change approach, the region’s most pressing development challenges.

The way forward
If assumed as true the notion that each of one us is (and can potentially be) a Philanthropist, then the Latin America philanthropy landscape would be as varied, rich and plural as our Region itself.

It is towards that diversity that we, collectively, should aim for, supported by a profound understanding of our role and contributions as philanthropists in relation to that of others, actors and sectors, in a region that calls for greater inclusiveness and well-being for its people.

Guayana Paez-Acosta is the Founder & CEO of Athena – Lab for Social Change, and a founding member of the Regional Group for Philanthropy in Latin America


  1. ^ philanthropy (n.) c. 1600, from Late Latin philanthropia, from Greek philanthropia “kindliness, humanity, benevolence, love to mankind” (from gods, men, or things), from philanthropos (adj.) “loving mankind, useful to man,” from phil– “loving” (see philo-) + anthropos “mankind” (see anthropo-). Originally in English in the Late Latin form; modern spelling attested from 1620s. https://www.etymonline.com/word/philanthropy
  2. ^ particularly in the case of Mexico and Brazil.