CEMEFI’s Jorge Villalobos reflects on 25 years of philanthropy in Mexico

“We believe in the power of collaboration through networks. Since its beginning Cemefi has focused on creating a national network through its members. And internationally it has participated in many different networks, both as a member and a founder.” 

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Cemefi, the Mexican Center for Philanthropy, enables an environment for the development of philanthropy through research, capacity building, strengthening of Boards, improving fiscal and legal frameworks, and convening different actors and sectors in the construction of public good. Philanthropy in Mexico has increased exponentially since the organisation was founded 25 years ago. We asked the Executive President of Cemefi, Jorge Villalobos, to share a few words on the organisation’s continued influence in Latin America, and how philanthropy has changed in Mexico since Cemefi was founded.

WINGS: How is Cemefi involved in the philanthropy sector, specifically the Global South?

Jorge Villalobos: Cemefi is founder and member of several networks in Latin America: Encuentros Iberoamericanos de la Sociedad Civil; Forum Empresa; and RedEAmérica.

WINGS: Cemefi and WINGS share a knowledge generation focus. What are some examples of research programs or information and strategic insight initiatives you are currently involved with?

JV: In January Cemefi presented the toolkit for volunteering programs in Non profit organisations and we are currently working on the toolkit for corporate volunteering. Both documents give specific recommendations and tools for the organisations and corporations to have a successful program of volunteering in order to obtain the best outcomes with the resources the institutions have.

We also presented the preliminary outcomes of the survey ENSAV (National survey of solidarity and volunteer action) in order to analyze volunteering under these specific circumstances, identifying the actions Mexicans do daily in order to help others, whether these actions are done in a non-profit organisation, with acquaintances, in church, etc.

Every two years we develop a statistical compendium regarding the most important data and figures of the third sector. We are currently working on this year edition, that will include comparative information of the sector in Mexico with other countries, information of the distributions of NPOs in the cities, number of volunteers in the country, the amount of economic support that the government provides to the sector, etc.

One of the most important programs in Cemefi is the CSR seal given to those corporations that fulfill all the indicators developed by Cemefi. We are reconstructing the story of the program, the decisions taken that helped to consolidate it as the most important recognition for CSR in Mexico, the actors involved and the way the process has evolved until now. The research will be completed next year.

WINGS: WINGSForum 2014 focuses on The Power of Networks: Building Connected Global Philanthropy. How are networks instrumental in achieving Cemefi’s goals?

JV: We believe in the power of collaboration through networks. Since its beginning Cemefi has focused on creating a national network through its members. And internationally it has participated in many different networks, both as a member (ISTR, ICNL, INSP, Business in the Community, TCFN, Techsoup Global…) and a founder (Encuentros Iberoamericanos de la Sociedad Civil, CIVICUS, WINGS, Forum Empresa, RedEAmerica…)

One of the first international collaboration agreements was signed with the COF, which has been a catalyst for relationships and collaboration among people and organizations, both from the United States and from abroad. Most of the networks we are part of have provided Cemefi with benchmarking opportunities, learnings, collaboration opportunities, best practices, and international positioning.

WINGS: What are the main objectives of the Annual Congress on the Third Sector Research?

JV: The Third Sector Research Congress is the most representative arena for researchers in Mexico to present their analysis toward the civil society and the third sector. It was conceived thirteen years ago by Cemefi and other institutions, including some of the most prestigious universities in the country such as UNAM, ITESM, ITAM and others, as a place for interaction and discussion of topics regarding the development, the challenges and evolution of the civil society in Mexico. Researchers from all over the country present their investigations and have the chance to interact with other researchers as well as members from civil society and government. The abstracts submitted in order to participate in the congress are graded by recognized researchers, members of the institutions that, along with Cemefi, make this event possible, creating an event of high standards and quality. For this year edition more than 70 researches will be presented in a two day event that will be held in the University UVM in the city of Querétaro.

As part of the research congress, we created an award for the best PhD and Master’s thesis on topics related with civil society. During the last three years we have perceive an important growth of the thesis received, which demonstrates the increasing importance of this topic among the students of social sciences.

WINGS: Describe your Annual Meeting.

JV: Cemefi gathers philanthropy most important leaders every year in its annual meeting. It is an opportunity to exchange ideas, deal with relevant topics and hold a current focus on what is happening in the philanthropic world. The most important representatives of the sector meet here. To the date there have been 17 editions of the Annual Meeting.

Our Annual Meetings are recognised as an important space for the exchange of ideas and information among leaders of the private, public and philanthropic sectors in Mexico.

The 2013 annual meeting of Centro Mexicano para la Filantropía (Cemefi, the Mexican Center for Philanthropy), to be held 11-13 November in Mexico City, will bring together Mexico’s philanthropy community, including representatives of nonprofit organisations, foundations, individual donors and others to review its accomplishments and discuss the broad-based role of responsible citizenship. This year, it will be a particularly significant event for us as we will also celebrate our 25th anniversary that commemorates the organisation’s commitment and service to society through promoting philanthropy, citizen participation and corporate social responsibility.

Each attendee will have the opportunity to take part in several small working groups. Each will be facilitated by an expert, covering topics such as education, community development, international experiences, corporate social responsibility, health care, women’s and children’s issues, and more. Arturo Zapata, President of Más Ciudadanía is the Chair of the Annual Meeting. Vikki Spruill, President and CEO of the Council on Foundations is one of our guest speakers and we will have a plenary session focused on the evolution of the sector around the world. Panel participants include Helena Monteiro, Executive Director of WINGS, Marcos Kisil, President of IDIS, Jorge Villalobos, Executive President of Cemefi, and we have also invited Diana Campoamor, Executive Director of Hispanics in Philanthropy.

Mexico’s president, Enrique Peña Nieto has been invited to the Opening Session and the Mayor of the City, Miguel Angel Mancera will be at the Closing Session.

WINGS: What does Cemefi have in store for the next 25 years?

JV: For the next 25 years, Cemefi will work on the following:

  • Improve the general awareness and understanding of the government, decision makers and the public of the activities, the characteristics, and the social value of the work performed by philanthropic organizations and Cemefi itself.
  • Increase the organization’s impact on public policy and agendas, using solid information and arguments to promote and defend the sector’s causes.
  • Advance the available knowledge about the philanthropic sector and generate strategic information that serves to defend and promote the common interests of those involved.
  • Develop effective mechanisms and instruments to create links and strengthen alliances among participants in the philanthropic sector, and also among these and other sectors of society.
  • Increase donations of time and money, particularly as related to long-term social investment.
  • Increase the number of companies with socially responsible management; Help translate corporate social responsibility into practices that contribute to resolving the country’s most pressing public problems.
  • Identify the needs and expectations of Cemefi’s members in order to offer them quality services, seeking to obtain the corresponding feedback to continually improve attention to our different audiences.
  • Improve processes of generating, identifying, systematizing and adopting models and tools that strengthen the institutionality of organizations according to standards of best practices.

How philanthropy has changed in Mexico in the last 25 years

The number of philanthropic organisations who have achieved the tax exemption requirements has grown from a thousand in the nineties to nearly seven thousand today.

Cemefi has created standards for philanthropic organisations; today more than six hundred organisations have complied with these standards of institutionalism and transparency.

Currently, social responsibility activities have increased among citizens. Volunteer actions are more and more professional. Today private organisations as well as government have created awards to promote voluntarism. Cemefi was pioneer in launching a tool to promote and link volunteers and organizations through a website.

There have been important developments in legislation. Among the most important is the current law that promotes and regulates civil society organisations. New social causes have been added to the list of entitled tax exempt organisations.  We now have a treaty to avoid double taxation between Mexico and the United States.

Research in philanthropy has increased during this period. Cemefi was the first to create a CSOs Directory which today includes more than 23,000 registries. Cemefi has researched foundations, legislation, voluntarism, corporate social responsibility and general information on philanthropy. It created an annual research congress and a philanthropic information center which is today the most important philanthropy library in the country.

We did not have any official numbers 25 years ago. Today we can rely on official data provided by the recently launched satellite account that operates according UN guidelines. We now know that one percent of the GDP is provided by the philanthropic sector.

Grantmaking foundations are now recognized as a field. Today we have definitions on different kinds of foundations: corporate, family, community, independent, and fundraising.

Foundations have increased in number to nearly 300 officially registered. The amount of their donations and their impact has also evolved significantly. Today more foundations are focused on strategic social investment and accountability.

Corporate giving has increased in many ways—for instance through corporate volunteering, corporate social programs and corporate foundations. According to official data, corporate foundations donated 32% of total grants in 2010, in this same period, they met up to 26% of the total number of grantmakers.

Corporate Social Responsibility is a vibrant yearning among entrepreneurs. Nearly 700 corporations have complied with more than 120 CSR standards, and have being awarded with the Socially Responsible Corporation Badge.

More WINGS interviews here.

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