Philanthropy, human rights and emerging powers


By Ana Borges Pinho

The 2000s saw the rise of new economic powers—developing countries with increased economic performance who have become key players in the global economy. After developed countries were hit by the financial crisis of 2008, these countries, now in the spotlight, account for over half of the world economy and are predicted to outgrow the world’s largest economies in coming decades. The expression “emerging markets” and the acronym BRICS (grouping Brazil, Russia, India, China, and later South Africa) have become staples in news and other everyday conversations.

This scenario presents the right conditions for growth in philanthropy: rapid economic development and wealth accumulation, along with political and social change. But has this “emerging status” affected giving? More specifically, how does it affect giving for human rights and social justice? The International Human Rights Funders Group (IHRFG) brought together in Rio de Janeiro last May a remarkable and diverse group to discuss these questions, mixing sessions and site visits where they could learn from each other as well as from local organizations.

I was invited to moderate a session on “the culture of giving, human rights philanthropy and emerging powers”, and to provide an overview of philanthropic trends and patterns in these countries. This is not an easy task, as data available on giving is sketchy to say the least. Nonetheless, the evidence we do have, as presented in a report by the Foundation Center and WINGS on Charity and Philanthropy in the BRICs, strongly suggests that the amount of giving has indeed increased in emerging economies.

Emerging economies also saw a growth in philanthropy infrastructure: associations, networks, and other support organizations serving philanthropy. WINGS analysis of its members, presented on the Infrastructure in Focus report, found that a significant number of support organizations were created after the 2000s in Asia, Sub-Saharan Africa, and the Arab Region. This is a good sign, as in a previous report we found a strong correlation between the growth of support organizations and the strengthening of the philanthropic field in a country.

Nevertheless, grantmaking is still mostly focused on traditional causes, such as disaster relief and poverty alleviation, and not on social change or advocacy. Religious influence reinforces that tradition of personal, ad hoc giving. Moreover, some philanthropists are closely connected with governments, so their charity is aimed at causes that can improve conditions for the poor while not threatening the political status quo. Added to that, there is a general distrust about the legitimacy of philanthropic organizations, which may translate as restrictions on their practices and foreign funding.

Restrictive legislations can drive away foreign funding, but emerging economies also saw their new economic status have the same effect. There is good anecdotal evidence of “runaway funders” withdrawing from countries that are not a priority anymore, and areas such as advocacy, human and civil rights are some of the most vulnerable to such changes. This can be seen as a challenge, but also as an opportunity for civil society to organize itself, for local foundations to grow, and for support organizations to assist donors and foment philanthropy. Initiatives such as the IHRFG’s to bring these players together and discuss possibilities are therefore very welcome and can help shape a future marked by growing local philanthropy and global partnerships.

Ana Borges Pinho is the Knowledge Management Coordinator for WINGS.

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