In the run up to WINGSForum 2017, we will be publishing interviews with some of our esteemed speakers. For this interview we spoke to Laura Garcia, Executive Director of Semillas.
WINGS: Tell us a little about yourself, your work in philanthropy infrastructure and your interest in attending WINGSForum 2017?
L.G.: My background is in human rights and gender. However, for the last 6 years I have been involved in philanthropy through my work in Semillas, an organization that mobilizes resources to finance women’s rights grassroots organizations in Mexico. One of my main responsibilities is in fundraising and Semillas has been particularly interested in diversifying its funding strategies to include local resource mobilization. I am particularly interested in learning and discussing with other funders the challenges that we face in building more capacities for local donors from the Global South and horizontal partnerships from donors from the Global North. One of the most important complexities that I see in the philanthropic sector is sustainability, and in order to address this we need to discuss the entire funding landscape and not just our individual challenges as funders.
WINGS: What might critical philanthropy mean to you and to Semillas?
L.G.: For us in Semillas critical philanthropy means an opportunity to engage with donors from other countries that are facing similar challenges. We are living in times of economic crisis in Mexico and political turmoil, so it is very necessary to find support from partners in other countries and help us think with creativity how to maximize our potential, despite the difficulties faced. Our economic systems and the philanthropic world are being challenged with social problems that require a deep, structural change. For this, it is perhaps necessary to reconsider a new architecture for philanthropy, perhaps one that is more sustainable, not only in economic terms but also one in which our entire culture and political systems protect it better.
WINGS: What is your involvement in the session you will be speaking at WINGSForum and what issue(s) are you most looking forward to addressing at WINGSForum2017?
L.G.: I will be participating in two sessions. The first one is “Philanthropy – Friend or Foe of Social Justice?” and the second one is “Civic Space and Environmental Defenders in the “Most Dangerous Region in the World”. In both sessions I would like to speak about the particular challenges that philanthropic entities are facing in the Global South and in countries where civic spaces are shrinking. Since this is a global tendency and not just one which is manifesting itself in Mexico, I believe there is a great opportunity to explore this issues and learn from one another.
WINGS: Why do you think infrastructure and this global gathering are important for the development of the sector?
L.G.: The challenges faced by the philanthropic sector are global in nature, thus it is critical to have spaces in which donors share their stories, experiences and articulate collective strategies.
WINGS: What will a successful WINGSForum look like in Mexico and what do you hope people take away from the conference in regards to local philanthropy?
L.G.: I see great potential in fostering greater articulation and collaboration between local funders and international funders. Local funders in Mexico could share their experiences and learn from a more integrated perspective about the global philanthropic landscape. For example, in terms of the laws affecting civil society in Mexico, it is important to consider that this is actually a global trend and that other countries have been facing a similar situation.
WINGS: How will having WINGSForum 2017 in Mexico uniquely contribute to this global conference?
L.G.: Mexico is an interesting country to analyze where we stand in our philanthropic efforts to push for sustainable development and social change. Mexico has one of the most advanced laws for civil society in Latin America, and yet it stands as a country in which bureaucracy, fiscal burdens for organizations, lack of trust in civil society, criminalization of activists and security risks for defenders impede civil society from flourishing. Furthermore, there are important local resources being channeled for philanthropy in the country, yet many organizations face difficulties in sustaining themselves, and civil society is not growing. In spite of such difficulties, many community foundations and new philanthropic actors are developing interesting initiatives that foster an improved environment for civil society. For these reasons, I believe that holding the Wings Forum 2017 in Mexico is relevant for all funders.
WINGS: Anything else to add?
L.G.: Mexico is facing political turmoil at the moment and philanthropic aid from the US government for women’s reproductive rights, among other issues, is being threatened by the new US Administration. This is an important topic to be addressed by other funders because financial aid coming from the US government will most likely suffer changes that could affect the philanthropic landscape.