By Mariana Sandoval Ulloa, Executive Director at Comunalia
With the current situation in the country and the world, Comunalia, the alliance of community foundations in Mexico, decided for the first time to include a strategic transversal line of advocacy aimed at creating better conditions for a favorable development environment for organized civil society, with a special emphasis on community foundations. This is in response to the national context and international risk for democracies, and where it seeks to weaken the power of citizens from undermining rights and freedoms as we have seen in Mexico for example with violation of human rights to migrants, victims of violence, impunity in case of criminal actions, etc.
As Comunalia is new in this arena, the 2nd WINGS Regional Meeting for Latin America and the Caribbean, with the objective of Finding Common Paths to Foster an Enabling Environment in the Region, was a great opportunity to help us understand the wins and losses of other networks in the region. It is worth to note that the meeting happened at a critical time as the entire region is dealing with several political problems that are shrinking the space of civil society and it is mandatory to act as a regional group to confront these threats.
The first session was a world café to discuss what are the common trends to enable an environment for philanthropy in Latin America and the Caribbean. We talked about how we should learn to work in a collaborative way to resolve common problems. We have to better connect our specific and local actions to a global level in order to solve them. And we know that it is not easy sometimes getting out of our daily operations to think regional or globally, especially for community foundations whose main priority is our local community. But the truth is that in the last several decades, civil society has had important social victories that are at risk and we have to act fast in order to confront this adverse political landscape.
Another discussion that emerged in this session was about the concept of citizenship, because sometimes the citizens feel really far from civil society and they think we are part of different groups. We have to start clarifying what citizenship is and how from this concept civil society is build.
The Advocacy Hub did an amazing job with the workshop of Narrative and Communications. We realized that advocacy is not an easy task. Some of the community foundations that are part of Comunalia have been working to support and create local advocacy strategies since its creation, but others have never been involved, and we have identified several reasons for this:
- We see our daily operations with social investment funds and the promotion of philanthropy as a priority and with all kind of resources restricted, we sometimes lose sight of the importance of having an enabling environment to support us.
- We navigate in comfort zones that don’t push us to survive and that’s why we maintain our status quo, with the actual political context this has started to change.
- Sometimes we see each others as donors or recipients of help and not as development actors. We have to start redefining our role and exercise our rights.
Definitely the most important lessons for us in order to have a good advocacy strategy were that this has to be based on relevant and actual data; to understand and to do effective lobbying; focus on shared victories rather than individual accomplishments; to set an objective, we can not do everything and to define how we are going to tell the story, the importance of positive narratives always prioritizing our values.
The main enemy of our democracies right now is polarization, we have to work and promote the importance of our right to participate in the improvement of our communities. We have to build stronger knowledge because we have a lack of general legislation about civil society in almost all the region. We have open spaces for people to participate but also we have to give the tools to facilitate that participation.
If we want to change the system we have to politicize non profits and give political training to our leaders. As Thomas Mann once said, “All is politics” – we have to stop fearing of this concept. I’m always surprised and inspired with the conversations that we have at WINGS meetings. The network brings together talented and interesting people. As a region we have many opportunities to keep creating better conditions for our civil societies. It won’t be easy, but we have to start creating our common and effective Latin America and Caribbean agenda and choosing our first battle.
Mariana Sandoval Ulloa
Executive Director at Comunalia
Comunalia is the Alliance of Community Foundations of Mexico, a nonprofit organization, that focuses on local development and strategic social investment. Read more on their website: https://comunalia.org.mx/eng/