Latino Diaspora Helps Bolster Philanthropy in Latin America

Philanthropy News Digest, PDF Version

Wealthy Latin Americans, especially those living abroad, are increasing their philanthropic giving and contributing to efforts to build civil society in their home countries, the New York Times reports.

In Latin America — where historically few tax incentives have been offered to encourage philanthropy, government and the Catholic Church have been seen as responsible for helping the poor, and decades of political, economic, and social upheaval have kept the wealthy more focused on ensuring their families’ safety and protecting their assets — there has been little interest in philanthropic giving aimed at addressing social problems. But many in the Latin American diaspora now feel that if they don’t step up and do more to address social problems in their home countries, no one will. And while the level of giving in Latin America is still relatively low, the emerging trend of “impact philanthropy” has the potential to re-shape the philanthropic agenda throughout the region.

“The big driver is [diaspora Latinos’] need to help create a strong civil society in their countries, and they have an ability to make a difference — they have to make a difference,” Maria Elena Lagomasino, CEO and managing partner of WE Family Offices, told the Times. “Look at all these kids who are ending up on the U.S. border. You just can’t leave it to the government or to the NGOs.”

“When we have a stable economy, stable political system, you can think about other things rather than just protecting your family and your assets and your needs,” said Alberto Beeck, whose family fled to the United States after the 1968 military coup in his native Peru. Beeck and his Cuban-born wife, Olga Maria, gave $10 million earlier this year to launch the Beeck Center for Social Impact and Innovation at Georgetown University. Beeck also chairs the board of Lumni, a Mexican organization that awards education grants to students in Chile, Colombia, Mexico, Peru, and the U.S. in return for a portion of their future earnings, and he has invested in a reality television show in Colombia that will highlight the work of little-known do-gooders — those he calls “supersocial entrepreneurs.”

While soliciting donations from Latin Americans remains a challenge — Give To Colombia has struggled to raise $22 million over the last ten years to educate people displaced by a series of guerrilla wars in that country — many charities are taking advantage of tax incentives for giving in the U.S. and establishing tax-exempt organizations. Ignacio Pakciarz, who serves on the board of Reaching U, which helps support education in his native Uruguay, is betting that by tapping diaspora Uruguan’s willingness to give, he will be able to drive change in his native country. “The wealthy people in my country are the older generation,” he said. “I’m focusing on fundraising here.”