Leaders from international development, civil society, philanthropic organizations, government and businesses gathered in Panama City in late October to share ideas on how to best support development projects to ensure long-term sustainability.
The Inter-American Foundation (IAF) has more than 50 years’ experience in putting solutions to the test in the field. At the Panama event — the Central America Donor’s Forum (CADF) — the IAF’s director of networks and strategic initiatives, Stephen Cox, led a panel that explored how important local partnerships are in Latin America and the Caribbean to mobilize grassroots development.
Cox explained how building effective partnerships at the local level helps mobilize assets and expand resources for community-led projects.
“The IAF was created with the intent of promoting collaboration amongst several stakeholders in the region. However, one of our challenges is scaling up,” he said. “We have begun to mobilize resources that already exist within the region. These include but are not limited to corporations, foundations, individuals and diaspora communities.”
Held since 2012, the invitation-only CADF has been a leading networking and learning space to advance philanthropy and development efforts in Central America. The IAF has been a frequent partner to the forum and this year hosted a discussion on community asset mobilization. Cox was joined by three partners that have helped amplify that work in different sectors:
- Margareth Flórez, Executive Director, RedEAmérica
- David Perez Rulfo, board member, COMUNALIA and General Director, Corporativa de Fundaciones
- Elmer Arias, President and Founder, Foundation for Social, Economic and Cultural Education (FUPEC)
Each panelist represented a unique model of bringing people together from different backgrounds, but they shared important commonalities. All three models depend on high levels of trust and collaboration among partners. Each partnership initiative exhibits a balance of leadership that provides a platform for all parties and communities to have equal voice in decisions.
Partnering grassroots organizations for impact
RedEAmérica was born with IAF support to promote collaboration among a number of private sector stakeholders and to give local actors — in particular grassroots organizations — a stage to strengthen their communities. The IAF and RedEAmérica actively look for partnerships to expand participation that will have impact from the private sector in Latin America. The value of this partnership allowed the IAF to encourage the private sector in both Latin America and the United States to better invest their corporate social responsibility dollars in grassroots development projects.
FUPEC is an organization that bridges diaspora communities in the United States and El Salvador with a focus on improving education. Elmer Arias founded the organization after immigrating to the United States from El Salvador as a teenager to escape his country’s civil war. Early on he realized that FUPEC needed to expand its focus beyond education to include outreach around employment and professional development. The IAF supported FUPEC in strengthening its partnership model with the communities it serves. Since then FUPEC has increased its impact in those communities and established partnerships with the United States Agency for International Development and Banco Agrícola.
Mobilizing community resources to solve local problems
Alianza Fundaciones Comunitarias México, Asociación Civil, or COMUNALIA, and the Corporativa de Fundaciones support community foundations in Mexico. The community foundation model is similar to a grassroots approach in that it works from the bottom up and uses community resources to solve local challenges. The function of community foundations is to develop capacity in a specific geographic region and build trust among stakeholders, which can include corporations, foundations, individuals and government. These partnerships are innovative and relatively new in the international development field. With support from the IAF and the C.S. Mott Foundation, COMUNALIA has mobilized 14 community foundations that have supported over 70 projects in Mexico. Because of their success in the region, COMUNALIA and the Corporative de Fundaciones Comunitarias have changed the way people think about philanthropy. Instead of asking, “Can I have…?” the culture shifted toward asking, “Where can I give or participate?”
Sustainability, marginalized communities and trust
Participants at the CADF panel were eager to explore the sustainability of the funding models, how to integrate marginalized communities such as women and young people, and how to improve trust among stakeholders.
Sustainability can only be successful after establishing a solid foundation between the grantee and donor. In the IAF’s case, this allows the Foundation to develop mechanisms to empower local grassroots communities so they can understand and mobilize resources to ensure their own long term success. Additionally, a funder cannot expect successful projects by simply replicating models, these models needs to be adapted to each program/grantee.
On the topic of including marginalized communities, Flórez responded: “Development is built in the territories. We promote participatory processes and encourage members to be a voice in the process. This process is especially important when working with marginalized groups.”
On building trust, Arias shared that the key is open communication: “The organization serves as a bridge to connect the resources from the Diaspora community in the United States to the local communities in El Salvador. FUPEC mobilizes the resources, and trust can only be built if there is open communication and an opportunity for the parties involved to see and understand the process.”
The annual event is sponsored by the Seattle Foundation. About 100 participants attended the IAF presentation.
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