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5 Questions for...Claudia Natera, Coordinator, Alternativas y Capacidades

April 16, 2015

Organized philanthropy in Mexico, as elsewhere in Latin America, is still in its nascent stages, and getting a handle on who is doing what and where can be difficult. To address the dearth of good information about philanthropy in Mexico, in 2013 Foundation Center partnered with Alternativas y Capacidades, a civil society organization that works to promote transparency and accountability in the Mexican philanthropic sector, and two other organizations to create Fondos a la Vista, a clearinghouse for information on civil society organizations in Mexico.

Recently, the Foundation Center's Marie DeAeth spoke with Claudia Nateria, the coordinator of the Fondos a la Vista project, about the some of the challenges confronting the Mexican philanthropic sector and the work her organization is doing to address those challenges.

Marie DeAeth: What are some of the significant features of the philanthropic sector in Mexico?

Headshot_claudia_nateraClaudia Natera: One significant feature is its size. When compared to other Latin American countries, the Mexican philanthropic sector is considerably smaller. For instance, Chile, Brazil, and Argentina have a higher number of nonprofit organizations relative to their populations. According to the National Bureau of Statistics (Instituto Nacional de Estadística y Geografía, or INEGI), there are around forty thousand civil society organizations (CSOs) in Mexico, although we do not have information on all of them. Only about seven thousand organizations are authorized as tax exempt by the Mexican Tax Administration Service (Servicio de Administración Tributaria, or SAT); there are twenty-four thousand other nonprofits that receive government funding. Keeping in mind that some organizations could appear on both registries at the same time, we have information on around twenty-seven thousand organizations. That means that there are approximately thirteen thousand nonprofit organizations that are operational, but the fact that they are not registered with SAT or the National Institute of Social Development (Instituto Nacional de Desarrollo Social, or INDESOL) makes it difficult to gather information about them.

Another challenge for philanthropy in Mexico is a lack of confidence on the part of society. A 2013 national survey showed that Mexicans are willing to help each other, with nearly eight out of ten saying they had made a charitable donation in the last year. However, only one out of ten did so through a civil society organization. That means Mexicans prefer to give money to people on the street than to a CSO. According to the survey, one of the main reasons for that is the distrust the average Mexican feels toward civil society organizations specifically and toward institutions in general. This lack of confidence is a serious challenge for the philanthropic sector in Mexico and one that we have to try to overcome through better transparency practices.

MD: What are some of the other challenges you face?

CN: In addition to a lack of confidence in the sector, one major challenge is the small number of grantmaking entities in Mexico. In Fondos a la Vista we've identified only about two hundred grantmakers focused solely on giving funds to other organizations. And most of those grantmakers do not provide money for capacity-building programs or initiatives. As a result, many nonprofits in Mexico struggle to secure funding, which weakens their ability to perform their work. The challenge for us is to create awareness in the Mexican grantmaking community about the importance of funding capacity-building projects as part of their social investment strategies, which would help them achieve greater social impact.

MD: Tell us a bit about your organization. What are some of your recent successes? And what are your plans for the future?

CN: Alternativas y Capacidades works to strengthen civil society organizations in Mexico, with a focus on four areas. First, we work with civil society organizations and engaged citizens to build advocacy skills that they can use to improve social policies in the country. Our second area of focus is our own advocacy work on behalf of better policies, laws, and a regulatory environment that recognizes the value of CSOs in Mexico. The third area is the work we do with private foundations, community foundations, companies, and international foundations to promote more strategic social investments in Mexico. Last but not least, in 2012, in partnership with Foundation Center, we launched Fondos a la Vista, a digital platform that displays the most complete information, including contact information, finances, and grants donated and received, about Mexican CSOs. The project aims to promote more self-regulation and transparency among Mexican CSOs as good practices that will inspire greater trust in the sector. The platform also is a useful tool for linking organizations to each other and promoting their work.

Our plans for 2015 include the development and launch of a micro site that hosts information about capacity-building organizations in Mexico as a free resource for CSOs.

MD: What is Alternativas y Capacidades' role in promoting greater accountability and transparency in the Mexican social sector?

CN: At Alternativas y Capacidades we believe that the promotion of clear, straightforward accountability practices is not the sole responsibility of government. Civil society has to play an active role in promoting transparency as part of our shared democratic values. Fondos a la Vista has adopted this mission as a means of strengthening the sector. We think these practices can not only boost the credibility of and instill trust in different stakeholders, but also lead to a higher level of cohesiveness among different groups in Mexican society. As of today, more than six hundred CSOs have created accounts in Fondos a la Vista to update their information, and some of them have shared their commitment to transparency with the motto: Ya estoy a la Vista.

To extend the reach of that message, we recently joined a national network of CSOs committed to transparency. This eventually will enable us to increase our impact, here in in Mexico and even abroad. In fact, over the last couple of months, some anti-corruption international organizations have let us know that they consider Fondos a la Vista a good example of transparency and self-regulation in Latin America.

MD: What are a couple of things your organization could use that you don’t have?

CN: We believe technology offers great advantages to CSOs. However, one of the challenges we struggle with is finding funders who will support the development of our technology-focused projects. Fondos a la Vista, for example, requires a lot of updating and isn't cheap to operate. For sure, we couldn't have built it without our partnership with Foundation Center, which assisted us in developing the search engine and recently helped us upgrade some of the other features of the site.

But we want to keep improving Fondos a la Vista, and we want to improve our technological skills and capabilities, for this and other projects. For example, we want to create a program focused on social investments that includes an evaluation mechanism for quantitative and qualitative follow-up on organizations' programmatic work. We also want to expand the opportunities we provide to the organizations we work with, while maintaining the respect we have earned over the last years and solidifying ourselves as the leading organization focused on social sector capacity building in Mexico.

Marie DeAeth is liaison for the Americas in the International Data Relations department at Foundation Center. In October, she interviewed Maria Carolina Suarez Visbal, executive director, Asociación de Fundaciones Empresariales (Association of Corporate and Family Foundations), an association of corporate and family foundations in Colombia, about AFE's efforts to promote accountability and encourage the sharing of best philanthropic practices among its members.

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