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Partnering for a Sustainable Colombia: The Role of Foundations in Building Brighter Futures

By - Jan 12 2017

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Goal #17 of the Sustainable Development Goals has left us with a clear message – that Partnerships are necessary to achieving true social and environmental progress. In promoting partnerships for the goals, we view Goal #17 as a call to action to partnership practitioners, demanding that we share our partnership-specific knowledge in efforts to create a global development community more capable of working together to build a brighter future for all. In this effort, we had a chat with Carolina Suarez, Executive Director of Colombia’s Association of Corporate and Family Foundations, about the role of philanthropy in development and the necessary nature of partnerships in moving development efforts forward. Bringing to this conversation a potent blend of on-the-field experience and strategic thinking on development and our collective role in improving lives, let’s hear from Carolina about her experience, her perspective on partnerships for development, and more.

IDB: What is the role of philanthropy in building a more sustainable future?


AFE Colombia: The role of philanthropy in building a more sustainable future boils down to its ability to integrate diverse and sometimes conflicting agendas, and its ability to think long term. Unlike governments, whose priorities often shift from one election cycle to another, and unlike companies, who must respond to the interests of their shareholders, foundations able to operate more independently and more flexibly, often acting as a uniting force for diverse development actors and helping to reconcile conflicting priorities into a broader agenda. Critically, philanthropy is a space more conducive to innovate and risk taking. This capacity to experiment and launch pilot projects, learn from good and bad practices, and share the lessons we learn in the process, enhances our ability to create social change.

 

IDB: Given that foundations can operate a bit more independently than other development actors, is it still important for them to collaborate and share knowledge with other institutions?


AFE Colombia: It is proven that change cannot be achieved by any organization in isolation, and foundations are no exception. We must work with other actors – such as companies and multilateral institutions – to achieve real change. The Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), for instance, has long stood as an important ally for foundations and for the Association of Corporate Foundations (AFE) specifically, believing that the capacity and institutitionality we bring to philanthropy in Colombia can help to generate greater cohesion among development actors. By working with and engaging in dialogue between AFE members and partners like the IDB, we are playing an important role in helping to move progress in our country forward. Thanks to this sense of unity and partnership, we believe that Colombia is promoting a model of collaboration, inspiring organizations across the region to coordinate with others in order to generate greater impact.

 

IDB: At the IDB, we consider AFE and its foundations critical allies in this effort to build a more sustainable future in Colombia, as well as throughout the region. In this context, where do you see opportunities for partnership? And where do you see challenges?

AFE Colombia: In the current Colombian context, opportunities are everywhere. For example, we have the opportunity to establish a stronger and more consistent dialogue with the different stakeholders that are on the scene, and to harness philanthropy as a means of transcending and unifying individual and institutional interests. One obstacle will be the challenge of ensuring the continuity of existing development projects, which are often adjusted or replaced when new leadership comes in. Additionally, in a country like Colombia where the central government is very strong, it can often be difficult for government agencies to work closely with communities, especially in efforts to strengthen local institutions. Yet though this is always a challenge, this is another opportunity for philanthropy to play an important role. Foundations tend to be the actors who work most closely with communities in their territories, tackling the root causes of conflict and other development challenges at the community-level. This is where our true added value lies—in working with communities specifically, but in helping to turn these challenges into opportunities for collaboration and impact.

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