Brazil Learning Visit / IHRFG Events

Learning Visit Reflection: How Can Grantmakers and Civil Society Create Impact?

IHRFG recently held a Learning Visit in Rio de Janeiro exploring the changing dynamics of human rights and global philanthropy in emerging economies. Over the coming weeks, we will share reflections from participants. Click here to read more lessons and join the conversation!

Contributed by Jackie Netto, Executive Director, Neelan Tiruchelvam Trust –

A fellow participant always had 3 points to make at the Funders’ Learning Visit that was held in Rio de Janeiro.  I would like to follow suit with 3 separate reflections.

I was struck by a reference made at one of the sessions to an article on the funding situation in Brazil. In the past, about 80% of funding for human rights in Brazil used to flow from overseas whereas currently it is just 40-50%. Whether the gap was filled by an increase in local funding was not mentioned, nor was the question asked.  Perhaps it is because every emerging country represented in that room knew the answer already: that while a small portion of this gap may in fact come from local sources, and perhaps some others from non-traditional sources overseas, for the large part, funding has dried up. It made me then ask the question: what is it that we as grantmakers are failing to do to convince policy makers at the bilateral level in particular that, despite the economic progress in the BRICS countries, critical funds for communities and for organizations supporting communities are still required?  The situation in Sri Lanka is very similar. Should new yardsticks and policies be introduced that ensure sustained funding flows even to emerging economies? How do we as grantmakers influence this process?

A second comment that got me thinking was “An increase in wealth leads to increase in contrasts”.  Perhaps this is a cliché. But clichés have the ability to redeem themselves at defining moments, and this certainly did for me.  Yes, immediately the picture that came to mind was the swanky new stadium adjacent to a very poor neighborhood. And it is not just Rio de Janeiro I am talking about, though the picture here too is one of contrasts — the marginalized favelas with dilapidated houses overlooking the wealthier citizenry in the plains and the modern skyline.

The few streets that we travelled in Rio were conspicuous by the absence of World Cup flags and other paraphernalia, signs that football-crazy Brazilians are sick of the waste and corruption accompanying the beautiful stadiums and other infrastructure being developed for the event at taxpayers’ expense when it could have easily gone for education, sanitation and health. Street celebrations turned to protests. But while the creativity of civil society to open up new spaces is admirable and there are more voices protesting, the end result will be that the World Cup will be held, hundreds of thousands of visitors and wealthy Brazilians will get to watch and enjoy the games while the poor will continue to live their lives – without any change.  This means that despite our protests, we are still not creating enough of a din to pressure our individual governments — much less the financiers of international money transfers and the multinational corporations — that they need to be more inclusive of citizens.  Why is civil society unable to influence the process of development despite the increasing voices of dissent, to ensure that social and economic change is equitable? Is it that we are late with our protests, or insufficiently organized and simply not powerful enough of a critical mass to create impact?

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