Partnering with philanthropy to optimise a country’s resources: Mexico’s case

By Emilie Romon of the OECD Development Centre’s Global Network of Foundations Working for Development (netFWD)

The Government of Mexico is stepping up its engagement with its philanthropic sector. Three factors fuel this decision. First, the share of official development assistance to middle-income countries, such as Mexico, is expected to significantly decrease in coming years. In 2014, the donor community decided to increase support for least-developed and fragile states rather than middle-income countries.

This means Mexico is exploring new ways to optimise all available public and private resources for development. Second, the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) endorsed in 2015 call for public and private actors to better pool and co-ordinate their resources if they are to achieve the goals. And third, as the co-chair of the Global Partnership for Effective Development Co-operation, which promotes multi-stakeholder partnerships with foundations and other non-state actors, Mexico wants to lead by example. Indeed, Mexico’s move towards its domestic philanthropic sector could not be more timely.

Yet, partnering with the philanthropic sector, with its different working methods and languages, is not easy for most governments. Mexico offers some initial lessons as a result of its outreach to its philanthropic community. 1

First, define expectations: A diagnosis of current collaboration practices helped determine the expectations of both the Mexican government and the philanthropic actors and where bottlenecks exist. On the one hand, foundations most value partnering with the Mexican government to reach a broader scale and enhance their impact on the quality of life of the Mexican people. On the other hand, the government is interested in working with foundations because of their proximity to local communities and what opportunities this presents to increase legitimacy and improve and adjust policies targeting them.

Second, expect challenges: Civil society organisations and foundations are very hard to differentiate legally in Mexico. Thus, anyone can set up an organisation and call it a foundation without an initial endowment, which is one of the main features that usually define a philanthropic foundation. Another challenge, both for foundations and the government, is finding an interlocutor to speak with on the other side. On philanthropy’s end, no nationwide association of foundations exists in Mexico for government to contact when it wishes to consult or explore partnerships with foundations. On the government’s end, the high turnover, where up to 80% of staff change when a new president takes office, is a problem. Another challenge is the high level of mutual mistrust and prejudice that impairs collaboration.

With both expectations and challenges defined, a way forward is emerging. Senior government officials and foundations representatives met in the Fall of 2015 to discuss and jointly design the outline of a co-ordinated action plan. The latter focuses on support to entrepreneurship as a key priority for the country and a way to deliver greater development outcomes. The genuine enthusiasm and the great appetite to get to know one other and build trust were palpable when foundations and the Mexican government, represented by AMEXCID, its development agency, held the initial workshops. A set of recommendations is now being finalised that will feed into a joint action plan.

The dialogue between government and philanthropy in Mexico shows a deepening willingness to optimise domestic financial resources to advance sustainable development. It also signals something else. As a foundation representative acknowledged, “This is an opportunity to advance governance in our country, and we should be grateful for it.” Bringing foundations to the table in a progressively more co-operative and open way fosters greater inclusion for greater impact.

1. Mexico reached out to the OECD Development Centre’s Global Network of Foundations Working for Development (netFWD) to implement netFWD’s Guidelines for Effective Philanthropic Engagement, a demand-driven protocol to guide foundations and governments in connecting and working together.

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