Por Mônica C. Ribeiro
In this third article written in honor of the 10th anniversary of the Brazilian Philanthropy Network for Social Justice (RFJS), we will discuss the US$ 3.86 billion donation made by the U.S. philanthropist Mackenzie Scott to 465 civil society organizations in several countries worldwide. Among those entities, 15 Brazilian organizations were selected, five of which are members of the Brazilian Network –Brazil Human Rights Fund, Baobá Fund, Casa Socio-Environmental Fund, Elas Social Investment Fund and Redes da Maré.
At her announcement of the donation and the entities to be benefitted, Mackenzie Scott wrote in her blog: “When our giving team focuses on any system in which people are struggling, we don’t assume that we, or any other single group, can know how to fix it. We don’t advocate for particular policies or reforms. Instead, we seek a portfolio of organizations that supports the ability of all people to participate in solutions. This means a focus on the needs of those whose voices have been underrepresented.”
Ana Valéria, superintendent of the Brazil Human Rights Fund, believes that the way in which Scott makes her donations is very bold, modern, and distinguished from what big American philanthropists normally do, and has the systematic goal of promoting an investigation into the results produced by the organizations and relying on their good work.
“It is an entirely different way of doing it, which shows a willingness to effectively empower the people getting the resources. The donation arrives with the message that she has seen what these organizations are doing, liked their work and wants them to continue to do what they believe should be done. That is thinking totally outside the box. I hope this will set an example for other philanthropists. To transform means to put the resources in the hands of those who have been doing the right thing and trusting in the organizations’ work.”
She also highlights Scott’s perception of Brazil and her reading of the world: “So Brazil is proving to be a country that is relevant to the world, especially because of its socio-environmental issues. She [Scott] recognizes this, makes choices within Brazil, and among them there are five funds promoting social justice that are also members of the Brazilian Network. She has donated to cutting-edge organizations, but also to funds, to distribute the resources more effectively. It is an exceptional view from the perspective of the political reading that she makes, of how the resources can actually benefit people and bring change.”
Giovanni Harvey, executive director of Baobá Fund, points out that the type of donation made by Scott raises awareness of the concept, meaning and practices of philanthropy, to the extent that it recognizes and respects the knowledge and experience of the institutions on the front lines, regardless of their role within the ecosystem.
“The vote of confidence given by Mackenzie Scott is just as important as the billions of dollars she has donated in the past years. This donation is an acknowledgment of the hard work and competence dedicated by Brazilian organizations to the causes and purposes that drive them. In this context, the donations benefitting five institutions from the Brazilian Philanthropy Network for Social Justice are a strong indicator of the types of causes and visions of the future that are mobilizing the forefront of philanthropy worldwide.”
For Baobá, Scott’s donation represents a ‘turning point’ within the process of constituting a R$ 250 million endowment: “Baobab Fund will be able to expand its advocacy program and leverage its capacity to finance, by using the income from its financial investments, initiatives that confront the ‘crux’ of structural racism in Brazil”, define Giovanni.
Changing the standard logic of philanthropy
Amalia Fischer, the general coordinator of Elas Social Investment Fund, stresses the importance of the philanthropist’s direct donation and her absolute trust in the work of the chosen organizations: “The logic behind the donations made by the funds for social justice and the community foundations is exactly that. To move away from small project thinking, to instead support the organizations’ sustainability. And why support sustainability? For the funds promoting social justice this is important because it strengthens, at the same time, democracy within the country and worldwide. It is as if Mackenzie Scott paid homage to these funds and foundations, recognizing their work”.
Amalia notes that in 2022, the Elas Social Investment Fund will celebrate 22 years working with grantmaking, investing in the protagonism of organizations, collectives, women’s groups and LBTI people. In this sense, she points out that Scott’s recognition impacts not only Elas Fund, but also its grantees’ work. “It is interconnected. The donated resources strengthen us as a fund, and this, in turn, strengthens all the organizations we support. It’s like a rippling effect, where the resources go where they should, and we establish a positive network for everyone. She invests in us and gives us the freedom to invest the resources in our strategies, knowledge, methodologies, which means to say that she gives us a big vote of trust. Our mission is to do philanthropy focusing on women, especially those with no access to resources, such as black and indigenous women, lesbians, transgender women and men. Scott allows us the liberty to choose how to execute our mission.”
Cristina Orphêo, executive director of the Casa Socio-Environmental Fund, also defines Scott’s donation as a “turning point in philanthropy”, in the sense that it selects the organizations based on the type of work done, rather than on their individual programs and agendas. In addition, she highlights, like Amalia Fischer, the freedom to choose how to use the donated resources, which helps to effectively meet each organization’s needs.
“She is a donor who is sensitive to social justice, who dares in terms of the methodology and in the ways of giving massive amounts to each organization, recognizing that they know better where and how to invest the resources. The donation made to Brazilian organizations is practically a seal of approval of the work that they do and, above all, of their cause, especially for the funds that work to promote socio-environmental justice. It is a recognition of the work carried out by the funds, which is difficult to achieve, even for the funds inside Brazil, which are very close to the general playing field of philanthropy.”
Cristina further notes that Scott’s donation reflects the leading role played by the funds promoting social justice within the field of philanthropy and, at the same time, raises questions about the difficulties faced by Brazilian philanthropy, generally, to support socio-environmental justice.
“Because our support is not leveraged by Brazilian resources. On the contrary, these have decreased. This donation shows that things can be done differently. We hope that this donation will prompt reflection within the field and more dialog on how to increase the level of resources that reach the communities, especially at this time in Brazil when so many rights have been lost and hunger advances. We believe that innovations are needed in the field of philanthropy – new ways to do it, more openly, with less competition, increased collaboration and trust.”
 You may find the other articles of the series on the Brazilian Network’s blog (in Portuguese): 1, 2.