History, Part 3: The 1990s


The momentum of the previous decades didn’t just continue: there was an explosion in the number and sophistication of CSOs in the 90s. The end of the Cold War accelerated the trends that were opening up societies. Governments had one big reason less to mistrust citizens who wanted to gather in associations. The elites of business and government felt the pressure of more educated and demanding consumers and electorates and no longer had to hedge their bets on the War. They opened their doors wider to transnational corporations, who poured in, raising purchasing power and disposable incomes. They also put some locals out of business. To create a homegrown, friendly image, they made donations: a few large ones to high-profile CSOs and many small ones to lesser entities. Domestic companies increased their own donations.

Of the few data points available about what civil society was like in those days, here’s one from 1994. In a survey of 900 executives of Brazilian CSOs, 43% self-identified as Communists or ex-Communists.[i] So it’s not surprising that for a couple of years they disdained corporate money. But foreign foundations were starting to cut back their support as they saw corporations stepping in. Governments, too, reduced their funding of CSOs because privatization was the watchword of the day. The anti-business crowd soon hopped on the bandwagon and began to ask companies for donations, not only in Brazil but also throughout Latin America. At first, their attitude was: we’re doing good, you have the goods, so give them to us. After meeting with blank stares for a while, they learned how to present their projects in an intelligent way, appealing to the self-interest of the company in question. These CSOs became infatuated with the private sector, as did government bureaucrats, the World Bank and the Inter-American Development Bank. It was all so new, so fascinating. Companies created jobs, put food on people’s tables and cash in their pockets. Who would have thought?

The nouveax riches, like their predecessors, tended to form family-operating-foundations. Some gave grants, but it was the growing middle class, along with corporations, that attracted the attention of CSOs.[ii] Many sources of money plus competition equal demand for fundraisers. The profession began. The first two books on the subject written in Spanish for Latin America were published in the winter of 1994-5 in Mexico. A Brazilian translation of one of them hit the bookstores in 1995, the first such book in Portuguese. Fourteen Latins attended the biggest US convention of fundraisers in 1994. Six years later, there were a hundred and forty. But that number was no longer a measure of the reach of the profession. Professional associations and academies had sprung up in all the big countries, offering conferences, courses and consulting. Why go to the US?

To be continued …

[i] R.C. Fernandes and L.P. Carneiro, Brazilian NGOs in the 1990s: A Survey in New Paths to Democratic Development in Latin America, 1995, Lynne Rienner Publishers, Charles A. Reilly, editor.

[ii] “Poor people’s incomes have surged over the past decade, leading to a big drop in inequality. In most Latin American countries the Gini coefficient in 2010 was lower than in 2000. The region’s average, at 0.5, is down from almost 0.54 a decade ago, and lower than at any time in the past 30 years …” Economist, October 13, 2012.

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