One way of understanding the more committed, sustainable, solidarity-based economy – the third sector – is forging a path between the public and private sectors. This social economy was discussed at the Demos Forum, where Fundación MAPFRE participated to disseminate a new way to invest, namely through Socially Responsible Investment. But, in addition, we were able to take note of the views of some of the women participating in this event, both members of foundations and ordinary citizens. They all coincided on one word to define the future for the third sector and civil society, and that word is OPTIMISM.

TEXT: CRISTINA BISBAL IMAGES: LAURA MARTÍNEZ LOMBARDÍA

OPTIMISM. This was the widespread feeling among those attending the Demos Forum, held last November in Madrid. And we are not talking about low-profile optimism. Nor optimism in people’s manner or appearance. But rather in its broadest sense. Optimism in a really big way. In capital letters. Those present declared themselves to be optimistic and stated that, despite the many gloomy predictions, things are going to get better. And that is thanks to the engagement of citizens, groups and companies.

Those working to improve the lot of others underscore the strength of civil society. This is the case of Rosalía Arteaga, former president of Ecuador and CEO of the Fidal Foundation. “The different groups that make up civil society, whether in NGOs or other institutions, have a truly important role to play. Firstly, they are often the ones who sound the alarm about certain situations. Secondly, they reach areas the state does not or cannot reach. And thirdly, they deal with a huge range of issues. And that gives them tremendous strength.” This woman of the world, who believes quality education is essential for the future, understands that we are living in a time of hope (“Latin America is a continent for hope!”) with many changes taking place, “a world of uncertainty” that has become very small thanks to globalization.

This is precisely another of the circumstances that will mark civil society, according to Arteaga: “We’re living in a global world in which we must increasingly introduce respect for differences. I am myself and my circumstances, as Ortega y Gasset once said. I want to be respected, but, at the same time, I have to respect.

With so much globalization, it is precisely local features that help preserve identity. From that cultural and anthropological study of local identity, we should be able to find what is needed to achieve that future world.” It is true that not everything can be positive. It would be too naive to think that way. And the former president of Ecuador feels that one of the hurdles is international politics and the relations between different nations: “The associations that were created to push multilateralism are going through a profound crisis. Those of us who are optimists believe there will be solutions. I believe in science and technology as possible answers. We humans are marked by our habits, so difficult to change. Science and technology are key to achieving these changes in our habits, rather than striving to raise awareness among all human beings.”

It is precisely globalization and internationalization that often present benefits. One of them is the e xistence of the European Fundamental Rights Agency, an institution that works with over 700 organizations, including civil association groups, NGOs, legal and religious associations, etc. Blanca Tapia is its Communication Projects Manager. And part of her job is maintaining regular contact with a wide range of organizations of this kind. Fruit of that communication, they have determined what the main issues they face actually are. And the way to mitigate them in the futur e. One of the areas in which the agency is going to work shortly is on improving the regulatory framework. Tapia: “We cannot fight against the laws of the countries. We must find the key to respecting domestic legislation.” In other words, see to it that any legislation enacted is designed to “ensure that no disproportionate requirements are imposed on civil society organizations and do not impact in a discriminatory fashion on them, thus reducing the space for civil society. In doing so, they must fully respect the applicable legislation of the EU and of any pertinent international treaties.”

“I believe we are experiencing a social tsunami of generosity. People who mobilize others to support them with financial or non-cash contributions”

The other major issue for civil society organizations is – as is only to be expected – funding. As Tapia says: “We must ensure that the bureaucratic chores when seeking financing are vastly simplified.” One of the Agency’s documents goes on: “In order to guarantee free movement of capital, civil society organizations must have the freedom to solicit, receive and utilize funding not only from public bodies in their own country, but also from institutional or individual donors, public authorities and foundations from other States or international organizations, agencies or bodies.”

MONEY. The major problem for the Third Sector: securing funding, while always bearing in mind transparency and independence. This is where people like Silvia Bueso come in, as an expert in communications and fundraising. She is an unrepentant optimist, capable of conveying that feeling to everyone she talks to: “I believe we are experiencing a social tsunami of generosity. People who mobilize others to support them with financial or non-cash contributions. And we’re going to see more and more of this movement.

And in every sphere: social, cultural, educational, health, research… Yes, the idea is to put an end to differences and inequalities. People have to understand that things can be changed.” And boy are they changing!

“The good news is that generous souls with a big heart help to dr aw in ever more generous souls. They are rather like social startups dedicated to helping others. That’s why I see a rosy future and more for the third sector.

The context is one of severe cuts in state aid for social issues. And where the State does not reach, we find these projects led by WAW people with WAW projects and WAW leadership striving for a better world.” That is where her pleading work – or, as she says, being a “pleadologist” – comes in. Of course, before pleading, you have to give and know how to communicate. If successful, and it seems to be well on track, “foundations and other associations are going to be the social, generous part of society.” One of the reasons for Bueso’s optimism has to do with the fact that companies are interested in having their brands create “solidarity conversations”.

Sonia Mulero, director of the Banco Sabadell Foundation, agrees with Silvia on this point and on several others. “I feel the third sector has a great future. And that’s because of the youngsters. For them, the social involvement of companies is most important. Moreover, companies are interested in their workers participating or having participated in volunteer work, something that had not happened until now. So much so that they often ask candidates to specify in their résumé whether they have done volunteer work.” And there is still more, because, thanks to her own work, Mulero has also found that “putting the talent of businesses at the service of the third sector is interesting.” In Banco Sabadell, for example, they are trying to get workers to consider volunteering a work incentive. And they are achieving this.

“We’re living in a global world in which we must increasingly introduce respect for differences. I am myself and my circumstances, as Ortega y Gasset once said. I want to be respected, but, at the same time, I have to respect”

But communication is often a stumbling block. Another point on which Bueso and Mulero agree. The latter declares: “You have to explain really well to your funder what your project is, demonstrate the differential value proposition you are presenting, but also the impact of what you do: be creative in order to sell value propositions.” And she goes on: “For me the keys to the future of the Third Sector are working on sustainable proposals as regards the economy and resources, and seeking new formulas for networking. And being capable of training internal talent. The impact has to be social; the management, business-like.”

In this sense, family philanthropy can also play an important role. The Rockefeller Foundation is a fine example. This is explained by Donzelina Barroso, Director of Global Philanthropy at Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors. “This is now the seventh generation of the family engaged in philanthropy. They now have the advantage that young consumers are more aware of topics related to the civil society, and they are also interested in learning how businesses operate in this regard. A company’s success lies in giving back to society what the latter has given it.”

In the light of everything heard in Demos, “any future world will be better.” Words of Rosalía Arteaga.

Fundación MAPFRE at the Demos Forum with SRI

We are committed to social innovation and a new awareness when it comes to consuming and investing. Mercedes Sanz, manager of the Insurance & Social Protection Area at Fundación MAPFRE, was also present at the Demos Forum showcasing SRI (Socially Responsible Investment). “Sustainable investment interests them and affects all those people who wish to support projects hoping to transform society, from a major investor to someone who only has a small savings account at a bank or has taken out a pension plan,” she declares. For this expert, the importance of “SRI” lies in the fact that “it turns the investment activity into a way of improving the world beyond the mere profit motive.”