The numbers are extremely low, especially given high profile individuals like Carlos Slim, who has a mixed record on philanthropy. Slim, who by 2007 accounted for 40 percent of Mexico's philanthropic donations, has two foundations dedicated to combating health and poverty with a combined endowment of $8 billion. The Telmex Foundation and the Carlos Slim Foundation have given the poor hundreds of thousands of scholarships and health implements, donating directly to communities instead of offering grants, as most U.S. foundations do. This straightforward and personal style of philanthropy is characteristic of Slim, a man who has repeatedly expressed his skepticism about the benefits of charities and cash donations.
"The only way to fight poverty is with employment," Slim has said. "Trillions of dollars have been given to charity in the last 50 years, and they don't solve anything." "To give 50%, 40%, that does nothing," he added, referring to the Giving Pledge. "There is a saying that we should leave a better country to our children. But it's more important to leave better children to our country."
According to historians and researchers, Slim's attitude is in a way typical of Latin Americans and Latinos (only about 1 percent of foundation giving in the U.S. is destined for Latinos, according to the group Hispanics in Philanthropy.
For centuries, the population in the region has heavily depended on the government and the Church for assistance in health, education, and poverty-relief services. Donations from private enterprises were virtually non-existent, and in general individuals preferred to start and manage their own foundations, rather than offer up their resources to corrupt or inept government institutions.
In recent years, the number foundations in Latin America has multiplied, but the figures are still minimal when compared to the United States, where this kind of organizations have thrived since at least the 1970s. Estimates of the number of nonprofits working in Latin America vary greatly, but in Mexico, for instance, there are 6,000 tax-exempt organizations, a fraction of those found in the U.S., where there are approximately 1.1 million, according to the latest IRS data.
This huge gap is explained by various cultural and financial reasons, according to experts. On the one hand, giving back to society as a whole has never been seen as a primary duty in Latin America."They see their family obligations as their most important responsibility," Layton says. "Taking care or assisting others they don't know is often seen as a government responsibility."
On the other hand, many of the region's nations have complicated bureaucratic procedures to start foundations or other philanthropic projects. According to the Financial Times, businessmen in countries across Latin America consistently complain of red tape and the lack of tax benefits at the time of forming a foundation or making major donations. As of 2012, donors in Mexico could only write off 7 percent of their taxable income, those in Brazil 6 percent, and those in Colombia 30 percent, a number that is still small when compared to the United States' 50 percent.
There have been promising changes in the past years, though. Corporate foundations have expanded their roles and are now leading players in countries like Brazil, Mexico, and Colombia. The amount of money given by High Net Worth Individuals has increased in recent years, according to the World Wealth Report. And artists like Juanes and Shakira are paving the way for future philanthropists through their highly publicized work with Fundación Mi Sangre and Fundación ALAS.
Latin America is slowly catching up, according to Layton, but if government and individual attitudes don't change, the region will lose the opportunity of embarking on programs to address big issues like health and education in the systematic and successful way that leading philanthropists like Bill Gates and Warren Buffet are promoting.