Anti-poverty group: Latin American firms outdo governments in charitable giving

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Companies in Latin America, including multinationals with a regional presence, do more to fight poverty than governments, Techo, an organization with a $35 million annual budget that has mobilized 800,000 volunteers since it was founded  to help the Latin American poor, said.

“Statistics show that Latin America is the only region where contributions by companies are higher than those by governments, when in the U.S., Canada and Europe, the government participation is exorbitantly higher,” Diego Firpo, U.S. director for Techo, told Latin Business Daily by phone from the U.S.

Techo is part of a group that started in 1997 in Chile with a handful of students led by Jesuit priest Felipe Berrios. Since then, it has grown into an organization that works throughout 64 offices in 19 Latin American countries, coordinating the work of some 80,000 volunteers annually.

Firpo, 28, originally from the Santa Fe province in Argentina, said the organization originally expanded beyond Chile to help build urgently needed housing following natural disasters in El Salvador and Peru. By 2010, it was doing work in nearly all countries in Latin America.

“One of the most recognized programs is one for the construction of emergency  temporary housing,” Firpo said. More than 105,000 of those start-up homes, which can cost of up to $3,000, have been built, Firpo said.

The organization also helps with work training, leadership programs, infrastructure projects and the construction of parks where children can play. Community members decide which projects they want done.

“This happens every weekend in more than 400 communities” all over Latin America, Firpo said. 

Most of these communities are located on the outskirts of cities and lack at least one basic need, such as electricity, gas or water. They also are far away from police, firefighters and hospitals.

Other volunteers with expertise in areas such as finance, communications, legal or administrative services can help with other projects, such as obtaining ownership titles to occupied land, or in some cases moving an entire group of people who are settled in an unsafe area.

“Communities have shown us that they do not want things for free, but are willing to pay for things and be able to move forward,” Firpo said.

“In the U.S., we have offices in Miami and New York, and the objective is to raise awareness about the conditions in which 113 million people in Latin America live,” Firpo said. Many decision-makers at companies with operations in Latin America that are contributors are in the U.S., Firpo said.

The organization has 8,000 permanent volunteers who put in between 10 to 20 hours weekly. 

Since 2010, the budget has increased more slowly, and over the past five years, it has not gained more than $10 million.

"We are in a consolidation phase," Firpo said.