Study: Guatemalan Businesses Shift from Philanthropy to Corporate Social Responsibility

RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK, N.C. –More corporations and businesses in Guatemala are moving from a traditional philanthropic approach to broader engagement with development priorities, according to a study conducted by researchers at RTI International. 

The paper, published in the February issue of Development in Practice, examines the degree to which businesses are engaging with the Guatemalan state through corporate social responsibility.

The researchers used data from Alianzas, a U.S. Agency for International Development-funded project that promotes private contributions to health and education in Guatemala, to highlight shifts in corporate behavior in Guatemala.

“While we did not assess the impact Alianzas itself may have had on these shifts, we interviewed the program partners to gain insight about the extent to which firms are partnering with public actors to achieve social goals,” said Gary Bland, Ph.D., a fellow in democratic governance at RTI and the paper’s co-author.

The paper was also co-authored with Anna Wetterberg, Ph.D., a social science research analyst in RTI’s International Development Group.

Since 2005, the Alianzas project has raised private funding for public health and education priorities in Guatemala by building partnerships between firms and development actors. The project, implemented by RTI, has leveraged $18.4 million from private sector organizations and more than 9 million Guatemalans have benefited from programs that improve education, maternal and child health, reproductive health, and HIV/AIDS interventions.

The authors surveyed 24 corporate funding partners involved in Alianzas to gather information on their corporate social responsibility efforts prior to involvement with the project. They compared these pre-Alianzas efforts to their involvement with project activities.

Prior to their involvement in Alianzas, most of the businesses surveyed had initiated corporate social responsibility programs and a few had begun institutionalizing these activities, creating explicit policies and departments for program design and implementation. Nonetheless, both firms with established and new philanthropic programs engaged with the project and most participants were willing to steer efforts toward public priorities and collaborate with government.

The researchers found that throughout the project, businesses expanded their corporate social responsibility programs to broader social issues and were exposed new partners, thereby extending their range of collaborations for social engagement.

While the authors note that their findings are not representative of the Guatemalan business community as a whole or of all the businesses that participated in the project, the study provides insight on the dynamics and degree of shifts from traditional philanthropy to broader social engagement. 

Teresia Ligorría Goicolea, chief of party for Alianzas, suggested that these trends may be occurring on a broader scale in Guatemala. “We see increasing number of companies looking for long-term development programs to invest their community social responsibility funds. This a major shift from short-term philanthropic investments. Companies are learning about critical development issues such as reduction of chronic malnutrition and, investment in early childhood education, and are actively engaging in the country’s efforts to address them.”