A Comprehensive Plan to Tackle Poverty, Create Jobs and Strengthen the Social Sector

Creating a national social investment strategy


While Colombia has made great strides in economic development, more than forty per cent of the population still lives below the poverty line. In 2009, the government asked us to develop a plan that would bring together the combined resources of public, private, and social sectors in a concerted, national effort to reduce poverty. Among the challenges recognized early on by the government and our team: low rates of volunteerism and charitable giving, and relatively few examples of social entrepreneurship based on for-profit models.


Our team conducted detailed interviews with a wide range of stakeholders across Colombia: the leaders of development agencies, and foundations, government officials, and more than eighty leading philanthropists. The interviews revealed a strong desire across all sectors to tackle poverty and real potential to substantially increase rates of donations and volunteering. Our team estimated that philanthropic contributions over time could triple if barriers to participation could be removed.

The research also started to identify the root causes of low rates of volunteerism and charitable giving. For example, Colombia’s legal framework made it easy to establish non-profits, but financial and regulatory oversight was relatively weak. One-third of national government organizations in Bogota, the Colombian capital, had not filed regulatory or tax documents for more than three years. Equally, potential donors cited lack of reliable, accessible information about missions, capabilities, and effectiveness of national government organizations as a major concern.

Overall, our team proposed a comprehensive strategy based on twenty potential initiatives, organized around four themes: strengthening information-sharing and regulation; building non-profit capabilities; promoting individual and corporate investment, though mechanisms such as public-private partnerships; and social entrepreneurship by for-profit entities. Nothing less than an integrated approach would be required to achieve these ambitious goals.


The plan was presented by then-President Alvaro Uribe at the annual philanthropy forum in Colombia. While cross-sector transformation will take time to achieve, individual initiatives are starting to bear fruit. Among the new generation of public-private partnerships: a joint venture between the government-run Red Juntos program and the Andes Export Company to process Inca berries for export.