CADF 2023 Wrap-up Report

Highlights from the 2023 Central America Donors Forum in San José, Costa Rica

Welcome to the CADF 2023 wrap-up report!

Between September 25-27 in San José, Costa Rica, nearly 700 leaders from civil society, philanthropy, government and business participated in the 2023 Central America Donors Forum (CADF)—the event’s largest convening to date!

With attendees from over 475 organizations and 24 countries, participants joined in over 60 sessions to promote development, justice and equity in Central America.

Below, we invite you to check out a variety of CADF 2023 highlights, including session summaries, videos, data points, press coverage, photos and much more.


VIDEO: CADF 2023 Rewind

Over 3 days, 180 speakers discussed and analyzed the most pressing topics facing Central America today, including civic spaces, human rights, environmental justice, independent journalism, migration, education, equity and so much more.

Check out the CADF 2023 Rewind video to see key moments from our event in Costa Rica!

Adriana Beltrán

Executive Director

Read the letter

In the unique setting and context of Costa Rica, the 2023 Central America Donors Forum facilitated conversations to motivate, inspire and drive collective action in the region.

By the numbers

Over the course of 3 days, CADF 2023 gathered 692 leaders from 425 unique organizations. The CADF 2023 audience arrived from 24 countries and included 180 speakers.

Check out additional key metrics below.








total sessions




site visits




networking opportunities


countries represented


strategic tracks


senior-level leaders


first-time attendees


Authoritarianism in Central America: Challenges & Opportunities from Exile

This panel opened a conversation about the increase in (self) censorship and the (self) exile of dozens of journalists, independent justice operators and human rights defenders. Panelists analyzed the common pattern of authoritarianism in Central America, and the impact of denouncing and monitoring violations of human rights, corruption and impunity.


Through the experiences of exiled professionals, this session offered the international community a regional and multidisciplinary analysis using a gender focus to identify the needs and opportunities for support, as well as pathways for cooperation that contribute to the creation of improved outcomes for the freedom of expression and human rights.

Keynote Highlight

Epsy Campbell

After serving the position of Vice President of Costa Rica and in the context of her experiences and work with the Global Coalition against Systemic Racism and for Reparations, Epsy Campbell reflected on the issue of racism, the conditions of life for Afro-descendants and the actions needed to create actively anti-racist individuals,organizations and societies.


VIDEO: Mónica López

CADF 2023 is a “regional meeting place that allows organizations to construct strategies which confront authoritarianism and build the democracies we want,” said Mónica López, Program Officer for Latin America and the Caribbean at Open Society Foundations, at the close of the Forum in Costa Rica.


Confronting Educational Inequity Post-Pandemic

This breakfast gathering was open to CADF participants addressing educational inequity, whether funders, NGOs or advocates. In much of the region, educational access and quality, as well as attendance, continue to lag, with insufficient political will to “build back better” from the pandemic. This generational crisis has fallen hard on girls, Indigenous, Afro-descendant, rural and peri-urban students in particular, and it is linked to other issues like economic insecurity, migration, health, and violence. This space enabled participants to share their work, learning and ideas related to education.


Work groups emphasized that alliances can help address the current crisis. Advocacy with governments for greater investment and efforts to address gaps and blind spots, such as the socio-emotional and mental health needs of students, are critical. Small initiatives can lead to big change.

Who attended CADF 2023?

The CADF 2023 Attendee page allows you to search most attendees by name, organization type, country, SDGs and more!

Use the link below to read up on attendee biographies, visit social media pages and begin broadening your network today.

Meet the CADF 2023 attendees

Race, Climate & Migration

Race, Climate & Migration Justice as Opportunities for Solidarity

In Central America, it is estimated that 73% of the population in some countries lives below the poverty line. These realities do not affect everyone equally, and speakers in this session highlighted various problems facing indigenous regions and rural areas where, when confronting threats from public and private institutions, people have been forced to abandon their territory due to climate disasters. Meanwhile, other challenges have also led to the expulsion from lands and forced migration.


To create a more equitable future, several strategic recommendations should be considered, such as valuing ancestral knowledge and the roots of indigenous peoples, working together with communities through their local leaders, and generating resources to strengthen sustainability and stability.


VIDEO: Carlos F. Chamorro

CADF 2023 featured multiple sessions about the crisis in Nicaragua. Journalists, civil society leaders and donors discussed Nicaraguan and Central American independent media in exile. “This has been a great opportunity to discuss the challenges ahead. We’re facing a medium-term crisis that requires an alignment in vision for how democratic actors should confront these issues,” said Carlos F. Chamorro, Founder and Director of Confidencial Nicaragua.

Indigenous women

Indigenous Women’s Leadership: A Pillar for Development

What does being an indigenous woman mean in Guatemalan society? This panel featured a conversation between five Guatemalan indigenous women who shared their paths, contributions, challenges and sources of inspiration in confronting unequal power relations and promoting leadership, which ultimately reduces inequality.


This session included a call to international agencies and civil society organizations to recognize that indigenous women can and do make positive contributions to economic, health, and the formative and political conditions, allowing for a greater level of personal, family and community development.

Nicaragua and forced displacement

The Situation of Forcibly Displaced Nicaraguans

Democratic backsliding and the human rights crisis in Nicaragua are the primary reasons for 57% of Nicaraguans hoping to leave their country for the United States. Over 550,000 Nicaraguans have suffered forced displacement and 3,400 civil society organizations have closed. Social displacement presents many challenges: changes in migration flows across countries, particularly for refugee cases; policies that criminalize citizens and negatively affect fundamental rights; and an increase in hate messages through digital media that affect the social fabric.


The session analyzed the obstacles impeding institutional frameworks that create freedom of movement and improve the refugee application process. Panelists recommended working alongside returned migrants and investing in resources for their integration.

Site Visit

Refugee Response Ecosystems

CADF participants joined an immersive field visit guided by UNHCR Costa Rica for a first-hand look into the ecosystems fueling a more comprehensive refugee response in the country. Attendees had the opportunity to interact with refugee beneficiaries participating in local integration programs and from partners in the field who promote and program holistic socioeconomic inclusion for refugees and asylum seekers.

Afro-descendant, Garifuna and Indigenous peoples

The Resistance & Fight of the Invisible Majority: Keys to Building a Just Future

This panel addressed the main challenges to constructing a just and inclusive future, including effective development for Afro-descendant, Garifuna and Indigenous peoples in the region, with an emphasis on women who suffer from layered discrimination of their intersecting identities.


Panelists discussed the oppression and structural violence that these populations have historically faced in an effort to build an agenda for reparations and restorative justice. They shared experiences of struggle and strategies for resistance from the perspective of community organizations, international groups and the State. In short, speakers articulated how to implement and advance racial justice for the defense of the speakers’ territories and for conditions of development that lead to dignified and fulfilling lives.


VIDEO: Epsy Campbell

Epsy Campbell, President of the United Nations Permanent Forum on People of African Descent, addressed the need to make marginalized voices heard and to eradicate system racism “from the micro to the macro.” She shared a vision based on “love, compassion and the opportunities to get involved from the deepest part of our very beings, but by also using concrete actions, investments and strategic alliances across all sectors.”

View the CADF 2023 photos

You can find all of the images taken at CADF 2023 on Seattle International Foundation’s Flickr page.

View all CADF 2023 photos

Refugee Response

Closing the Gap: The Socioeconomic Potential of a Comprehensive Refugee Response

One-fifth of the world’s 110 million forcibly displaced people are hosted in the Americas, a region marked by violence in El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and a deteriorating human rights situation in Nicaragua that has uprooted over 1 million people. Mexico and Costa Rica recorded 118,800 and 129,500 new asylum claims respectively. Significant cross-border movements of Cubans, Haitians and Venezuelans continue to be reported, further straining asylum systems.


This panel invited representatives from different sectors of society to discuss the potential of and challenges to including refugees in the Costa Rican labor market. Speakers shared insights from local pilot programs modeling the power of socioeconomic inclusion, and changing the refugee narrative toward that of catalytic potential for host societies and global development in a world short on peace. Additionally, they discussed the potential of women, the need for digital training, the creation of an integrated strategy, and the need for multisectoral dialogue as central reflections to the topic of refugees, inviting participants to view human mobility not only as a moment of crisis, but as an opportunity.

2023 Honorary Host Committee

Feminism & Climate

Body, Land & Territory: Youth Feminism & Climate Justice

What does it mean to be a woman, a feminist and young in Central America? Solving, resisting and reflecting. This session brought together young and diverse women who shared their areas of work, organizational challenges and motivation for seeking climate justice and positioning the issue as a gender and human rights issue.


Defending territories, bodies and the environment crosses into multiple types of violence that ultimately try to break the social fabric and identities of community. This session opened a space for youth feminists to talk about their experiences, actions and strategies to defend their bodies and territories, as well as share their critical and creative proposals to confront the climate crisis, gender-based violence, machismo and adultcentrism.


VIDEO: Alida Vicente

Alida Vicente, Authority of the Indigenous Municipality of Palín, Guatemala, highlighted that CADF 2023 was an opportunity to discuss Central American territories and communities, generate networks and strategic alliances, and “unite the strength of women and the strength of the people.”


Weaving Dreams, Building Bridges: The Transformative Power of Narrative Work

Narrative is the aggregation of stories about the world and our place in it, and directs us to how we should feel, think and act. Doing narrative work means expanding the social imagination and inspiring collective action. Since narrative work seeks to create meaning at scale, it is essential that we learn how to build narrative communities and reach new audiences to broaden the base of those who agree with the worldview we want to promote.


The challenge for human rights and social justice movements in Central America is to go beyond denouncing injustices and inspire people to use their individual and collective power to create a world that is centered around dignity, interconnections and care—a world that is both desirable and possible.

View the CADF 2023 agenda

The CADF 2023 agenda featured nearly 60 sessions, including panels, workshops, fireside chats, roundtable discussions, site visits and many networking opportunities.


Go beyond the highlights and explore the full agenda.

View full 2023 agenda

Keynote Highlight

Mileydi Guilarte

In the context of the U.S. Government’s interagency Voices initiative, Deputy Assistant Administrator for USAID’s Bureau for Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC), Mileydi Guilarte discussed the advances and challenges related to civic space in the region and the ongoing agenda to bring together like-minded partners to foster conditions that allow civil society to flourish and ensure governments are more accountable.


VIDEO: Arturo Aguilar

CADF is a valuable space because it brings together people from diverse sectors to reflect strategically on problems in and solutions for Central America, build a community, learn from one another and find the strength to continue working for the region, says Arturo Aguilar, Program Director of Central America at the Rockefeller Brothers Fund.

Journalism & Nicaragua

Journalism as the Last Democratic Avenue for Access to Information in Nicaragua

This panel explored the challenges faced by independent journalists who, in the face of exile, seek to promote democracy both in Nicaragua and throughout Central America. Some of the challenges highlighted included economic sustainability, the quality of journalism in the face of blockades by the Ortega regime, the permanent condition of exile, generational change and artificial intelligence.


This situation has led journalists to seek out fissures within the regime in order to continue providing information to citizens, such as setting an agenda within the country, protecting anonymous tipsters, international cooperation as a means of financing and generating alliances within media.


VIDEO: Alejandra Gutiérrez

CADF is a space for “journalists and independent media to gather together with other organizations and donors who can contribute to our work, as well as discuss what we’re doing and the challenges we face,” said Alejandra Gutiérrez, Journalist and Director of Agencia Ocote in Guatemala.

Site Visit

Food Producers in the Poás Volcano Area

CADF attendees visited a project led by Cargill’s Nourishing the Future IV Program, in partnership with CARE and EARTH University, to hear their stories firsthand. Participants heard from farmers and food producers as they shared their experiences growing strawberries and vegetables, beekeeping, and creating agricultural projects.


VIDEO: David Price

At CADF, “I get to learn from other funders, from implementers, and we also get to share about the things that we’re doing in the region. So, all around, it was a great decision to come,” said David Price, Chief Transformation Officer at PriceSmart and President of The PriceSmart Foundation.

View the CADF 2023 videos

Looking for a glimpse into the CADF experience?


Daily recaps and all of the interviews in this wrap-up report can be found using the link below.

View CADF 2023 videos

Legal empowerment

Advancing Legal Empowerment to Address Systemic Injustices & Protect Rights

Legal empowerment is a powerful strategy that seeks to put the law in the hands of the people both to meet the needs of their communities and to promote lasting social justice. This session explored the debate on access to legal knowledge and how people in Central America, notably within indigenous populations, lack the knowledge to seek out solutions to their legal challenges.


Speakers not only discussed legal empowerment as a concept, but gave examples as a tool to transcend political, economic, social and even linguistic gaps. Topics related to legal empowerment, such as gender-based violence, the right to healthcare, migration and labor rights were featured. Considering the scope of such issues, panelists noted that access to information and legal pathways is on method to bring about solutions to some of the most pressing issues facing Central American societies.

Sustainable Development Goals at CADF 2023

At CADF 2023, attendees used the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to navigate networking opportunities, as well as meet potential partners and allies.

Check out which SDGs attendees are most working towards below:


SDG 1: No poverty


SDG 2: Zero hunger


SDG 3: Good health and well-being


SDG 4: Quality education


SDG 5: Gender equality


SDG 6: Clean water and sanitation


SDG 7: Affordable and clean energy


SDG 8: Decent work and economic growth


SDG 9: Industry, innovation and infrastructure


SDG 10: Reduced inequalities


SDG 11: Sustainable cities and communities


SDG 12: Responsible consumption and production


SDG 13: Climate action


SDG 14: Life below water


SDG 15: Life on land


SDG 16: Peace, justice and strong institutions


SDG 17: Partnerships for the goals

Closing civic space

Closure of Civic Space: When Censorship Reaches All of Us

Censorship is often an outcome that manifests prior to imprisonment or physical violence, and it has a profound impact on society as a whole.


Speakers in this session reflected on the freedom of expression and the types of censorship Central America is experiencing today in art, activism and journalism. From judicial persecution in Guatemala to digital militias in El Salvador, censors operate to inhibit conversation and public criticism. The region is experiencing common strategies of censorship, including the concentration of power, imprisonment, restructuring of elites and the criminalization of social voices.


Censorship is a challenge requiring collective solutions via local, regional and global networks.


VIDEO: Morena Herrera

Morena Herrera, feminist activist in El Salvador, highlighted that in CADF 2023 she discussed how in Central America, some governments “have been transforming us into an authoritarian enclave.” Morena further discussed the need to “find the key to enforcing human rights, overcoming social inequalities, and recognizing that the defense of rights for women, girls and adolescents is an intrinsic part of the democratic agenda.”

2023 Sponsors

Attendee Feedback

Based on feedback from 126 attendees, CADF remains a useful networking space for leaders in Central America. 100% of surveyed attendees expressed satisfaction with the Forum, while the same amount indicated that they had established useful relationships with individuals and organizations to advance their work.

Forum attendees ranked networking events, panels and workshops as equally valuable.

Climate Justice

Climate Justice in Central America? Challenges & Responses of Local Stakeholders in Building Resilience

In Central America, indigenous peoples, Afro-descendants and local communities are the most affected by the impacts of climate change due to their high levels of vulnerability. These communities are not responsible for global warming; rather, the territories they manage are already contributing to climate resilience, and are essential for a just, equitable and democratic transition thanks to their community governance systems.


Sadly, these governance systems are threatened by democratic decline and the deepening of extractivist development models that put these communities on the front line and undermine adaptation capacities in the region. This panel analyzed the factors that undermine climate resilience in the territories (Young Voices) of the Afro-descendant and indigenous peoples of the region who resist and build equitable, democratic and sustainable alternatives.

CADF 2023 in the Media

Local and regional media coverage

Local and regional media outlets covered CADF 2023 following the event's announcement and during the three days in San José, Cost Rica. Media coverage highlighted a range of topics discussed at the Forum, including the role of philanthropy in supporting Nicaraguan immigration and the challenges of independent journalism in the region.


VIDEO: Lenina García

Lenina García, human rights activist, highlighted how she met others from Central America at CADF 2023 who work towards a variety of causes, and that “listening to them has filled me with courage and strength, and taught me that it is important to continue striving towards a democratic Central America as we strengthen networks of support, solidarity and care.”

Keynote Highlight

Allegra Baiocchi

The United Nations Resident Coordinator in Costa Rica and member of the CADF 2023 Honorary Host Committee, Allegra Baoicchi, opened the final day in San José with remarks about the United Nations’ commitment to promoting sustainable and human development, and the importance of investing in Costa Rica and the Central America region.

Renewing a Vision of Hope

For the first time, the Central America Donors Forum (CADF) headed to Costa Rica. CADF 2023 brought together hundreds of cross-sector leaders in beautiful San José to chart a renewed vision of peace and justice in Central America.

Through a dynamic, engaging and participatory agenda, CADF 2023 sought shared solutions to priority issues facing Central America. Attendees engaged in dialogue centered on environmental protection and climate justice; discussed and addressed issues of prosperity and migration; sought pathways for equity by fostering expansive, inclusive and thriving communities; and explored philanthropic models that propel community-driven solutions.

On September 25-27, 2023, our unique community of experts and changemakers joined and took part in constructing a collaborative vision of hope in Central America.

Environment & Sustainable Solutions

Climate change poses a harrowing threat to Central America, a region highly exposed and vulnerable to irreversible environmental degradation. Devastating droughts, hurricanes, rising sea levels, and ocean acidification have contributed dramatically to human and environmental insecurity, as well as to migration, food insecurity, and poor access to health and education. Despite contributing only a fraction of global carbon emissions, Central American countries shoulder a disproportionate environmental burden, ultimately exacerbating high levels of poverty, inequality and instability. Following Hurricanes Eta and Iota, the 2022 IPCC report claimed climate crisis is expected to deepen in the region.  

Amid environmental degradation and resource extraction, dialogues on climate justice have increased pressure to reconcile environmental sustainability and social equality with economic growth and public policy. In a country widely recognized as a global leader in environmental conservation and protection, attendees heard directly from the experts documenting and the defenders protecting our environment and human rights.

More Equitable & Just Communities

Despite considerable economic investment and aid, inequity remains a pervasive and multidimensional issue in Central America. Unequal economic opportunity and access to justice, as well as racial and gender disparities are deeply entrenched and profoundly undermine the region’s future, and democratic backsliding and closing civic spaces are worsening the situation. Racial and indigenous minorities, youth, women and LGBTQ populations—to name a few—suffer as a consequence and social progress is stunted. These underlying challenges were exacerbated by the global pandemic.

In confronting these challenges, civil society throughout the region has risen up to demand greater equity and accountability in notable ways. Independent journalists risk their lives to hold governments accountable and provide the public with quality news and information. Social movements, often led by youth, fight for visibility and justice. Social-minded enterprises are contributing to a new social fabric that reduces inequalities and boosts economic growth. As a result of these promising cross-sector efforts, Central America is building towards more equitable, just and peaceful societies.

Migration & Pathways to Prosperity

Soaring numbers of migrants have fled northern Central America in recent years. Since 2018, over 600,000 Nicaraguans have left their homes, primarily emigrating to neighboring Costa Rica, where the influx has overwhelmed the asylum system and prompted new restrictions. Long-term structural challenges, natural disasters, ineffective or inadequate public and private investment, and systemic corruption have all contributed to under-performing economies, lack of opportunities, and a growing hopelessness that incentivizes irregular migration.  

In one of Latin America’s major migration hubs, the CADF audience examined factors contributing to the region’s economic wellbeing and prospects for improving opportunities and prosperity for all. The private sector, civil society, governments and donors must unite to foster prosperity, greater equality and strategies to address the most pressing structural challenges in the region, including the expanding migration crisis.

Transformational Partnerships

The multifaceted and intersecting issues confronting Central America have demonstrated the necessity for agile, effective, and well-funded organizations capable of responding to shifting challenges. Driven to address the root causes of structural problems, a growing number of organizations are joining together to embrace the transformational power of partnerships. By embracing this sentiment, funders supporting Central America are revitalizing philanthropic models anchored in trust and community-driven solutions.  

Built upon a shared vision for Central America, a sustainable and equitable development agenda requires innovative partnerships between civil society, government, the private sector and donors. Achieving social progress is best accomplished through collaboration rather than competition, and alignment rather than alienation. Now is the moment to consider how partnerships and multi-stakeholder approaches can tackle complex issues. As a community, CADF encouraged authentic relationships based on mutual trust, transparency and dialogue and, ultimately, addressed a history rooted in racism, patriarchy and oppression with practical solutions.

Join us for CADF 2024

Interested in participating in CADF 2024? Please reach out to Seattle International Foundation (SIF) to learn more.

Attend CADF 2024

CADF 2024 Timeline


CADF 2024 announced


Sponsorship opportunities available


Theme and tracks released


Request for session proposals begins


Honorary Host Committee announced


Request for session proposals closes


Agenda released

Fall 2024

CADF 2024