In Search of Equity in Brazil: A BrazilFoundation Perspective


From Housing Self-Help to the Voting Booth

Photo by Leona Forman

Social entrepreneurs are mingling these days with prime ministers, kings, gazillionaires and executives. In his January 30 column in the New York Times on the most recent World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos, Switzerland, Nicholas D. Kristof registers this fact as one of the “the most hopeful and helpful trends around.”

“These folks aren’t famous, and they didn’t fly to Davos in first-class cabins or private jets, but they are showing what it really takes to change the world isn’t so much wealth or power as creativity, determination and passion,” he writes.

Brazilian social entrepreneurs and their organizations are also making efforts to seek equity and inclusion in their country. We at the BrazilFoundation, a grant-making nonprofit transnational organization incorporated in New York, taps into the resources of the Brazilian diaspora in the United States by raising awareness of a booming third sector in Brazil. Investments of individuals and corporations, tempered by social responsibility, are linked to grassroots social entrepreneurs in Brazil.



BrazilFoundation, created with the mission to generate resources in the United States for social projects in Brazil, promotes social corporate responsibility among companies that invest in Brazil and individual social responsibility among potential donors—both Brazilian and American—through better understanding and strengthened trust in social initiatives in Brazil.

Built as a bridge, BrazilFoundation´s work is carried out by offices in New York and Rio de Janeiro, with the New York base responsible for fund-raising and donor community building.

The Rio de Janeiro office concentrates on program development. Grantees work in the fields of education, health, human rights, citizenship (which means capacity building, basic rights and responsibilities, preparation for a first job) and culture.

Susane Worcman, founding Vice President, heads up the Rio office. She has traveled by plane, car, bus, motorcycle, canoe and on foot to the most distant locations to visit prospective grantees, whom she describes as extraordinarily determined social leaders, young and old, living and working under most precarious circumstances, totally invested in improving their communities.

BrazilFoundation and its grantees consider the small discretionary grants (up to $10,000, with a one-year timeline) as only a part of the grantor-grantee relationship. The follow-up includes technical assistance, administrative guidance and workshops on such topics as institutional communication and budget development. The opportunity to meet each other, to exchange experiences and information, and even strike up partnerships has further buttressed the work of many of the grantees.

The Foundation has now establishing a database with excellent small projects, selected from all regions of the country. In 2006 HSBC, TAM Airlines, the Foundation of Vale do Rio Doce (CVRD mining company) and the Inter American Foundation became partners on 13 of the 33 projects selected by BrazilFoundation, thus providing funding for more of the finalists.

These Foundation-Corporate partnerships open new doors for funding opportunities to local non-profit organizations that have little access to larger donors. To its corporate partners, the Foundation provides full grant-making services for vetted small projects in regions they normally would not be active.

The following sampling of projects demonstrates how NGOs are bringing equity to communities in different regions. They each reflect a particular modality: self-help, public/private partnerships, direct access to legislative process, and outreach by an indigenous community wanting peace with its neighbors.



Eliana Setti, a businesswoman in Uberlandia, Minas Gerais, has volunteered many years with the NGO Pastoral da Moradia, a humanitarian organization helping low income families secure housing. This experience led her to believe that she could do more to improve access to housing for the poorest members of the community. She and her husband, engineer Oswaldo Setti, founded Ação Moradia.

Most families Eliana Setti had visited lived in canvas shacks, with no running water, sanitation or electricity. There were no schools, health or other social services in the vicinity. Though geographically part of one of Brazil ‘s municipalities high on the GIP (Gross Internal Product) and M-HDI (Municipal- Human Development Index) scales, inequality here is stark—tall buildings, modern industrial installations and wealthy suburbs situated side by side with slums and misery.

Ação Moradia developed a specific technology for building brick houses in poor communities. The bricks are made with a hand press, using a mixture of sandy soil and cement. They are known as ‘ecological bricks,’ because they do not require drying with heat produced by wood or coal.

Eliana and Oswaldo built a shed in Morumbi, the poorest community in the periphery of Uberlandia, to house a small factory where families from neighboring communities come to make ecological bricks either to fix up a house or build a new one.

With a grant from BrazilFoundation in 2003, Ação Moradia mobilized 15 families to participated in cooperative house building. Currently, the major achievement of Ação Moradia is no longer the making of ecological brick but the house itself, a social product that mobilizes families and helps develop strong community bonds.

A house built using Ação Moradia methods costs approximately 30% less than a common house. The design is based on innovative social and environmental technologies that reduce the cost of maintenance. Natural ventilation and good lighting is obtained by positioning of windows and the use of specific materials for roofing, to reduce heat in the summer. A solar panel is installed for heating water, thus reducing the use of electric showers. The bricks have holes for wiring and plumbing, reducing waste of material and construction time. In laying bricks, there is no need for cement-glue, since the bricks fit into each other like toy Legos. Each house has a water tank, a septic tank and is part of a common sewage system.

Ação Moradia also built a Center for Capacity Building in Morumbi that provides 23 different social services such as vocational courses literacy and continuing education courses and even vegetable gardening.



In 2004, BrazilFoundation made a grant to the NGO Center for Technological Development of Coffee (CETCAF) in support of the project “Coffee-Culture and Family Production” in Anchieta, a rural community of the region of Córrego da Prata, known for its lowest per capita income in the state of Espirito Santo.

Municipal authorities were seeking to advance rural tourism, increasing productivity of small rural properties where agricultural and culinary practices could be of interest to urban tourists. Here citydwellers would see how cachaça (white sugar cane rum) is produced in family stills; learn about animal breeding; enjoy “pay-and-fish” facilities, and taste food produced in the farmers’ kitchens.

Although fundamental to the history and culture of Corrego da Prata, small local coffee growers were excluded from the tourist route, since the 30 family-run, small plantations employed traditional ways of planting and the coffee beans produced were of low quality and the smell generated by inadequate storage made them unattractive to visitors.

CETCAF proposed to provide the 30 small producers with information on new ways to cultivate coffee and diminish waste. As well as learning new techniques, the farmers began to work cooperatively, discovering economic advantages to bulk sales.

The CETCAF team provided technical assistance, monitoring local properties and checking coffee quality and market prices received.

This higher-quality production diminished emigration of young people from this rural community. In addition, cooperative production among the 30 farmers consolidated relationships among community members.

CETCAF collaboration with public authorities and technical assistance agencies allowed it to contribute to the development of an important public policy, to stimulate and empower the local coffee farmer, and to contribute to the rebuilding of family structures.



The Agora Institute in Defense of the Voter and of Democracy promotes democracy and citizenship participation by monitoring municipal-level legislatures. The work of Agora Institute is consolidated in the municipality of São Paulo. A group of journalists monitor the daily actions of Town Counselors in the Municipal Chamber,evaluating Town Counselors’ performance against indicators generated by Agora Institute technical staff. Annually, a legislative report is produced and distributed to the citizens in São Paulo township with information about the activities of each Town Counselor.

Agora Institute also offers civics courses in schools and promotes voting education in low income communities, focusing especially onthe young adult who is to vote for the first time.

Agora Institute’s direct governance program “Ouvidoria do Eleitor” (Voter’s Listening Post) also allows civil society organizations, corporations and individual citizens in São Paulo to send requests to their Town Counselor, and by law, to receive an official response. Agora monitors all phases of the request process, maintaining the voter informed on its status through periodic mailings.

Recently, it expanded the program to the neighboring town-ships of Mayrink and Atibaia, both in the state of São Paulo, and is now expanding to Rio de Janeiro. In partnership with Instituto Telemig Celular, the foundation of a telephone company, Agora is also training members of municipal councils in 12 cities in the state of Minas Gerais to monitor the performance of local legislative chambers.



Thydêwá Pau Brazil, an indigenous non-profit organization in the state of Bahia seeksto promote, preserve and generate respect for indigenous cultures.

The organization wants its neighbors to understand the culture and see the indigenous people as they see themselves,promoting intercultural dialogue and respect for differences through educational activities.

In the past few years, the level of ethnic strife has increased in this low income region, resulting in conflicts between Indian and non-Indian populations. The Indian population is seen by others as passive recipient of benefits. The Thydêwá organization believes that the indigenous population must take on a proactive role in developingpolicies to govern life in their villages and to establish norms for their relations with the white population in neighboring farms and towns.

The project Indians Want Peace came to Brazil Foundation in 2004 to seek training of 32 teachers and 10 indigenous leaders as agents for peace and as conflict mediators.

The initiative includes visits by the Indian elders to local public schools to share indigenous stories and history with the student population. It also supports organization of meetings with local government authorities to raise awareness. These activities are developed arduous and results can only be expected over time when mutual suspicion can be overcome and peaceful coexistence and cultural exchanges encouraged between indigenous people and the local population.



Jair Ribeiro, a successful Brazilian investment banker in New York, a philanthropist and donor to Brazil Foundation, returns to live and work in his home town of São Paulo. His office in the city center abuts a public school with youngsters loitering in the street, the school in obvious disrepair. Feeling unsafe and sad, Jair Ribeiro gets personally involved. He consults experts in education, NGOs working on issues of education and curriculum development, as well as state educational authorities. In May 2005, with Ana Maria Diníz, a business executive, they establish Associação Parceiros da Educação—Association of Partners in Education.

Acting as program coordinators, Ribeiro and Diniz have since engaged twenty other executives to invest in twenty other public schools in São Paulo, with a total of around 20,000 students. Their vision is to improve public education through private-public partnerships, to inject private interest and investments in the improvement of public education. They aim to achieve 100 school partnerships benefiting 150.000 students in 2007 and 500 schools, with 750.000 students, by 2010.

Among the emerging market countries, Brazil has the lowest average in years of schooling—five years—the highest rates of illiteracy, 13%, and of students repeating classes, 21%.

Though the State of São Paulo has an annual budget of R$9 billion (approximately US$4.5 billion) for the education of 5.5 million students in 6,000 public schools, the conditions of many of these schools and the quality of teaching are deplorable.

The Association of Partners in Education brings to the program business experience in human and financial resource administration and other business practices. As a framework, it took the experience of one enterprise that formed a partnership with three public schools sixteen years ago in the slum called Paraisópolis, in southern São Paulo.

In conjunction with the educational authorities of São Paulo, The Association of Partners in Education identify a public school that needs and has the interest in establishing a partnership. It then develops a diagnostic of the school’s needs (infra-structure, governance, pedagogical and community support) working with the school administration, the teachers, parents, students and staff in elaborating an annual plan of action.

Investment in the school made by the business executive ranges between US$35,000 and US$125,000 a year. The resources are used for improvement of the classroom infra-structure, in acquisition of teaching materials, in teacher-training opportunities and in community outreach. Most of all, they focus on the performance of the students.

The Association of Partners in Education also does contract services for competent non- profit organizations to provide educational support for a school or a group of schools and to evaluate the efficiency and effectiveness of the program.

Initial results are promising. Participating schools in the last two years show decline in illiteracy rates and external evaluations have found an over 20% growth in the students’ performance rates. There was a reduction in student absenteeism and in the turnover of teachers.

The direct engagement of the business executive in the program is crucial, especially in the contacts and meetings with the school Principal, the teachers and the students. Once the impact of the investment becomes apparent, experience has shown that the state begins to inject public funds it holds, the parents become participant and the overall teaching and learning experiences have a healthy effect on the community as a whole.



  • Despite what often seem to be unsurpassable problems facing grassroots communities across Brazil, extraordinary energy and creativity can be found in local social entrepreneurs as they deal with poverty and inequity in both rural and urban environments.
  • Results are directly correlated with trust, commitment, the ability to inspire, to lead by example, and the creativity of the project leader.
  • The non-profit sector is reliable and dependable. Although “accountability” may not be a word in the Portuguese language, the social leadership we met and support do know the concept and how to act on it.
  • Individuals are not able to shoulder the task of transforming society alone—organization and partnerships are necessary to bring their ideas and aspirations to fruition.
  • It does not take a very large investment to encourage a small organization to develop strategically and implement its creative ideas. Success in the highly competitive grant seeking field boosts confidence and opens new doors.
  • Public private partnerships can and do produce results. Under the leadership of Ruth Cardoso, Brazil ‘s First Lady from 1995–2002, new forms of collaboration between the state and civil society were developed, often including the private sector. Comunidade Solidaria, the organization she headed, proved it was possible for groups of citizens to mobilize and to pressure the State to act, as well as to take action themselves. One of the concrete results was the creation of the legal status of OSCIPs—Organizations of Civil Society of Public Interest—regulating activities of non profit organizations.
  • Many of the initiatives of NGOs have effectively contributed to improvements in education, community development, capacity building, environmental protection, empowerment of women. Public-private partnerships help build trust and inclusion across the 1st and 3rd sectors.
  • Foundations and NGOs continue to play an important role in pressuring government for legislation that recognizes the crucial role of non profit organizations and calls for tax relief (incentives are currently minimal) to encourage individual and corporate philanthropy.
  • Media has tremendous influence in the promotion of what newsmagazine EXAME calls Good Corporate Citizenship. An annual special edition ranks corporations by their social investments, by conditions they provide to workers and by initiatives they establish for environmental protection. Public recognition of good corporate citizenship creates a competitive sense of urgency and a pressure to act.
  • Third sector media plays an extremely important role of informing, guiding, connecting and furthering the efforts of non profit social leaders. Revista da Filantropia, an Internet based magazine, was created by Marcio Zeppelini five years ago as a tool for social entrepreneurs to administer their projects. It is not enough to do good; he says, it is necessary to do it well! The electronic newsletter published by the Rede de Informações do Terceiro Setor (Network of Information of the Third Sector) is an indispensable source of information about events, resources, publications, articles. Newsletters published by various trade associations such as SENAC (National Merchants Association), SENAI (National Industry Association) and by a number of NGOs, provide the much needed exchange of information.
  • Brazil Foundation’s work has only scratched the surface. A Brazilian diaspora donor community exists today in New York and we are poised to take this experience to California, Florida, Massachusetts and other communities with large Brazilian populations with the purpose of fund-raising for and knowledge raising about social projects in Brazil.

Spring 2007Volume VI, Number 3

Leona S. Forman is the Founder, President and CEO, BrazilFoundation. She started BrazilFoundation in June 2000 after retiring from a 20-year career at the United Nations with the Department of Public Information (DPI). Before joining the UN, Leona was a journalist working with Rio de Janeiro newspapers. Forman studied Journalism at the Institut Français de Presse, University of Paris, she received her Master’s degree from Columbia University School of Journalism and Bachelor’s degree in Journalism from the University of Brazil, Rio de Janeiro. E-mail:

Sheila Nogueira has worked as Program Manager at BrazilFoundation since 2003, With a Masters degree in Social Policy Planning from the State University of Rio de Janeiro, she has worked in the Third Sector for over 15 years, with direct experience in human rights and citizenship (basic rights and responsibilities, capacity building and local sustainable development) projects.

Gláucio Gomes has worked as Program Officer at BrazilFoundation since 2004, Gláucio has a Masters’ degree in Local Development Planning and Management from the International Studies Center of the International Labor Organization. He has five years’ experience in the design, monitoring, evaluation of social projects, including the provision of technical assistance to NGOs across Brazil.

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