The 2nd Brazilian Philanthropists Forum, organized by the Global Philanthropy Forum (GPF) and IDIS, took place on 24 October in São Paulo. Attendance had grown to 186 participants from a little over 150 last year. The opening speech by Suzy Antounian, GPF Senior Vice President, focused on how to bring different sectors of society together to find solutions to their shared problems. Philanthropists have the ability to become catalysts for collaboration that wouldn’t happen otherwise. Forum participants were told to meet, to talk and to share their views on how to transform society.
It is a matter for continuing shame to show the Brazilian economy as number 6th in the world while the World Giving Index ranks the country in around the 90th position. Nevertheless one prominent social investor embraced the responsibility of society to deal with most of its problems, giving the government some slack. The same investor compared business people to heroes, as they need to strive with their business and also to take responsibility for the situation of the poor. The passion for social investment means that there is only a thin membrane separating the business role from the philanthropic role.
One theme that got everyone’s attention was the lack of tax incentives. NGOs say that to transform their quality work into quantity results, the country needs the help of the public sector to scale their efforts. Mr Gilberto Carvalho, Chief Minister to the General Secretariat of the Brazilian Presidency, represented the government. He seemed in line with the discussion being advocated by civil society, also willing to collaborate with what he called ‘organized generosity as a new way to be a good citizen’. When the Q&A started, it came as a surprise to hear environmentalists saying that it is foreigners (ie Germany) that invest in forests and environmental NGOs rather than local government.
Impact evaluation was discussed in at least two major panels. The idea is to maintain a long-term horizon, leaving room in the method for local reality and the need to build trust among actors, and above all being mindful that the interested beneficiary should be helped, no matter the metrics.
Some key points: evaluating impact has a lot to do with what donors are really looking for. It could be to learn from the experience of a particular project when deciding how much to invest in continuation of the programme. So a progress indicator would show if the investor is just giving money away or if the project is in jeopardy.
In fact, the view that if an investor decides to evaluate impact it means (for some) that a project could be shut down makes me think about impact investing in social businesses, where the social results are actually the main reason for the business to continue rather than the financial result. I realize there is a paradox in both views. Proof of impact should always be taken seriously.
The bottom-line conclusion: to invest in evaluation is to maximize the impact of projects, and failure is always a better teacher than success.
If the purpose of the forum was for philanthropists to reflect on their investments and most of the discussions were about tax incentives, the legal environment and evaluating results, I believe that the question about how investors evaluate behavioural change sums it all up.
And what was everyone looking for? What is the common desire of human kind: we want more beneficiaries, better results and faster accomplishments.
Elaine Smith, Young Global Leader from the World Economic Forum, helps organizations in their development process, focusing on innovative approaches to social issues.