The 7th GIFE Congress took place in São Paulo, Brazil, from 26 to 30 March with 927 participants, including journalists and press, and over 100 panellists. I will highlight some themes I had the chance to hear about and some of the trends I identified during the conference.
First, I find it interesting to see who works in the social arena in Brazil. It is still considered a new area, and the people working are relatively younger than the average American working in philanthropy or social investment.
With several international guest speakers, such as Christopher Pinney from the Aspen Institute and US Council of Foundations and Barry Knight from CENTRIS, it is interesting to note that philanthropy is not a word easily used in Brazil, where we are more inclined to use the term social investment, which has a better cultural fit.
The general theme was new frontiers of social investment, and the main ballroom brought together almost 1,000 people to hear about the capacity of corporations to invest socially and to discuss what should be considered social impact.
Former president of Brazil (from 1994 until 2002) Mr Fernando Henrique Cardoso closed the first day with a concerned speech about the investigation into wrongdoings by NGOs and their proper use of funds – which is relevant to the risk of the current government in delegating to NGOs what should be the responsibility of the government (federal, state or municipal). It was fascinating, too, to hear his thoughts about the recent economic boom in Brazil compared to the rest of the world. He was very blunt: the social and economic evolution is much bigger than the political evolution.
The second day started with a run and almost a quest: to choose between eight wonderful panels. I had to stick with one of my areas of work, so opted for two hours on the social investments of families through foundations or institutes. There were four speakers plus a mediator to discuss family motivations, investment themes, family values and legacy, and governance structure, among other subjects that are specially different for family social investments as opposed to corporate social investments.
The four speakers guided us through the history and main turning points of their organizations. There were discussions on topics such as:
- how to change ‘classic’ philanthropy into investment themes in line with new generation motivations. Some foundations with the new generation stepping up are planning to change the social investment focus (example, from philanthropy to education);
- how to perpetuate the legacy of the family in an institute or foundation with the family name dedicated to creating a fair society;
- how to keep the family legacy in a foundation created by a family and its corporation after the sale of a corporation stake (therefore changing the sponsorship of the foundation);
- how to manage the individual needs and motivations of family members;
- how to use the know-how of family-owned businesses in the management of the social investment vehicle;
- the role of the new generation with a stronger desire for social impact.
Topics like impact investing were of interest to all in the room. It is important to remember most of these family foundations were sponsored by families with corporations and therefore have a corporation DNA where investments, results and evaluation naturally walk along together. Two hours were not enough, but we were happy to be able to discuss family foundations in a congress designed for corporate foundations.
As for the side panels, it was not a surprise when I tried to get into a room discussing crowdfunding and individual giving to find that the room was filled over capacity. It was also not a surprise to hear the buzz around the term impact investing. Everyone wants to learn more.
In another panel, there was a discussion about the creation of boards and how governance strengthens non-profit organizations. An interesting background was painted by Mr Leo Charles Henri Bossard II, from Associacão Nacional de Promotores e Procuradores da Justica. He believes the government focuses on keeping and increasing its power, while corporations aim for profits and social organizations look for ‘peace’ to work on what the government is no longer capable of doing. There is a virtuous cycle where the government gives resources to social organizations, the corporate sector has obligations, and citizens have a duty of social responsibility. He also expressed the view, not shared by most in the room, that corporate sponsors of foundations should stop their support after a certain amount of time, when the foundation should be able to create its own projects and raise its own funds to keep the projects running.
One of the panels focusing on sports was related to the legacy of social investment after major sports events. With a Soccer World Cup and the Olympics happening in 2014 and 2016 respectively, Brazil will be seeing huge investments in infrastructure for sports arenas and stadiums, public transportation, roads and accommodation, among other things, but what is really changing in sports culture legacy in a country where we see very few investments from top-ranked athletes, clubs and sports federations? Where the main investments go to what are called high-performance sports (targeting medals), and very few investments go to improve sports in schools. It is one of the few areas, along with arts and culture, to attract some fiscal benefit. Petrobras and Vale, among other corporations, have invested around R$300 million in sports. Andres Thompson, general manager of streetfootballworld Brazil, discussed this session further in his post Social transformation through football? Sporting mega events now on agenda of Brazilian social investors.
My last panel subject fascinates me because of the complexity and fast pace of this dialogue: the relationship of the government and civil society. We started just after the presentation of the panellists with the open conclusion that a dialogue to build consensus is the win-win way to go. That in order to build a stronger civil society, society needs to take a stand and participate in this construction. Society interferes and participates more in developed countries. There needs to be co-responsibility if society is to help the government to execute its public policies. That we should not see the sectors isolated in their own affairs and more integration should occur between government, corporates and non-profits to create a vibrant and participative society.
We ended the panel with an interesting proposal from the president of Greenpeace in Brazil. After he said his donor database had shrunk to 38,000 from 50,000 over the economic boom decade, we left the room willing to start a country-wide campaign for individuals to donate 1 per cent of their income.
My final take: a week was not enough to go over so many interesting subjects. I wish I had been able to go to all panels in the Congress!
Elaine Smith is development manager at Instituto Geração.