Optimism, energy and a passion for addressing the root causes of problems characterized a day of dynamic discussions at the forum on ‘The Future of Philanthropy and Development in Brazil’. The Institute for the Development of Social Investment (IDIS) and the Global Philanthropy Forum convened over 140 philanthropists and leaders in the sector, primarily Brazilians from all over the country, for a forum that will launch a multi-year regionally based project. Their goal is to strengthen the strategic capacities of the country’s philanthropic sector, and turn its resources and creativity to permanently addressing the inequities in the country’s rapid development.
Some quick clarification of terminology for readers not familiar with Brazil: here the term ‘social investment’ equates roughly with what is called ‘strategic philanthropy’ in English: longer-term projects designed to eliminate the causes of problems rather than ameliorate symptoms. In Brazil the word ‘philanthropy’ evokes traditional charity or alms directed to the short-term relief of suffering. Forum participants agreed that although some high-profile organizations in Brazil already engage in strategic philanthropy and are an important part of development efforts in the country, it is urgent that more philanthropists adopt that approach to their work. The sector is expanding so rapidly that this is the ideal moment to catalyse a sector-wide shift in perspectives and strategies. GIFE, a membership organization for Brazilian philanthropy, is seeing a stratospheric growth in the number of family foundations, all now actively shaping their missions, strategies and staffs.
Despite the wide range of topics these philanthropists seek to address and the geographic and professional diversity of their backgrounds, IDIS had brought together a leadership group that largely agreed on certain principles: long-term strategies are necessary; and projects must be planned with the potential for scaling, via either the public or the private sector, rather than perpetually dependent on relatively smaller foundation support. The only point of (very polite) dissonance was on the potential of civil society organizations as partners in conceiving and executing development-oriented philanthropic projects. Many civil society organizations in Brazil are relatively young (emerging after the end of the dictatorship) and there is a long-established trend of philanthropic organizations maintaining operating staff who manage their own projects rather than launching projects through grants to partner organizations. One speaker pointed to the long-term benefits of building a broad civil society through philanthropy, with multiple partners providing competing ideas and strengthening solutions through creative tensions.
Echoing many of the themes of last year’s Bellagio Initiative on the Future of Philanthropy and Development, several speakers called on Brazilian philanthropists to be forward-thinking and strategic in leveraging the differing roles and comparative advantages of the government, business, civil society and philanthropy in structuring their work. All participants agreed that the needs of the people of Brazil and their enormous creative potential are too great to leave any resource untapped. This forum offered great promise for strengthening philanthropy in Brazil and will be even more interesting as it connects with local perspectives and talents in cities around the country in the next three years.
Rob Garris is managing director, Bellagio Programs, at the Rockefeller Foundation.