Creating innovative solutions to social issues in Brazil and beyond


Elaine Smith and Instituto Geracao


Elaine Smith

To work in the social field and help organizations in their development process requires the ability to read social processes with attention, effort and patience. As it is a development process, it is a process of becoming. It is imperative to engage from inside out, studying the whole instead of analyzing the parts. Every social situation or organism is based on relationships; the world is made of patterns of relationships. And a social development practitioner is required to exercise observation, reflection and transformation to read and understand the invisible processes, relations and fields at social organizations. The world is constantly changing, and this also involves the evolution of consciousness.

In the last two years, I’ve engaged and committed to several different organizations to understand how they were operated. I have had the privilege of interacting with individuals that are passionate about their issues, dedicating their lives to solving problems faced by the Brazilian population or wider humankind. The concerns that arise from the uncertainty of working on a social project are huge. But the desire and hope to do everything possible – and beyond possible – makes me dive into every single process with all my being. It is multidimensional work where the practitioner, the organization and the audience or social situation become integrated in that process of becoming. And as a practitioner, one needs to have the capacity to digest and integrate with the rational and subjective processes that are happening at the same time.

It is not uncommon to see organizations lose their soul after they start working on their mission and projects. The harsh reality of everyday work can build a distance between the dream of changing a reality and the challenge of facing the uncertain. Organizations may invest time, energy and money, but that doesn’t necessarily mean things working out. At that stage, a truly engaged board member or development practitioner is needed. I have come to realize that my enthusiasm is greater when I am generous with my time with organizations and professionals that work with innovative solutions to important global issues. At those times I’ve felt different, challenged, touched. I realized the things I could see through a social entrepreneur’s eyes could change the world for better, faster and at scale.

When we talk about innovation, the ambition is to introduce ways of doing things in a more effective way and to propose solutions that meet requirements arising from a constantly changing world. The need for innovation to solve world problems is related to multidisciplinary action to improve processes, services, technologies and new ideas, consequently transforming the results of an entire situation. But because of the constant movement and developing, social organizations cope with the ‘new’ emerging all the time. This turbulence of change requires an ability to respond to these unique situations, instead of trying to use past experiences as a roadmap. My forward-looking personality keeps me encouraged to continue the joint action of sharing ideas instead of imposing models and suggestions, aiming to build knowledge as a catalyst for change.

Developing creative tools and new methods of social investment needs to be based on a studied and shared discussion both about and with the situation or audience. It needs to be interactive, aiming at transforming the way to tackle choices. The approach is effective only with careful studying, so that impact can be meaningful.

My dedication to organizations seeking to have a far-reaching influence requires me to contribute and assist in areas where I have experience. I help organizations in their development process, focusing on innovative approaches to social issues. During the last two years, I have applied the business skills gained from my 19-year career in financial markets in a number of tasks – mainly: 1) encouraging the economically privileged youth to shape a better future; 2) advocating impact investing as a new asset class to bring real impact on people’s lives; and 3) working as a development practitioner for civil organizations, helping for instance with financial literacy. I am lucky to be a bridge that brings not only the business into social, but also the social into business.

Brazil is facing unprecedented times. There is no doubt that changes we experienced in recent decades have boosted the profile of a country that is competing with UK to keep its 6th place in the GDP rankings in 2012. There were changes in demographics, economic and political scenarios. But the country still ranks poorly in social inequality. Within Latin America (the continent with the most inequality in the world) Brazil comes third worst after Bolivia and Haiti (according to the GINI Index of the United Nations Development Program).

The country has social leaders that form a diverse and unique community. The local network for common good is powerful and yet needs to invest on the ripple effect that innovative social impact solutions can bring to low-income populations. From remote communities to big-city issues, we need to look for innovation.

Innovation themes such as impact investing and socially responsible investing are appearing more and more in discussions of portfolio constructions. Traditional money managers are appealing to the hearts of their clients, and clients are responding by being willing to take responsibility for their role in hoping for a better world. Companies see social media as way to connect with future clients – the so-called Generation Y, or perhaps getting closer to the Generation Z already. These are the generations challenging the status quo. The relevance of financial education has grown as a result of the development of financial markets and banking inclusion worldwide. Innovation can unwind preconceived ideas and models. The new generation is all about building collectively, sharing ideas and daring to think new.

I am honored to be part of the Forum of Young Global Leaders of the World Economic Forum. To be able to look at global issues from different perspectives will help me to develop an informed voice equipping me as an agent for positive change worldwide. The YGL community, focusing on problem-solving for a better future, will inspire the participation of those looking for innovative solutions. To participate in such an international network puts me in a position of great responsibility, but also gives the opportunity to do things that matter in scale.

Elaine Smith, director of Instituto Geração, helps organizations in their development process, focusing on innovative approaches to social issues.

Tagged in: Brazil Business Development Impact investment Innovation Social investment

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