During the recent GIFE conference in Brazil (26-30 March), someone turned to me and said that the discussions at the conference reminded him of the United States during the 1960s: optimism, energy, openness to doing things differently, and above all the excitement of living on the cusp of change.
This optimism is well founded. Brazil is not only enjoying rapid economic growth; it is one of the very few countries in the world that is turning the curve on inequality. These successes are tempered by concerns about the environment, stimulated in part by the upcoming United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development – Rio+20 – due to take place in Brazil in June.
It is evident that philanthropy in Brazil is playing a big part in creating positive change.
Philanthropy has cast off ‘charity’ as its organizing principle and adopted ‘social investment’. This is defined by Fernando Rossetti, CEO of GIFE, as ‘the voluntary giving of private resources in a planned, monitored, and systematic manner for social, cultural and environmental projects of public interest’. The consequence is that philanthropy is a key driver of change in the country, and able to talk both to government and to private corporations as equals.
The conference had all sorts of innovative measures: fishbowl, open space, parking lot interactive voting with immediate feedback, and the use of theatre. Sessions that otherwise could have been dull and boring were constantly refreshed by innovative ways of involving conference participants. GIFE has a philosophy of blending knowledge management with participation and it works. We have much to learn from Brazil.
This was nowhere more evident than in a session I spoke at on evaluation. My view that one of the weaknesses of the field of philanthropy is ability to evaluate its impact was challenged by many in Brazil. Indeed understanding about evaluation is far in excess of anything we have in the North or the West. As one illustration of this, there is a map of evaluators in Brazil and a social network analysis of the links between them.
Barry Knight is secretary of CENTRIS.