How the public health system in Brazil was strengthened during the pandemic


Andrea Wolffenbuttel


The story of an emergency fund structured in one week that raised $8 million.

When I look back and see when the COVID-19 pandemic reached Brazil, I realize that everything was very fast.

On the first days of January, we learned about the problem in China. At the end of the month, the Coronavirus was making victims in Italy. The first Brazilian case was detected on the third week of February and at the beginning of March we knew that there would be a strict quarantine.

In our organisation, IDIS, we asked ourselves what we could do to contribute, as we are promoters of philanthropy and of the giving culture, but do not work directly with final beneficiaries.

It occurred to us that we could mobilise our network of philanthropists and ask them to donate to fight the pandemic. But they would ask us how and whom to donate.

That was when we realised that we should create a quick, easy and reliable instrument to receive donations and send them directly to strengthen the Brazilian public health system.

Although we are specialists in structuring Endowments, a mechanism that contributes to long-term sustainability, we had never created an Emergency Fund, and we were sure that we did not want to manage resources directly. Ensuring security and transparency for donors was one of our concerns that should be addressed.

On Saturday 14 March, we had a round of conversations with close partners and two of them became interested in the idea of ​​the Emergency Fund: a family organisation that promotes philanthropy and an online donation platform. The second was particularly a great help, as it already solved the challenge of how to receive the donations, but we still had the problem of how to deal with the transactions.

On Monday 16 March, we invited a Third Sector specialised Finance Manager to come with us, being remunerated at cost for this. They accepted and quickly structured all necessary for launching the Fund.

We spent those days and most nights in meetings to define what the Fund would be like, what criteria would be used for selecting the beneficiaries and for what purposes the resources could be used.

On Tuesday 17 March, quarantine was decreed in our city, São Paulo, the largest in the country and where the first infected were identified.

On Wednesday 18 March, we started creating communication pieces for the launch of the Fund.

On Thursday 19 March, we invited three doctors from different specialties to be part of the Fund’s Technical Committee, since none of the promoters had specific knowledge on Health. All agreed to collaborate free of charge.

On Friday 20 March, we realised that none our decisions had been registered in any formal way, and did not have a contract among the partners that were creating the Fund or a model of contract to formalise donations, so we started looking for a Third Sector specialised lawyer to help us.

On Saturday 21 March, the whole day was spent working with a lawyer to prepare contracts, documents and partnership terms. An office had agreed to do everything pro-bono.

On Sunday 22 March, all contracts were signed and we launched the first Emergency Health Fund in Brazil, aimed to fight the Coronavirus pandemic and save lives!

The Fund, which operated for 202 days, received extensive press coverage, had the support of influencers on lives and was disseminated by several partners of the three founders.

Many companies contributed, adopting different approaches: donating part or the total of the revenue obtained from the sale of a product, conducting internal campaigns and raising funds from their employees, encouraging customers to donate, matching donations from employees, among others. And time came when we no longer knew how many companies were mobilised and raising funds for our Fund.

When we started, our dream was to raise US $1 million.

On October 10, when pandemic numbers were falling throughout Brazil and hospitals and research centers were better prepared to treat the patients, we ended the fundraising.

More than 10,000 people and organisations had donated to the Fund.

$8 million was raised, 8 times more than expected.

58 institutions spread across 25 of Brazil’s 27 states, were beneficiated.

Materials and equipment are still being bought with the received donations, but so far we know 1.4 million personal protective equipment has been purchased, as well as more than 1,200 hospital equipment, such as respirators, beds, defibrillators, monitors etc, and about 14,000 medications and COVID-19 tests.

In the name of everyone involved in the Emergency Health Fund – Coronavirus Brazil, I can say that this was one the most beautiful adventures of our lives!

Andréa Wolffenbuttel is Communication Director at IDIS

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