Philanthropy in Brazil: opportunity beyond Bolsonaro


Pretty much everyone has heard about the new Brazilian president, Jair Bolsonaro, who somehow resembles the American one to the point of having been called the ‘Trump from the Tropics’ by the Washington Post (US) and the Guardian (UK).

Okay, we do have a right-wing president in Brazil, conservative on social issues and liberal on the economy. And we do not know how he will relate to and deal with the philanthropic sector and civil society organizations, fearing that it’s not going to be a good relationship at all.

A lot has been said about Bolsonaro, but almost no one realizes that another very big change happened in Brazil in these last elections: we had an incredibly high number of new representatives elected to the legislature.

Brazil has two legislative houses: the Chamber of Deputies (the ‘lower house’) and the Senate (the ‘higher house’). The first is formed by the representatives of the people and has 513 deputies for a four-year term. The Senate represents the 27 states of Brazil and has 81 senators for an 8-year term.

According to the Brazilian Constitution, the legislative elections run on the same day as the executive one, every four years. In the last elections, in October 2018, 52 per cent of those elected to the Chamber of Deputies and 85 per cent of those elected to the Senate were new representatives. Overwhelmingly, voters rejected the old representatives and voted for new ones in a great ‘wave of change’.

These numbers have never been seen before in our legislative elections. They mean that over half of our congress is now formed by newcomers, most of them with no previous political experience, and they probably don’t understand much about philanthropy.

Historically, we have been very lax about advocating for the promotion of philanthropy in Brazil. Usually organizations don’t come together to advance a progressive agenda for the sector and fight for their mutual interests; it only occurs in response to a prejudicial bill or an unfavourable government proposal.

The reality of our new congress can be seen as either a threat or an opportunity, depending on how we work. Our understanding is that we can have the legislators as allies, learning about our sector and helping us to put forward proposals that will benefit and strengthen the philanthropic sector as a whole.

But if we stay on the defensive and assume they are all against our causes and our sector and we don’t act together to open a channel to dialogue, they might not be open to hearing us and end up rejecting what we have to say.

This new four-year term that has just begun might be the chance we needed to advocate for philanthropy as a political priority. The government will need to conduct major reforms and it is an opportunity to end some absurdities such as the state tax on donations to civil society organizations. But it will depend on our ability to work together as a sector for our common good. There’s a lot to do and there’s a lot to gain. We hope we will get there.

Márcia Kalvon Woods is chair of the Brazilian Fundraisers Association

João Paulo Vergueiro is CEO of the Brazilian Fundraisers Association

This article was originally posted on the Philanthropy for Social Justice and Peace website on 7 February 2019. The original article can be viewed here.

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