What does a close result in the Brazilian presidential elections mean for philanthropy?


Elaine Smith


Brazil has just had presidential elections and the incumbent president Dilma Rousseff won by a very narrow margin. Never mind scrutinizing numbers as her 51.63 per cent of the votes represent millions of voters in a country where to participate and vote is part of your civil duties. Blank and null votes were also massive, which raised questions about why Dilma lost so much ground in the last years.

President Dilma Rousseff was first elected four years ago, after eight years of President Lula da Silva being in power. During those years, Brazilians from lower classes started to see results from social programmes that distributed wealth (the famous Bolsa Familia is the main one), started by President Fernando Henrique Cardoso but widespread during the Lula years. Brazil didn’t suffer setbacks in the 2008-10 period. While the rest of the world struggled, millions of Brazilians shifted from poverty to the middle class, making Lula popular and helping him to elect the Labour Party candidate once again. Dilma Rousseff (unknown politically until the 2010 elections) was elected with 56 per cent of the vote, as Lula could not run for a third term in 2010.

The economy has created a backlash against the government ever since. Dilma lost the support of the South and South-east regions, which are mainly run by industries and business, while her support is still based among lower-income people who are afraid of losing the support from welfare and social programmes.

Her losing ground is also evidence of corruption, wrongdoing and embezzlement by the government and her party, which is not perceived by people with less access to media.

But what does this means for social investment and philanthropy?

The elections were very competitive, reflected not only in the close results but during the campaigning too. This is not common in Brazilian culture, as we are a non-confrontational people. The country was divided by class, the upper class demanding a change in power and the lower class supporting the government. The riots that brought millions of Brazilians onto the streets in June 2013 to demand an end to corruption, among other things, were enough to spark a big movement, but not enough to unseat the government.

But the confrontational mood that has arisen among Brazilians, first against the leadership and in recent months making social classes clash with each other in social media, might have negative effects for those in real need – the same ones that re-elected the president.

First, the economy is still struggling. The business sector might start a major wave of layoff s to adjust the headcount to the current lacklustre business cycle. Not only will increasing ranks of people be in line for welfare, but the government will be collecting less tax to spend on its programmes.

The dispute between the rich and the poor may go beyond social media and enter the real world. The ‘unfriending’ wave that led to the presidential election results being celebrated like a dodge ball win may now have ripple effects.

In a country where philanthropy is still being trained as a growing muscle, we cannot afford to have the private sector cut down on social investments because their bottom line is shrinking and they don’t feel accountable. Nor do we ever want to hear again sentiments such as these, repeatedly shared in social media recently:

  • ‘Let’s stop giving to charities. Let them survive with government help.’
  • ‘Let’s force them to go back to the North and North-east. Let’s cut their jobs.’
  • ‘I am tired of being the one paying taxes. I no longer want to be the one supporting social programmes. The government is doing it with my money.’
  • ‘We should not visit the North or North-east any more.’

The country is in desperate need of reconciliation. The type where people look each other in the eye and feel that the other person is an extension of you. Not someone apart. This is not the work of a government. It is the work of every human.

May this sentiment transform into support, into collaboration for a better country, no matter which class you are. We are all the same people.

Elaine Smith is a Young Global Leader from the World Economic Forum; she helps organizations in their development process, focusing on innovative approaches to social issues.

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