Brazil: Philanthropy Shoots for the Moon on SDGs

Karolina Mzyk • 15 May 2018

      Philanthropy in Brazil is a formidable force. According to GIFE Census from 2016, 173 foundations have contributed almost about US$830 million to various social causes, mostly education and youth development. Many Brazilian foundations, open-minded and collaborative, have joined the SDG Philanthropy Platform with an objective to strengthen philanthropy’s leadership by collaborating to address complex and wide-scale systemic issues linked to the SDGs. The region’s experienced philanthropic sector realizes that achieving the Agenda2030 in Brazil will require a strong partnership with the government.

      The initial group of foundations is composed of Fundação Roberto Marinho, TV Globo, Instituto C&A, Fundação Itaú Social, Itaú, Fundação Banco do Brasil and Instituto Sabin, with support from associations: GIFE, IDIS, Comunitas and WINGS. The group has defined three goals: to identify levers which allow scaling promising solutions and accelerate progress; to learn from international experiences and participate in the SDGs global networks; and to jointly invest in social entrepreneurship opportunities.

      SDG Philanthropy Platform helps foundations and its partners to find collaborative pathways that shift systems towards sustainable results. In Brazil, the conversation around philanthropy and SDG implementation have been dominated by the need to improve quality of education. Almost 80% of GIFE members invest in education, ranging from Early Childhood Development, to primary and secondary, to vocational training. Yet if compared with other similar countries and despite similar spending levels, educational services in Brazil may not meet the same standards of quality.



      Certainly, there is a need for deep sectoral reforms. However, the conversation among foundations convened by the Platform led to a realization that solutions to achieving SDG3 lie outside of the classrooms. Reducing inequalities and fighting poverty and corruption would, in turn, have a positive and sustainable impact on education, the group concluded. This concept runs both ways, because historically the successful decrease of inequalities in Brazil in the early 2000s have been largely associated with better education which enabled better-paying jobs.

     Last week the group re-convened in Sao Paulo with an objective to formulate common outcomes addressing Goals 4, 10 and 16. While the Goals provide a global vision for all, many countries localize the goals by defining outcomes which respond to the scope of goals and targets while still relating to local needs and cultures. The participants split into three groups, each tackling a separate issue: quality of education, reducing social inequalities and improving acceptability of public institutions. REOS partners, our facilitators offered an interesting and engaging take on the exercise, challenging the participants to build structures made of LEGO blocks to illustrate their discussion and propose a way forward. The event was held in a beautiful conference room owned by a vibrant Institute Comunitas, named after the founder and a great public intellectual, Ruth Cardoso who was also wife of the Brazilian President  Fernando Henrique Cardoso.



       The group on education highlighted promising solutions which unfortunately are not currently prioritized in development. Moving forward, they see a paramount need to scale these initiatives. Some great points referred to the research on “Scaling Solutions to Shift Systems” by Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors which outlines four fundamental levers enabling scale: building markets, applying new technologies, changing public policies and changing norms and behaviours.

     Clearly, a well-functioning education system could be a transformative pathway towards reducing inequalities, SDG10. As mentioned earlier, historical data indicates that the successful reduction in income inequalities which Brazil saw in the early 2000’s were largely attributed to improved education, including vocational training. Today Brazil’s expenditure for education is on par with other OECD middle-income countries, however, the system delivers poor value for money. The system is failing children from low-income families, causing increasing disparities in reading or math scores between rich and poor children. The group working on SDG10 discussed options for smart investments in a system which upholds equality of opportunities for all, including those most at risk of being left behind. Participants stressed the need for developing a new narrative which favors investing in public education as an accelerator leading to a more inclusive and secure society.  

      However, is this even possible considering that citizens have very little trust in the public institutions, which are often perceived to be corrupted and unaccountable? The third group focused on addressing complex SDG16, prioritizing actions that build citizens trust in a relatively short term. For example, the group suggested these nations learn from other countries on their successful initiatives to fight corruption or invest in more watchdogs and other forms of citizen-led monitoring tools using new technologies, to keep people closer to their governments.

       At the closing of the event, I felt both upbeat with the solid progress in defining the collaboration and overwhelmed with the gravity of challenges ahead. I shared my sentiments with few participants. Patricia Loyola, head of Comunitas and Luciana Aguiar from UNDP who had a privilege of working with Ruth Cardoso said she would be proud. Ruth would always take the most pressing and complex challenges on and aimed for moonshots. She believed that progress does have to be linear and exponential growth is possible through smart innovations. Ruth was ahead of her times and if still alive, would be a great supporter of the SDGs. SDG Philanthropy Platform in Brazil has a great model to emulate!


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