Philanthropy in Brazil: An Overview

Content Manager • 16 September 2017

Flavia Sá and Natália Sant’Anna, UNDP Brazil

Brazil is a large middle income country with one of the world’s largest income disparities. The country has been facing big political and economic turmoil over the past two years, but the relevant social improvements achieved in the past decades are undeniable.

In comparison to other Latin American countries, the Brazilian business ecosystem is well positioned and it has had significant growth on its upper-middle class during the past years.  The big picture that has been taking over philanthropic sector, comprehending both pragmatic and ethical concerns about social inequalities, new views on distributive justice fostering private initiative to improve societal conditions, new trends in multi-sectoral partnerships and changing stocks of social capital.

According to a research performed by National Forum of Philanthropic Institutions (FONIF), the benefits generated to society in terms of social assistance, education and health outcome are much larger than the total amount granted to these organizations through tax exemptions. For each R$ 1   (BRL, local currency) obtained by tax exemptions, philanthropic institutions return R$5.92 in benefits to society. In the health sector, for instance, 53% of SUS (Brazilian Public Health System) assistances are performed by the Santas Casas and Philanthropic Hospitals in Brazil, being that the rate reaches 60% in the high complexity. In terms of education support, 31.9% of the students enrolled in the philanthropic institutions of higher educations are scholarship holders. Moreover, this same study has shown that philanthropic institutions created over 1.3 million jobs in 2014.

This is indeed a great contribution to boost development in Brazil. However, the philanthropy sector still faces many challenges to effectively grow and a significant part of philanthropic investment and contribution in Brazil is not properly mapped out and communicated to society, business and public agents. In Portuguese, we have saying: “quem não se comunica se trumbica”, which literally means “he who doesn’t communicate, gets his fingers burnt.” Indeed, mapping out progress and impact is crucial, otherwise how would people know that philanthropy is making a difference?

Additionally, as opposed to the scenario in North America, where philanthropy as a concept has a clear and well-understood meaning of promoting human welfare, the term itself is not well understood by Brazilians. In the words of  Roberto Paulo Cezar “In many cases, the word is used in a deprecatory way, in connection with self-serving actions by those who took advantage of tax and other government benefits without producing the social benefits they claimed”.

As a result, the impact and value for development of philanthropy in Brazil is still poorly recognized and strategic actors can hardly coordinate their intervention and join efforts. This is one of the main reasons why the SDG Philanthropy Platform (SDGPP) was recently launched in Brazil. We currently focus on the coordination of all efforts in order to effectively bridge the gaps. In our work, we have recognized the need for a profound ecosystem analysis of the current landscape while also gathering strategic national players, so they can collectively build goals and pathways to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals. Innovations, metrics and impact investing are also critical crosscutting themes on our agenda, as well as coordination with national public actors and public policies.

Validating this line of thinking, a study performed by McKinsey & Company indicates potential paths for improvements, to be pursued by the sector and its stakeholders, some include: increased collaboration among donors, and a focus on effective social investment. The report also suggests new mechanisms to increase awareness and participation of individuals in general, including use of unexplored tax benefits; the improvement of infrastructural areas, such as intermediaries of information and evaluation of recipients or donation vehicles. Lastly, the study highlights that developing a robust, broad reach capability-building program for recipients could foster awareness of the potential and positive cultural shift towards effective philanthropy in the Brazilian society.

In this sense, the SDGPP has most of the attributes to put the country actors on this track towards a stronger and more connected sector, with a promising potential for fulfilling these abovementioned gaps as well as gathering strategic players efforts in the country around SDGs.


Sources for this article:

McKinsey&Company. Effective Philanthropy in Brazil, 2008. Available at:

CEZAR, R. Philantropy in Brazil. Harvard Review of Latin America, 2002. Available at:

AVELAR, S. On Corporate Giving and Philanthropy in Brazil. Harvard Review of Latin America, 2002. Available at:…