Covid-19 is a social justice issue: How one Brazilian community foundation is responding

On 18 March, the Brazilian government mandated the closure of public schools, non-profit organizations and other public entities that provide essential services to the most vulnerable families in the region of Greater Florianópolis. Vulnerable children, in particular, relied on the food that was given to them at school, or by local non-profits. At the same time, informal workers started to lose their income as they were forced into a period of isolation. These things underlined the inequality of our region. Added to their fear of the virus, vulnerable people also became afraid of hunger, of not having access to clean water and of loss of income. On the same day, 18 March, community-based partners of ICOM – Instituto Comunitário Grande Florianópolis – started mobilizing their communities and launching fundraising campaigns to ensure that food would reach those most in need.

The importance of our existing “infrastructure for giving”

Back in April 2018, we at ICOM had launched a Fundo de Impacto para Justiça Social, or Community Fund for Social Justice: a group of businesses and individuals who regularly donate to, and through a participatory grantmaking process support, civil society organizations working to guarantee human rights and reduce social inequality in Greater Florianópolis. The fact that we already had this infrastructure for giving in place made a huge difference at the outbreak of the pandemic, allowing us to move quickly. We wrote to each giving circle member, requesting that the fund be repurposed to meet urgent needs created by Covid-19 in our community. There was unanimous agreement to this and on the next, day, 19th March, we had the repurposed fund up and running, with a dedicated page on our website where donations could be made.

While other groups in Florianópolis have subsequently launched online campaigns,  we were one of the first platforms set up and ready to receive funds. In only four days we raised enough to support one of our local partners in the Chico Mendes community, which provided assistance to about 100 families (over 500 people) in the form of food, water, cleaning and hygiene products. By the twenty-day mark, we had raised BRL98,400 (more than USD17,500 ) from 145 donors (local people and organizations), and one national corporate foundation donated an additional BRL500,000 BRL (USD89,360). From these funds, our participatory grantmaking committee allocated funding to 14 of our community-based partners, who in turn brought needed supplies to more than 900 at-risk families in Florianópolis.

Thinking longer term

In the midst of this, we have also started a new pilot programme in cooperation with Banco Palmas, a ‘community bank’ that is currently being tested out by 77 families and four local shops in Serrinha, a particularly vulnerable community in our region, and in Chico Mendes. With money raised through ICOM’s Fund, the bank will open an account for each of the at-risk families identified by community-based organizations working with us and deposit BRL200 a month (around USD36) into it. These ‘socialcoins’ as we call them can then be used to buy products in only local shops. In this way, families will be able to buy what they need and the money will stay in the Florianópolis community for a longer period of time. We are very proud that this new initiative made it on to the local news this week!

The ICOM team meet virtually

The Covid-19 emergency and the related socio-economic crisis that we are currently facing have made me realize the importance of keeping our community philanthropy organizations strong and resilient. I’m not thinking only in financial terms, but also in terms of having strong governance systems and an engaged team in place.This is making all the difference for ICOM as we test new ways of working in this uncharted, complex terrain. Longer term, we may need to tap into different skill sets – around food security or social assistance, for example – but for the moment we are relying on each other, giving what we have to give.

Mariane Maier Nunes is the Executive Director of ICOM, Brazil. ICOM is a member of the Brazilian Philanthropy Network for Social Justice.

To support ICOM in its Covid-19 response work, please visit or contact Mariane at

A version of this post was first published by the Global Fund for Community Foundations. The original post can be viewed here.

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