Debates and Reflections on Philanthropy in Brazil

Graciela Hopstein
Ana Valeria Araujo

June 2018 marked the launch of the Philanthropy in Brazil Report, a working paper produced by Philanthropy for Social Justice and Peace (PSJP), written by Caroline Hartnell and Andrew Milner. The final edition (Portuguese version) and distribution involved a partnership with the Brazilian Network on Philanthropy for Social Justice and WINGS. This work was largely compiled from interviews with individuals who work to promote philanthropy in Brazil and it is part of a series of reports about the current state of philanthropy in different countries and regions (Russia, India, the Arab region, and others currently in the process of preparation).

As the report was intended to be the starting point of an open-ended inquiry, PSJP invited some people from the field (many of whom took part in conversations with Hartnell and Milner) to write blogs – originally published in English – reflecting on the trends and information presented in the Report, complementing and/or raising some questions about the analytical work undertaken by the authors.

These blogs have now been translated into Portuguese and published as a collection entitled Debates e reflexões sobre a filantropia no Brasil or Debates and Reflections on Philanthropy in Brazil. The nine articles that are part of this collection therefore develop and complement the analyses presented in the 2018 Report, particularly in view of the current Brazilian political context, which has changed significantly since the report, with deleterious effect on the philanthropic sector and civil society in Brazil.

Although this time last year, the country was already in the midst of a major political and economic crisis (which began before the impeachment of former President Dilma Rousseff and worsened during the Temer Administration), the situation became even more complex in 2019.

The years 2017 and 2018 were marked by economic recession and a conservative public policies in the areas of environment, culture, human rights, education, and health, among others. This implied a visible retrogression in the field of citizens rights, primarily affecting minorities and historically excluded groups and populations, who have nearly always been invisible and deprived even of ‘the right to have rights.[1]’ Under previous governments, these groups had benefited from programmes that offered them access to public services and goods . Within this context, the brutal murder of City Council member Marielle Franco in Rio de Janeiro in March 2018 constituted a first-of-its kind event, and one with a huge impact on activists and human rights movements in Brazil, further exposing the risks that come with fighting for those rights.

The Brazilian political scene became even more polarized during the 2018 election campaign, which brought Jair Bolsonaro to the presidency in January 2019. The polarization introduced during the campaign – primarily spread by social media and based on the dissemination of fake news – and exacerbated since , created distrust in Brazilian society and fuelled expressions of hate against everything that did not fit within the prevailing ‘moral ideology’ . The press, intellectuals, artists, academia, science, national and international NGOs, civil society in general, activists, women, Afro-Brazilians , the LGBTI community and indigenous peoples, together with the political class as a whole and the institutions created since the re-democratization process became the main targets of hostility and attack.

The current government raises cause for concern in many areas, ranging from little experience and the difficulties of leading a country with the complexity and continental dimensions of Brazil, to alliances with society’s most conservative sectors, which are establishing and reaffirming regressive agendas. What is most alarming is the predominant political stance, which is marked not only by the absence of programmes to combat deeply rooted social and economic problems, but is also based on the exploitation of prejudices and the creation of internal and external enemies. Racism, sexism, homophobia, misogyny, religious intolerance, and the ideological persecution of ‘political enemies’ are clear expressions of the current administration’s political agenda. As Lilia Moritz Schwartz [2] notes, at a time in which we believed that democracy had been established as a fundamental and universal value – guaranteeing citizens’ freedom and equality – we are witnessing the growth of expressions of hate and disrespect for differences in Brazil and in the rest of the world.

Certainly, this scenario has affected the civil society field, and several of the articles gathered here cite the political context as a fundamental and determining factor for understanding the current phase of Brazilian philanthropy.

In her article ‘Message to our president about national philanthropy and the role of civil society to protect the Amazon region’, Ana Toni strongly calls attention to the current administration’s threats to international financing and the work of local organisations on environmental and/or human rights issues in the Amazon, as well as the intense questioning of the creation and protection of indigenous lands. As the author indicates: ‘these statements in themselves make us extremely worried about the current government and its possible actions associated with freedom of civil society, the environment, human rights, and also reflect its xenophobic vision about international organizations, whether NGOs or the field of philanthropy.’

While it points out the threats and risks of the Bolsonaro administration, the article by João Paulo Vergueiro and Márcia Kalvon Woods also indicates opportunities opening up in the field: “this new four-year term that has only just begun may be the opportunity we need to defend philanthropy as a political priority (…) but this will depend on our capacity to work together, as a sector, toward our common good.”

The article ‘”Order and Progress” and Generosity. Brazilian philanthropy, summarized in a few words’, by William Renaut also indicates possible impacts and backward steps in the Brazilian philanthropy field. In his opinion, this might represent not only a threat to the achievements already made, but might also restrict the space in which civil society operates. Indeed, one of the measures taken by the current government during the first months of its administration was to terminate different public policy councils – strategic groups that included formal representation of civil society to take decisions on a number of issues.

If Brazilian philanthropy already displayed certain weaknesses , the current political scenario potentially represents some further major setbacks for the field. It’s important not to lose sight of the ‘old’ challenges, though, such as popular distrust of NGOs and the lack of understanding of their role. This situation, highlighted by one of the authors of this text, Ana Valéria Araújo, in the article ‘Philanthropy in Brazil: Can Financers Play a More Substantial Role?’, would help explain the slow growth of social justice philanthropy in the country. Certainly, the ones most adversely affected by the current situation are those actors working in politically sensitive areas, like human rights and social justice. They are forced to work in a situation characterized by a high level of uncertainty and adversity, not only because of the lack of financial resources, but also because the constant threat and hostility from the groups in power that have become increasingly stronger have created the need for permanent strategies of resistance.

The articles by the two authors of this introduction, Ana Valeria Araújo and Graciela Hopstein, as well as the one by Fernando Rosetti, analyse the main trends of Brazilian philanthropy based on the results published in the Report: its timid expansion considering the country’s economic potential; the advent of corporate philanthropy as the sector that mobilises most resources and invests in the social sector; the emergence of new actors and dynamics, such as family philanthropy and social businesses; and the scarcity of investments geared toward directly supporting civil society organizations (in other words, the lack of a grantmaking culture), particularly for those that work in the areas of social justice and human rights.

These articles also point to a crucial issue: although there are new trends and potential in Brazilian philanthropy deriving from an ecosystem that is becoming more complex and diverse, it is still a low-intensity philanthropy for a number of reasons. First, the absence of a legal framework to promote grantmaking; second, a culture of giving geared more toward the areas of education and/or well-being, rather than toward social justice; third, the criminalization of NGOs and social movements working on the defence of rights; fourth, hesitant and incipient dialogue among the many actors working in the field; and finally, conceptual obstacles associated with the term philanthropy .

Certainly, the concept of philanthropy in Brazil has pejorative connotations, as Graciela Hopstein notes in one of her articles ‘We need to free philanthropy from its cursed state.’ It is for this reason that it is so important to recover the original meaning of ‘humanitarianism, assistance, and love for others.’ Ana Araújo also raises a crucial question about the many meanings that the concept of philanthropy has in Brazil. The term is still normally associated with charity, while the concept of private social investment, commonly ‘more accepted’ by certain sectors, is intended to be identical with philanthropy. The truth is that the notion of philanthropy is normally associated with giving based on the needs of those who receive it (grantees), while private social investment is associated with the development of projects created and implemented by corporate foundations and institutes, generally based on their own strategies. The one , therefore, is not necessarily synonymous with the other, even though both may generate important results.

Fernando Rosetti’s article indicates another fundamental issue: the weak culture of giving in Brazil, demonstrating a misalignment between the economic potential of the wealthy classes and vast inequalities that exist in the country: ‘we are the world’s third most unequal country according to the Organization for Cooperation and Economic Development (OECD) 2018 Income Inequality Indicator, trailing only behind Costa Rica and South Africa, even though we are the world’s eighth largest economy. So, why shouldn’t Brazilians be willing to use more of their wealth to contribute toward philanthropic causes?’ Reinforcing this, Brazil comes 122nd out of 146 countries in the CAF World Giving Index (WGI), which measures the level of solidarity among nations around the world, the lowest ranking in Latin America.

As mentioned earlier, one of the most noticeable phenomena, addressed both in the Report and in articles of this collection, is the lack of initiatives that support civil society in Brazil, as indicated by the weak grantmaking culture. There is a gap in the grantmaking map for civil society, primarily affecting small and medium-sized organizations, as well as non-formal and community groups, especially those that work in the field of human rights and social justice.

According to the 2016 GIFE Census, only 16 per cent of corporate foundations and institutes (members of GIFE) primarily focus on funding social organizations, while 41 per cent say that they both develop their own programmes and make grants to third parties. The absence of more general grantmaking practice in corporate philanthropy can be explained both by the absence of a regulatory framework that favours grants and by the lack of trust in civil society organizations.

In this situation, the emergence of the Network Philanthropy for Social Justice represents major progress. Its 11 members – funds and community foundations, all focused in grantmaking – represent an effective alternative for funding and strengthening civil society organizations, social movements, leaders and activists. Through diversified grantmaking strategies, the network’s member organizations promote democratic access to funds in remote and ‘peripheral’ geographic areas, involving populations that are marginalized (and very often criminalized) when it comes to their access to rights.

The significance of the Network’s operations is shown by the fact that, between the years 2000 and 2017, the members of the network gave a total of R$ 146,895,761 (approximately US$ 41,970,217) in grants to 10,669 NGOs and social movements in Brazil.

Another fundamental issue raised in the Report is the low level of community philanthropy development in Brazil. Although there are four community foundations – three of which are part of the network – community philanthropy in the country certainly does not follow global growth trends. The limited development of this practice in Brazil is partly to do with the limited understanding of the role it can play. It is a strategy based on the recognition of local assets and of the role played by communities and their leaders in promoting collective action to promote local development according to identified needs. Strengthening the voice and the power of local communities to seek their own solutions to local problems and recognizing the existence of different experiences of ‘mobilising local resources to be reinvested in the communities’ constitute the fundamental point of departure for the development of community philanthropy in the country.

Starting with these principles and the potential growth of this line of activity, the Brazilian Network, GIFE (Grupo de Institutos Fundações e Empresas or Group of Institutes, Foundations, and Companies), and the Global Fund for Community Foundations (GFCF) established a partnership in 2019 to promote debate and the exchange of experience about the theme, offering visibility for existing initiatives and encouraging the creation of new ones.

The article by Jessica Skliar offers an interesting insight into the development of the grantmaking field in the country: ‘is Brazilian philanthropy ready to jump past the grantmaking phase directly onto an investment-based model, expanding the focus even further than civil society organizations toward social companies as the preferred vehicle for driving social change?’ Skliar expresses her concern about the need and ‘urgency’ to continue encouraging grantmaking among Brazilian philanthropists. In her opinion, it is important for emerging trends focused on promoting high-impact investments and social businesses to be designed so that they complement the work of civil society organizations rather than becoming competitors for the already-scarce funding available. We believe that this becomes even more relevant in the current political context.

To complement the analysis, the article by Leonardo Letelier and Luiza Serpa ‘New innovative intermediaries contribute toward the scenario of philanthropy in Brazil’ presents the emergence of new dynamics of operation in the field. As the authors state, among the category of family, corporate and community foundations is SITAWI Finanças do Bem (SITAWI Finances for Good) which offers ‘philanthropic fund management’, and the Phi Institute, which provides something that might be called ‘philanthropic intermediation’. As the authors affirm, ‘in a country like Brazil, where grantmaking is not exactly the norm, it is important to find potential donors at the place they are at. The role of intermediation is, in part, to do this. It also opens doors to help donors become more sophisticated in their approach and support the most “difficult” causes, such as human rights and social justice.’

Certainly, Letelier and Serpa see the role of intermediation quite differently in the organizations they studied from the way the members of the Brazilian Network would see themselves. Although the great majority of the funds and community foundations raise funds from international foundations, they should be viewed not as local agents of those foundations, but rather as their local partners, with the capacity to identify and defend priority causes, to map and guarantee access to all actors, including those in the most remote regions, to develop actions to build individual and institutional capacity and to promote dialogue and networking between actors and organizations, which adds substantial value and should also be understood as a form of indirect giving.

The Network’s member organizations are local actors with in-depth knowledge of Brazilian and Latin American socio-political contexts, the thematic agendas they are working on, and the networks that exist in the areas where they operate. They are able to understand specific demands, and offer immediate responses to the needs of groups, organizations, and social movements. They should not therefore be seen as ‘intermediaries’, but as local grantmaker organizations and part of civil society in their own right.

The panorama presented through the articles gathered in this publication demonstrates that the Brazilian philanthropic scenario is complex and needs strengthening in certain strategic areas, including the promotion of the culture of giving and the development of actions and practices to support civil society. However, at the same time, it is important to recognize that over recent years, Brazilian philanthropy has reached a level of maturity that makes it capable of incorporating new debates and reflections.

The need for greater collaboration between the actors who work in the field and the overcoming of ‘patrimonialist’ practices that, as Fernando Rossetti emphasizes, affect not only philanthropy, but Brazilian political thinking in a more general sense, are some of the challenges that we will face from now on. The future is uncertain and worrying, but if we can effectively base our thinking on the logic of sharing and of the common good for the sector, we will be able to move forward. As Vergueiro and Woods say: ‘there is a lot to do and much to gain. We hope to get there.’

[1] Arendt, Hannah, A Condição Humana (“The Human Condition”). Forense Universitária: Rio de Janeiro; 2016.

[2] Lilia Moritz Schwartz. Como o cultivo à descrença generalizada fez o Brasil cair na Esparrela autoritária (How cultivating generalized disbelief caused Brazil to fall into an authoritarian trap). Época Magazine, May 20, 2019.

Graciela Hopstein is the executive coordinator of the Brazilian Philanthropy Network for Social Justice.

Ana Valéria Araújo is executive director of the Brazil Human Rights Fund.