Cliché, but true… how time flies! It is hard to believe, but approximately six months ago I was quitting my promising job with a consulting firm and emerging career in Sao Paulo, Brazil, to join Points of Light as an Atlas Corps Fellow in Atlanta, Georgia.
When I decided to begin this new journey to explore social change and innovation in the United States of America, it was clear for me that I would live a unique experience, and in order to be able to fully enjoy this opportunity, I would need to detach myself from my former experiences, patterns and preconceptions.
Nevertheless, exactly the opposite happened! Living and working in the United States has helped me attach more to my country.
Analyzing my experiences and perspectives of the Brazilian social sector from the standpoint of an American nonprofit professional, I was able to better understand my culture, deepen my experiences and above all, envision new opportunities for my career and reflect on the impact I want to generate in my home country.
When I graduated from university, two career pathways unfolded: (1) if I wanted to make a difference, I had to work for a nonprofit (2) if I wanted to make money, I had to work for a for-profit or launch a business. Nevertheless, I believe that nowadays separating this two worlds is not that simple. More nonprofits are being run like fast-growth start-ups, and more traditional companies are being built around social missions. With the urgency to create sustainable solutions to the world’s most pressing problems, the impact investing wave boomed.
I am now able to visualize many other opportunities for my career! My future is still very uncertain. However, it is clear for me that when I return to Brazil, I want to work even more actively in strengthening the social sector in my country by catalyzing collaborative projects, and especially working with private companies for social development. I strongly believe that companies have a vital role in building a better world and that the social and private sectors should not have antagonistic roles.
I am still exploring how to make money and (not or) make a difference!
Being an Atlas Corps fellow and being away from Brazil was an excellent opportunity to have an outsider perspective of my country and think about ways I can use my current skills, networks and experience to leverage assets and support social innovations back home.
While working with Ashoka in Brazil for almost three years, I had the chance to deeply understand social innovation and follow the work of leading social entrepreneurs. This is when I noticed that the eagerness for social business and new forms of investments is increasing.
Although I am very enthusiastic about the use of for-profit tools and approaches in tackling social problems by social entrepreneurs, when I look back to all the organizations I had the chance to work with, I see that most organizations and social entrepreneurs are struggling to define their business model. Only a handful of entrepreneurs have created paths for their own growth, and many are still wasting their time and resources to create business models that are investment-worthy.
However, I remain very optimistic. I would like to highlight several Brazilian social innovations that really inspire me:
Plano CDE: a company that is focused on market intelligence that produces information, actionable data and knowledge about people and markets operating in Brazil’s C, D and E (lower-middle) classes. Several of their services include undertaking demographic-focused research surveys, providing consulting, as well as training for businesses. The company also pushes the business agenda in this area forward on a wide scale.
Sementes de Paz: The company builds bridges between producers and consumers by providing access to organic food at fair prices for producers and by encouraging partnerships based on respect and transparency.
Banco Pérola: an institution that provides for-interest loans to 18 to 29 year olds to classes C, D and E in the Sorocaba region of São Paulo. Three types of microcredit loan are being offered: working capital, investment and mixed funding.
CDI Lan: focused on providing access to a growing network of internet cafés (currently at 4,800), while also offering financial management education and other other e-learning tools.
Solidarium: a fair Trade company that works with a network of small producers and distributes their products through large retailers like Walmart and Tok & Stok throughout the nation and in the U.S. Its mission is to fight poverty by offering market access to micro and small producers from low-income communities throughout Brazil.
Rede Asta: Rede Asta has created a direct sales catalog to help informal artisans overcome the challenges of large-scale distribution. By equipping a team of well-trained sales agents with an intimate understanding of personal histories and the potential social impact of the products, Rede Asta enables consumers to exercise informed decision-making, and channels direct communication between producers and consumers.
Aliança Empreendedora – Aliança Empreendedora (Entrepreneurs Alliance) its a Brazilian NGO that aims to include socially and economically low income micro entrepreneurs (normally excluded from the market) in a system that offers access to: 1 – Knowledge / Information, 2 – Market / Commercialization, 3 – Microcredit /Investments and 4 -Infrastructure and Technology.
Acreditar: Acreditar develops activities in the productive microcredit area and is focused on youth, using as a tool youth entrepreneurship and financial education.