Putting Social Justice at the Centre of Brazilian Philanthropy

A new phenomenon is unfolding in Brazilain civil society – a new breed of indegenous grassroots grant makers is emerging that supports the movemnet for human rights and social justice in the country. Ten of these foundations are united in the Network of Independent Funds for Social Justice (NIFSJ)- Brazil or Rede de Fundos Independentes para a Justiça Social. Their aim is to increase funding for social justice, gender and racial equity, socio-environmental and community rights.

We spoke to Cindy Lessa, coordinator of NIFSJ, about the aspirations of the network for building a new philanthropic culture in Brazil.

PSJP: How is the philanthropy practiced by members of your network different from the dominat philanthropic trends in Brazil?

Cindy Lessa The ten organizations that make up the Network, individually and as a group represent a new philanthropic culture in Brazil: social justice and community philanthropy. This new culture differs from traditional philanthropy and private social investment, the two manifestations of Brazilian philanthropy until the beginning of this century. While the history of philanthropy dates from the colonial period and is closely related to the Catholic Church and still defines the ethos of individual giving today, ‘private social investment’, the term chosen to replace philanthropy in the 90’s developed from corporate social responsibility and brings with it the culture and values of that origin. The new philanthropic culture that the members of The Network of Independent Funds for Social Justice introduce originates from the human rights and social justice movements. This new culture constitutes an important phenomenon in the citizen sector in Brazil and fills a needed gap. In addition, while most existing ‘philanthropic organizations’ operate programs, the members of the Network are grant makers.

PSJP: What necessitated the formation of the network? Why now?

CL: The network has developed quite organizacally. In 2000 the Synergos Institute who helped establish the first community foundation in Brazil, Instituto Rio, perceived that several new philanthropic organizations were popping up in Brazil and began to organize meetings among these new organizations. These included Elas, Brazil Foundation as well as new family foundations. Elas subsequently picked up this effort and held several meetings of this new group. It was in these series of meetings, that it became clear that there was a natural synergy amongst these organizations: they were born of the social movements, they were grantmakers and they had in common the fact that they practiced philanthropy with a social justice lens. When this common denominator became explicit, a group of six organizations at the time founded the Network, and a grant from the Kellogg Foundation helped move the work of the Network forward. Today we have 10 members. [1]

PSJP: What is the objective of the network?

CL: The purpose of the Network is to strengthen the member organizations through peer learning, exposure to other networks and to increase the resources for social justice in Brazil.  We want to diversify the philanthropic culture in Brazil and insure that social justice issues are a fundamental consideration in all philanthropic investment.

PSJP: You are organising a conference in July 2015. What is the purpose of this conference? Who is the target audience and what will be the chief take-away from the conference for participants?

CL: The purpose of the conference is to draw attention to social justice and community philanthropy, which the Network represents and introduces to Brazil, to give visibility to the Network members and their work, and to develop strategies and action plans to expand the community of social justice and community philanthropy donors in Brazil.

The three-day conference is designed so that there will be two different but interrelated parts. The first part will be a two-day interactive meeting of approximately 70 people  (individuals, organizations, networks) related to social justice philanthropy, community philanthropy, private social investment. We hope that at least 30% of the participants will be from pertinent, partner, international organizations that have a vested interest in our goals.

During these two days, the participants will work together to develop a plan of action to increase social justice and community philanthropy giving in Brazil and, as a byproduct, in the Latin American region which is already alert to the movement triggered by the Network and its members. 

The second part of the meeting will be a public event at which a panel of important philanthropists (Brazilian and international), mediated by a renowned journalist, will discuss their philanthropic investments, the challenges and their understanding of social justice philanthropy and how to further social justice and community philanthropy in philanthropists circles. 

PSJP: How can other foundations, and human rights and social justice organisations in Brazil participate in the conference?

CL: By April of this year we will be posting information regarding the conference on our website and elsewhere, and where interested parties will be able to register and attend.

PSJP: Is there a space for philantropies form other countries in Latin America and the Caribbean as well as other places around the globe at the conference?

CL: Of course! I believe the Network is part of a global movement to promote social justice and community based giving without which we would not have gathered momentum nor have found an enabling environment that has helped us create this movement in Brazil. We have had formal and infomal meetings with like organizations in Latin America and elsewhere and hope that these sister organizations will participate at our conference and help give our movement energy and impact.

Conference Details-

Theme: Social Justice and Community Philanthropy

Venue: Federacao das Industrias do Rio de Janeiro, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

Dates: July 8,9,10, 2015

Website and contact details: www.rededefundos; rede-de-fundos@google.com




[1] Baobá, Fundo para a Equidade Racial, Elas, Fundo de Desenvolvimento Social, Casa, Fundo Socioambiental, Brazil Foundation, Instituto Rio, Instituto Grande Florianópolis (ICom), Instituto Baixada Maranhense, CESE, Fundo Brasil de Direitos Humanos, Fundo PositHivo.