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Posted 10.6.05

Eight hundred people gathered in the exhibition hall of the Federation of Industry for the State of Parana (F.I.E.P.) in Brazil for the third B·A·W·B -- Brazil conference. This year the conference broadened beyond the state of Parana to include all of Brazil.

On Thursday, October 6th, F.I.E.P. president Rodrigo Loures, opened the conference and introduced Judy Rodgers, Executive Director of The Center for B·A·W·B, who had traveled from Cleveland to meet with participants and hear the stories they have gathered over the past year.

F.I.E.P. is the oldest B·A·W·B partner, beginning in the pilot period of the World Inquiry in 2002. This year, over 150 stories of business-and-society innovation poured in from all over Brazil.

Sergio Amoroso, president and founder of the Orsa Group, a national pulp and paper company, led the presentations with nine stories of innovation. He talked about a time early in the Orsa Group’s history, when they were bidding against a Canadian firm to purchase Jari, the paper & pulp company with which they got their start. In spite of the emphatic counsel of Ernst&Young, they insisted that the only circumstances under which they would buy Jari was if they could donate 1% of revenues to socially responsible initiatives. When they were ultimately awarded the bid, Sergio went to the bankers who were handling the sale to ask if Orsa had overbid for Jari.

“No,” they responded. “There was little difference in the financial part of the package. It was your insistence on the 1% to be contributed to socially responsible initiatives that persuaded us. We knew that you were committed to this venture for the long term.”

When Brazilian President Lula came to office, he asked all public companies to broaden their focus to include environmental issues and community well-being – tying the companies’ visions to the UN Millenium Development Goals.

Gleise Hoffmann, the 40-year old financial director of Itaipu, the largest electric utility in the world, spoke about three initiatives undertaken at this large public utility. One, was about cultivating a high quality of water in Brazil in Parana. This involved engaging businesses, communities, and citizens at the border of the two countries in adopting the watershed around Itaipu. Within less than two years, the collective actions of all involved have improved the quality of water so significantly that costs for water purification at Itaipu are plummeting.

Valdemar Oliveira Neto, or “Maneto” as he is known by most, has spent a good part of his career in the US. He was vice president of the Ashoka Foundation.  He was also a founding member of the Ethos Institute, a powerful NGO working for social responsibility and ethics in Latin America. Currently he represents the Avina Foundation in Brazil and Colombia, which partners with civil society actors and business entrepreneurs for sustainable development in the American-Ibero countries.

Maneto described a configuration of organizations that is, in itself, a startling innovation: “Grupo Nueva,” a 2.5 billion group of companies specializing in forestry and in irrigation, Avina, a philanthropic organization that bridges the civil sector and the business sector, and the Viva Trust, which is described as a “learning space,” and which owns shares in Grupo Nueva. As Grupo Nueva prospers, Viva Trust takes the revenues they earn as shareholders and use them to bring social benefit to the region.

One such story is the work of Avina to transform the recycling industry in Brazil to get the more than 20,000 people who live in the trash dumps in Brazil to organize into cooperatives to work directly with recycling businesses. The significance of this effort makes more sense when you understand that the informal economy represents 2/3 of the total Brazilian economy.

Over the two, days stories such as these continued to unfold in rooms all over the massive F.I.E.P. complex. The conference came to a close at the end of the day on Friday, with a promise by President Loures to devote the year ahead to expanding the impact of these stories and others like them, and to reconvene next September in Brazil’s capital, Brasilia.

by Judy Rodgers
Executive Director, The Center for Business as an Agent of World Benefit

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