Travel Notes: World Fellows in Brazil

Posted by Valerie Belanger, April 2, 2014

Each year, we invite a cohort of leading practitioners from around the world to Yale – the World Fellows. And after a whirlwind, 17-week intensive session, Fellows return to their home countries, and to their work. And as we’ve heard from them time and time again, the residential fellowship is a life changing experience – a chance to refresh, rethink and be challenged in deep ways. But the journey doesn’t end there. As we like to say around here, “Once a World Fellow, always a World Fellow.”  In the bigger picture, the four-month program is just an orientation to a lifelong engagement with Yale and our growing community of more than 250 World Fellows across 83 countries. It’s a priority for us to keep this growing network alive, connected and mobilized across national borders.

One such opportunity for exchange took place this past March at the 8th annual GIFE Congress.  Considered the main meeting on social investment in Brazil, the Congress has been held every 2 years since 2000. Bringing together social investors, heads of civil society organizations, academics, consultants and representatives from government for networking and exchange, GIFE is not just a convener but a think tank of sorts: they push Brazilians to rethink societal transformation. Thanks to the generosity of the Secretary-General of GIFE, Andre Degenszajn, and the Lemann Foundation, Yale World Fellows was invited to host a panel during this year’s GIFE Congress – a discussion called Driving Inclusion in Emerging Economies.

I’m so grateful for World Fellows Marcelo Furtado, Ana Paula Hernandez and ‘Tokunboh IshmaelWhen I asked them to come, all three agreed without hesitation. ‘Tokunboh flew from Nigeria; in Mexico, Ana Paula rearranged her schedule and postponed work so she could join. Marcelo acted as our most generous host.  Following the tradition of World Fellows being both teachers and students, experts and learners, our experience at the GIFE Congress was rich with exchange. 

Reflecting on the changing roles of philanthropy and social investment in their distinct national and professional spheres, the Fellows spoke with passion and animation: Ana Paula insisted on the importance of building a healthy non-profit sector, of trusting the agents of civil society with direct and sustained investments.  Marcelo directly addressed the Brazilians in the audience, inviting them to embrace a new mindset, one of “sharing and taking responsibility for others.” He emphasized that “being an agent of change means changing oneself.” ‘Tokunboh offered concrete examples of how her investment firm in Nigeria, Alitheia Capital, is changing livelihoods through investments in clean cooking stoves. Dick Foster, a lecturer from Yale’s School of Management, joined the conversation as well, emphasizing the importance of building sustainable streams of capital, reminding all that, “philanthropy cannot lead to transformative societal changes if the money runs out.” 

And I can’t speak of the GIFE Congress and not mention a leading figure in the Brazilian philanthropic sector, World Fellow Denis Mizne, Executive Director of the Lemann Foundation.  It was fantastic to see Denis on stage during the Congress’ opening plenary session, pushing the audience, a room of leading Brazilian decision makers, to be creative and provocative in the fields of education and technology, “to get up and move now…as there is a possibility of a giant leap, forward or backwards, depending on how we position ourselves.” (Translated from Portuguese).

While in Sao Paulo, in addition to the GIFE Congress, the World Fellows crew also spoke at Conectas, a human rights organization working in the global south.  For two hours, in tight quarters, the Fellows engaged with a class of twenty traveling Yale students from the School of Management, discussing the health of civil society in emerging economies. It was a provocative conversation, one that emphasized that despite rising GDPs, important structural reforms and strategic development in countries such as Brazil, Mexico and Nigeria, there continues to be significant struggles around issues of violence, corruption, impunity, absence of the rule of law, discrimination, and inequality. Lucia Nader, the Executive Director of Conectas summed up the discussion well with the reminder that “we must remember the nuanced differences between consumption, economic growth and development, they are not the same.”

Overall, it was a great trip.  The learnings were many, the experience rich with exchange. To close, I will share some reflections on the trip from Ana Paula:

“The GIFE conference confirmed the many similarities between Mexico and Brazil. Both countries face similar obstacles regarding philanthropy, where in spite of significant wealth (Mexico has two of the five richest men in the world), the culture of philanthropy is very weak. Very little is spent in charitable giving, and what is given it is mostly focused on the visible and measurable: education, natural disaster relief, or health. Philanthropists in both countries would have little interest in investing in civil society organizations working in human rights, for example, since the outcomes are not necessarily visible in the short or medium term. But at least Brazilians are having this discussion. GIFE organized a truly impressive event, and in itself is an impressive organization, bringing together foundations to think and talk about how funding can lead to transformation. From the Mexican perspective, that in itself is an achievement. I see, now, how necessary and urgent it is to bring this discussion to Mexico, and how much we have to learn and share with our Brazilian colleagues in how to build a culture of philanthropy in Mexico and Brazil, and in Latin America as a whole. Conectas, one of the leading human rights organizations in Brazil and in the region, is without a doubt a strategic ally I look forward to working with in the future.”

Connecting, rethinking, collaborating, holding the space for courageous conversations: the Yale World Fellows way.