Seminar on social responsibility discusses challenges for institutions to spread best practices

The seminar was attended by public officials, executives and managers of nonprofit organizations, who debated the challenges faced by institutions interested in applying and spreading social responsibility practices.
Public Policy
18 October 2023
Seminar on social responsibility discusses challenges for institutions to spread best practices

On September 25, 2023, FGV Knowledge held a “Social Responsibility Seminar” as part of the “Lisbon Series of Contemporary Debates,” together with the FGV Permanent Forum on Social Responsibility and Sanitation, which is coordinated by Justice André Mendonça of the Federal Supreme Court and supported by the Rio de Janeiro State Public Prosecutors’ Office, the Globo media group and sanitation company Aegea.

The seminar was attended by public officials, executives and managers of nonprofit organizations, who debated the challenges faced by institutions interested in applying and spreading social responsibility practices.

The event was also marked by the launch of the FGV Social Responsibility Awards Council, which will reward best practices in the third sector and academic research aimed at improving the quality of life of urban populations, especially the most vulnerable. Prizes will be awarded for practices and projects in four thematic areas: education and culture; health and sanitation; sustainability; and public security.

The consensus view that guided the discussions at the seminar was that the measures needed to overcome, or at least mitigate, the social and environmental challenges facing us today require coordinated action from the public sector, private sector companies and the third sector.

Based on this premise, three more general points stood out: (1) the role of private companies and third sector organizations in terms of social responsibility is significant in Brazil and tending to grow; (2) despite this, there are still some major obstacles, in particular, fundraising difficulties, which hinder the expansion of social action, especially by third sector entities; and (3) and the solution to these issues requires legislative innovations or updates, as well as other measures by the public sector, to stimulate corporate social responsibility projects and third sector initiatives.

Justice André Mendonça of the Federal Supreme Court, who coordinates the FGV Permanent Forum on Social Responsibility and Sanitation and chairs the FGV Social Responsibility Awards Council, presented the fundamental principles of social responsibility. He argued that social responsibility is a duty of society as a whole, based on questioning the reasons that define human existence. In his view, the answer to this question entails considering three dimensions of life: life in society or community; individual life; and a practical and fulfilling life.

In relation to the first dimension, Mendonça said that in order to guarantee dignity and equality for everyone, there must first be a commitment to fraternity and solidarity between citizens, which permeates public policies and the actions and practices of civil society as a whole.

For this to happen, he said that in the sphere of individual life (the second dimension of life), it is necessary to pursue values such as altruism rather than selfishness, respect rather than prejudice and love of one’s neighbors rather than indifference.

Once these two considerations have been assimilated, Mendonça stressed that social responsibility measures will come to fruition in the third dimension, which involves having a practical and fulfilling life.

Regulatory aspects

José Marinho, a prosecutor in the Foundations Division of the Rio de Janeiro State Public Prosecutors’ Office, argued that it is essential to pass a law to adequately define parameters for social responsibility, including the active participation of various segments of society, in order to encourage initiatives of this kind in the private sector. In the specific case of foundations, Marinho said it is necessary to update existing legislation to facilitate financial support for such entities from companies and individuals interested in fighting social inequality and protecting the environment.

In the opinion of Luiz Gustavo Bichara, a tax attorney for the Brazilian Bar Association, tax incentives represent a crucial instrument for encouraging social responsibility practices in the private sector. However, he argued that it is necessary to improve the methods used to assess the effectiveness of tax benefits granted, to ensure that they effectively contribute to the objectives of public policies.

Federal representative Pedro Paulo Teixeira (Social Democratic Party, Rio de Janeiro) reiterated the importance of tax incentives for social responsibility initiatives in the private sector, as well as direct public spending via social policies. However, he said that for this to be viable, it is essential for government bodies to follow fiscal responsibility rules. Without fiscal responsibility, social responsibility can become mere populism, he said.

Based on a comparative analysis of corporate social responsibility in different regions and countries around the world, Vladyslava Kaplina of the University of Lisbon Law School added that the most successful experiences of this kind have occurred in jurisdictions with solid and transparent regulations in this area.

Activities of private companies and third sector organizations

Despite the challenges posed, the role played by private companies and third sector organizations in Brazil’s social and environmental protection agenda has been growing. The seminar’s participants gave an overview of initiatives adopted by their companies and nonprofit organizations, as well as the results they have already seen.

Alexandre Bianchini, the president of Águas do Rio, part of the Aegea group, pointed out that since the end of 2021, his company has expanded and improved water and sewage services for the people of Rio de Janeiro State in general and approximately 300,000 people in the state capital now have access to treated and piped water for the first time. He also stressed that Aegea has several social responsibility initiatives, ranging from subsidies for low-income families to a racial inclusion project called “Respect Sets the Tone” and an initiative to combat ageism.

The legal director of the Globo group, Antonio Claudio Ferreira Netto, pointed out that social and environmental issues have been on the company’s agenda for decades and its ESG agenda is currently quite broad. He gave the examples of Globo’s initiatives to prioritize hiring members of minority groups, protect the environment and combat racism and violence against women.

Paula Benevides, the CEO of the Raízen Foundation and Cosan’s director of people and communication, said that Cosan is recognized for its “business portfolio” encompassing several areas of social responsibility, including diversity, equity and inclusion, corporate governance and transparency, and measures to fight climate change.

Luizinho Magalhães, the J&F Institute’s education director, stressed that his organization is focused on business-oriented education projects. According to him, the institute has created an educational center to train people in the area, generating benefits for the J&F group’s companies and the community in general by increasing the supply of qualified workers and supporting other people involved in different projects.

The head of BTG Pactual’s social responsibility and events area, Martha Leonardis, said that the investment bank has various types of social responsibility actions and projects, which have yielded significant results. Among other things, she highlighted an acceleration program for third sector organizations and programs to provide technology training courses for people in vulnerable situations.

Education and health

During a specific discussion about education, Átila Roque, the regional director of the Ford Foundation, drew attention to the inequality of opportunities that still prevails in Brazil. In view of this, he said that the institution seeks to help alleviate this situation, including by funding academic research to address the country’s social gaps. The executive vice president of the Brazilian Symphony Orchestra Foundation, Ana Flávia Cabral Souza Leite, added that music classes are essential for a well-rounded education and the foundation seeks to democratize access to them through programs that promote musical training at elementary schools.

On the subject of health, the Brazilian Cancer Foundation’s director of projects, Reinhard Braun, pointed out that his organization acts in a complementary way to the National Cancer Institute (INCA), by seeking financial alternatives that make it possible to expand care for cancer patients, as well as actions to prevent and control the disease. In turn, Jorge Dau, the president of the Octacílio Gualberto Foundation, highlighted the foundation’s role in setting up Petrópolis Medical School and other measures to support medical education, university hospitals and other health-related services.

Environment, cities and community assistance

During a panel discussion on issues related to the environment and cities, Monalisa Oliveira, the Grael Project’s coordinator of environmental projects, explained that the initiative’s main environmental objective is to help clean up and preserve Guanabara Bay, mainly through environmental education activities.

On the topic of cities, Alexandre Nadai, communications coordinator at the Pretos Novos Research and Memory Institute, said that the institute’s overriding goal is to stimulate knowledge and reflection on Afro-Brazilian historical and cultural heritage. He mentioned two initiatives in this area: the African Heritage Circuit, a guided tour that has so far taken more than 45,000 people to the main historical points of Little Africa in downtown Rio de Janeiro; and free Afro-centric workshops. During the same discussion, Philipe Câmera, a pastor from the Central Temple of the Assembly of God in Belém, Pará, drew attention to the religious institution’s project to build and renovate social housing in the north of the country, which has already benefited hundreds of people.

The final panel discussed the role of third sector organizations, focusing on community assistance. Pamella De-Cnop, the Vale Foundation’s social investment manager, emphasized the foundation’s programs to promote literacy and access to high-quality health care in the regions where mining company Vale operates. These programs are largely aimed at reintegrating students into the education system and contributing to the formation of autonomous communities. Representing the Mokiti Okada Foundation, Celso Roberto Moura Boêmia said that one of the organization’s main activities in this area is carrying out campaigns to donate basic necessities to vulnerable groups and victims of natural disasters and other emergencies. Finally, Marcio José Ribeiro, a deacon from the Archdiocese of Sao Paulo, highlighted his institution’s work in supporting and training refugees with the aim of effectively integrating them into society.

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