Monday, November 15, 2004

The Schwab Foundation for Social Entrepreneurship tried something new this year for their annual summit. Rather than being held in Geneva at the headquarters of the World Economic Forum, Pamela and her team moved the summit closer to some of the social entrepreneurs by holding the event in Brazil.

The best part of that move was including something called "Live the Experience," where attendees were able to visit social entrepreneurs before the summit. I went to Rio de Janeiro and visited Vera Cordeiro and Rodrigo Baggio. Not only did I get to experience the work of these two exciting entrepreneurs, but I also was able to meet their management team and talk about the challenges and opportunities of growth.

The first program I visited was Saude Crianca Renascer, run by Dr. Vera Cordeiro. She was a physician in one of Rio's large public hospitals, and saw a problem pattern of hospitalization, discharge, re-hospitalization and death. Poor kids came in with health problems, get treated and then go back to an environment that undermines their health (the medicine doesn't get bought, malnutrition, poor housing, etc.). So she started an NGO to work on the issues outside the doctor's role of treatment, that are needed to break the cycle of hospitalization that leads to death.

Her group uses volunteers as the main engine of activities. They provide food, buy medicine, fix up houses, train the (typically single) mothers with job skills, encourage school attendance, etc. They are roughly ten years old, and have begun a process of professionalization, expansion, measurement of results and building a network of replication NGOs in other public hospitals.

The visit was both personally affecting and professionally interesting. Meeting very sick children and their mothers can't be experienced neutrally. At the same time, it was very interesting to see the expansion and strengthening process in a small effective organization. Vera has been adding senior management and doing a terrific job of building a brand around Renascer and Chiquinio, a stick figure child image that represents the poor children that Renascer serves. They've built a strong PR campaign using soap opera actors, as well as a product line made by their clients.

Their major problem is (surprise) fund raising. Brazil doesn't have a tradition of personal philanthropy, and there are no tax advantages to making donations. Corporations become the major backers of NGOs (perhaps they can deduct these expenses?). And, the earned income piece of their stream is relatively small.

More on the Summit later!

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