Stakeholder Gap: NGO Partnerships and CSR in Brazil
by Arlita MacNamee
Arlita MacNamee, MES 2007, was (like Chantal Brundage, above) a dynamic
part of the incoming class of Sept. 2004 which formed the “Business &
Environment Collective” 2004-2006 at FES. Focused on both planning and business, she
developed expertise in a wide variety of realms—including green building,
community development, and urban design.
Arlita spent time in Brazil working on the Sisters Watershed
Project, co-directed by Ellie Perkins, and has subsequently
remained in Brazil to work with Instituto
Sangari, a science education-oriented NGO.
Social Responsibility is often described as a movement in its infancy in Latin America, but is slowly transforming from a
few isolated examples of responsible companies into a broader social movement,
in which civil society plays a major role. In South America, Brazil is leading the way
in CSR, through leadership and a hand-full of visionary companies.1 While
corporations around the world learn to walk the walk of CSR, Brazilian firms
like Petrobras, are
winning awards for their efforts, and seeing their investment in community and
environment reflected in their strong financial performance. In the Petrobras case, identifying the
opportunity in NGO partnerships has strengthened their stakeholder
relationships and brought value to the reputation of Brazil’s largest oil and gas company.
Several theories on creating a CSR unique for Latin America identify the
alleviation of poverty as the single most important contribution of the private
sector. The business case for investing
in low income areas is simple; improving the standard of living for those
living in poverty provides access to necessary goods and services, while creating
new un-tapped markets for business. In
practice, corporations cannot expect immediate financial reward from their
contribution; however investment in the areas where the company operates
facilitates local economic growth where it is most needed.
to Estrella Peinado-Vara, of the Inter-American Development Bank, several Latin American cases demonstrate that “the solution to a business problem has
been found in a socially responsible approach where the company has taken into account
previously excluded customers as stakeholders, improving their standard of
living, providing access to products and services and contributing to the
sustainable development of communities.” 2 This stakeholder dialogue, which includes
members of low income communities, poses a difficult challenge to corporations
that are beginning to follow a path of sustainability. In some cases, success in stakeholder
relations was made possible through partnering with organizations that have
proven competency in this area.
Petrobras approached the Ecoar (“echo”) Institute
for Citizenship in 2000. The Instituto Ecoar
para a Cidadania is a non-profit, civil association. It was formed by professionals,
academics, and environmentalists that gathered after the ECO-92, with the
intent to continue discussions on pressing environmental issues and to
collaborate in the construction of a sustainable society in balance with
needed a partner that had strength in community activities and outreach
projects. Ecoar had developed a unique
methodology for bringing various stakeholders together and experience in
working closely with the members of marginalized communities and favelas. 3
The Ecoar methodology is based on
the 1992 Rio Summit, and builds community projects
following the guidelines of Agenda 21.
Under this methodology, leaders from the community are sought out and
trained by Ecoar, and all decisions from project design and team formation to
implementation of a project are decided upon collectively. The result has been extremely positive for
Ecoar, such that they are solicited to share their knowledge with fellow NGOs and
with other corporations that are following the Petrobras example.
has worked with Petrobras on many projects, all of which designed to achieve
sustainability targets within the company and to integrate the company into its
surrounding society and environment. In Rio de Janeiro, Petrobras has allocated a CSR
committee and is working with its neighbor, Rio’s largest favela, to create an
organized network for ongoing dialogue with community representatives. The result? Petrobras has reduced
their social, environmental, and economic risks, through educational workshops
and through continuing to incorporate the objectives of the community in their
decision making process. Together,
Petrobras, Ecoar, and the favela community are seeing changes as they work to
build a safer and healthier community.
In the big
picture, projects like this have led Petrobras to address the social and
environmental impacts of its operations throughout Brazil and Argentina.
Armed with the tools like Ecoar, Petrobras is setting an example for its
domestic competitors and sending a global message that Latin America is meeting the challenges of
CSR. In an era where Latin America is making powerful strides toward
the left in addressing its economic and social problems, this growing
acceptance of CSR can be seen as a significant byproduct of forged partnership
between new social movements, business and civil society.
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