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Notes from Brazil: Oded Grajew

By 08/26/2009September 11th, 2014Gilda's Posts, Visionaries

Oded GrajewThis is a post from last September 2008, from Brazil. where I attended my first annual meeting as a Synergos Senior Fellow and had the privilege of spending time in discussion with about 40 social advocates from Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Inida, Kenya, Mexico, Namibia, Pakistan, Palestine, Philippines, South Africa, Tanzania, Uganda, U.S., and Zimbabwe.

Synergos is the brainchild of Peggy Dulany, a person who chose to turn her inherited wealth, influence, and networks outward to shape new alliances and tools to reduce world poverty and inequality.  Steady work.

A high point of the week for me was a keynote address (transcribed below) by Brazilian industrialist, philanthropist, compulsive social entrepreneur, Oded Grajew.

Oded’s resume presents a counterpoint between power and social justice.  A former toy manufacturer, and a succcessful one, he started the Abrinq Foundation for Children and Adolescents Rights while he was President of the Toy Manufacturers Association of Brazil.  He is Chairman of the Board of the Ethos Institute of Business and Social Responsibility, and was instrumental in creating several other initiatives that promote education, accountable development, and responsible entrepreneurship.

Most recently, he helped forge Movimento Nossa Sao Paulo (Our Sao Paulo Movement), which he describes in more depth below, providing food for thought for our U.S. Right to the City movement.

Oded is the founder of the World Social Forum and still sits on its Board.

He is a special advisor to the popular Brazilian President Lula (Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva — today Brazilian newspapers report a 77.7% approval rating — across all Brazilian classes).  Oded is also a member of the Advisory Board of the United Nations Global Compact.

…Thank you for having me come here to speak to so many women and so few men.  But this is something that we can think about because as we are talking about public policies, we are talking sexually about men’s issues.  Men make politics.  This is not simply my point of view.  It is very good to have so many women in politics.

…If we want to talk about social change, sustainable development, we must talk about public policies.  Because without public policies, I personally don’t believe that we can achieve anything.  Anything.  Because the public policies will decide the rules of the game.  They decide our life.  They decide the rules of economics, social issues.  Public policies appear at a big scale.  And if we talk about education, health, violence without an inference to public policies — I personally don’t believe that we will succeed.  Its like trying to dry up water when its open and raining.

I would like to give you an idea of how politics and how public policies are being inferenced — because a lot of people inference public policies and not, most times, in the public interest, but in specific interests.  And in Brazil, and not only in Brazil, as you know, who decides public policy are the politicians.  The majority decides.  And how does the majority act today?  If you want to be elected — and I don’t talk about all of them, I talk abut the majority, and the majority decides — you must have money to be elected.  And every day more money.  And the first obligation of the majority, of the politicians, is to give big back investments that contributors gave to them.

In Brazil, 99% of the money in elections comes from companies.  Then you spend half of your term giving back to your investors.  Because I don’t know any companies that don’t invest in their interests.  Its an investment.  You have to give back to them.  And the other (half of the) term…you try to give back also for the future investors, because they want to have money for the next election.

Then, the pubic policies, the majority, is for the interests of who pays for campaigns.  I can give you many examples about how public policies are made for specific interests.  For example, private health companies in Brazil put a lot of money in campaigns.  Private education put a lot of money in campaigns. I don’t believe that they really have interests to have good public education or good public health.  Because that would finish their business.  Only to give some examples.

Second. The companies don’t like to have their name on the list of who supports campaigns.  They don’t want to be where public opinion would raise the question, “why are you doing this?” and so on.  70 or 80% of the money in campaigns in Brazil in campaigns is illegal money.  Illegal money. 70 — seven zero, eight zero, not one seven — 70, 80.  Its illegal money, from illegal activities. Illegal money comes from illegal activities.  A lot of politicians are making service to illegal activities.  Imagine what kind of public policies you will have from this.  And every day more.  Because the campaign needs every day more money.

As money is very important in the campaigns, the system of public services is — you have a system where — every time you change government in Brazil, every four years, everybody changes.  Change thousands of people.  Because this is a way to conserve power.  Because you are bringing your friends, your parties — the parties of the political coalition — and you distribute the functions.  Its not like you contract a head hunter to get the best person.  They are friends, family, party, coalition.  Imagine what kind of public services you have in this system. Because these people are part of the power system.  They bring your money in the party.  For example, you have a big demand for functions that have big budgets. Because when you have big budgets who can handle this by giving money, corruption, and so on.  And one part is for you, one part is for the party, for the next election. You know all this — you who are Brazilian know exactly what I am talking, but its not only for Brazil.

And we in Brazil have taxes at the same level of many developing countries.  About 40% of our GDP is in taxes.  But the services are very bad.  If you have money, if you are a politician, you don’t use services.  The Secretary of Education, the Minister of Education, the Mayor, the President don’t put their family in public schools.  Or public health.  Or public transportation.  Or public security.  Because if you have money, if you want to have good services, you must have private services.

And if you want to change the system, we don’t believe that politicians will change the system.  Putting public finance to the campaign, money, trying to have a stable bureaucracy and so on.  Because they are the beneficiaries of the system. In Brazil —  I don’t know in other countries — we don’t have the culture of kamikaze.  They will not change the system that is in their benefit.  And if you believe yes, if we do this or this or this, he will change, she will change, he will change.  We don’t believe it.  And we don’t believe that the public policy will change the politicians.  If we have bad education in Brazil — everybody is talking about education, education, education.  Bad education in Brazil is part of public policy ideology.  Not to give education to people.  Because if you give education to people, and people are informed about what is happening, then they will want to change the system.

We don’t believe that — every politician speaks about education, education, education.  And why?  For so many years — everybody wants education.  And we don’t have.  Ask anyone who has a little money if he puts his son in public school.  It is part of a policy not to have good education.  Because if we have good education, the people will be informed and will make change.  We don’t believe.  You can hear the Minister of Education.  The Secretary of Education. The mayors.  The governors. The president.  Everybody, “Yes!  Education, education, education.”  Because money for education — we have a lot.  Today, in Sao Paulo — we can see some cities in Brazil that have a lot of money from royalties of oil — today.  For Sao Paulo.  Today.  Education is very bad.  Because it is part of the system to have bad education.  Its part of the system.
We know how it must be done to have good education, but we don’t have it because it is part of the system.

Then, what to do?  If you don’t have this, in my point of view, if you don’t have a notion of this reality.  If you think that this and this and this will change — if you believe in the speeches — I don’t believe that things will change and we will have sustainable and just development.  At least in our country, and I believe in many, many countries.  Even in the United States. You know Bush is going to Iraq, not to support democracy.  Oil. Arms. Money. Campaigns and so on and so on.  This is the system.  The system.  Then, we need to change the system.  We don’t believe that yes, you have someone better than others, but if you don’t change the system, we will not have sustainable change in the future.

But, the power, the power that today is in the hands of who pays for campaigns.  Really, the power is in the hands of the people.  If the people have the conscience of this power, and if they have the capacity to make coalitions.  Because every one, every organization is very weak.  But if we put them together, this is very powerful.  This is very powerful.  Its not an easy task.  Because the mentality of our today culture, is the mentality of competition.  Not solidarity.  Its a culture of having more and to compete.  And not to be together.  And this culture of competition, that is specifically the mentality in the corporate world, it is also the mentality in politics.  It is the mentality, unfortunately, in the social field.  Its very common to see organizations competing between them.  Competing for money, competing for success, competing for the beneficiaries.

This is the mentality of competition that we see in advertising, in television that is to compete and compete.  And unfortunately its the mentality in the social arena.  Its very common to see people in organizations in the social field competing against each other and not wanting to make coalition because they don’t want to share the result or share success or share the visibility with other organizations.  And I’m talking not just because I read it in a book.  I talk from my experience.

And all the — what Daniel talked about, some initiatives of the foundations and others — World Social Forum, Ethos, Nosso Sao Paulo, and the Brazilian Network that was constructed.  All of them, since the beginning, have targeted public policy.  And all of them talk about coalitions and partnerships.  If you see the mission of the Ethos Institute it is to sensibilize, mobilize companies to have socially responsible management to be partners in the construction of a just and sustainable society.  Always we believe that it will be the coalitions together that will make things happen.

And we have a lot of examples.  In Brazil, when we got back to democracy, it was a coalition.  In Brazil, when we impeached the President, Collor, it also was a coalition.  Every time that civil society is succeeding in anything, its not one or two organizations.  Its always coalitions.  And when you have the capacity to form a coalition, this is very powerful.  And this can really make some sense — its more powerful than the money of who invests in politics.  And this is the way that we believe that we can face these issues, and then we can change public policies.

And this what, for example, Nosso Sao Paulo and then today dozens of cities in Brazil, similar initiatives are happening in Brazil.  And it is an attempt to influence and to change public policy for a social and just society.


I have a lot of examples to give to you.  But an example is here in Sao Paulo.  Why Sao Paulo?  Because Sao Paulo is the biggest city of Brazil, and one of the biggest cities of the world.

Everything that happens in Sao Paulo is an example for other cities.  Because its the biggest.  And if we can succeed in Sao Paulo, we can succeed in other cities.  And the idea is again not Sao Paulo, but to form a network of many cities.  Today in Brazil, today we have, as Daniel said, we formed official —  informal, but official — network of initiatives of civil society for just and sustainable cities.

Every day there’s more.  We are in Sao Paulo, we are in Rio and in December we will be in Bella Horizonte, the third city of Brazil where the big network of others 160 something small cities will be joining us.


But in Sao Paulo, we are talking of an example, we changed the city constitution.  We introduced a new thing in the city constitution, to change the role of goals. And this is very difficult to make, because to change the constitution is not a simple thing.  And when we began on this issue, people said it would never happen because this is against the interests of the politicians in Sao Paulo.  Because it changed the political process.

Why was this possible?  Because such a big coalition was made in Sao Paulo.  Our Sao Paulo (Nossa Sao Paulo) has today about 530 organizations in the network.  It is business, business associations, grassroots movements, also education, human rights, and so on … and having together personalities, and a very strong relation with media.  And this is irresistible.  Irresistible. Because you must have — for this role you must have — two times votes.  And the second one was the (names).  All the city councilors voted yes.  Vote. Vote.  Because it was such a big pressure on them.

And what did it say?  So now, the mayor who is elected in Sao Paulo has 90 days to present his program of goals, for all of his term.  Numbers, numbers, numbers.  Numbers of any one of the fields of public administration — health, education, transport — numbers.  What I will achieve by the end of my term — four years.  Not only I will improve education.  No.  Numbers.  Numbers for the quality, the quantity.  And so on.

And not just for the City, because Sao Paulo is a very big city, as you know.  One number is nothing, because the inequalities are so big.  Ten times, twenty times, thirty times, one hundred times, one hundred fifty times, five hundred times, thousands of times.  The inequalities need indicators for the regions in Sao Paulo.  We have 96 districts.  The targets, the goals, must be for every one of these districts to show, to give the public the idea of what will be achieved in every one of them.

Ninety days.  And it must be (part of the) electoral plan.  A list of values.  Not just any goals:  social justice, sustainable development, and so on.   We have it here in English.  I brought it in English, so you can have an idea.  (to be posted in two weeks)

And after 90 days, they have 30 days to debate with society.  To debate health, education, any one of these areas, and to debate in every one of the the 31 regions. To debate.  And then after thirty days, you have the official goals.  And for every one, in six months, you must publicize indicators.  And by the end of the year you must publicize how its going with the goals.

This does not exist in Brazil.  This is a revolution.  And this is part of the constitution of the city. The mayor (whoever will make it), we will teach that this is part of the constitution of the city of Sao Paulo.

Today it is in five cities in Brazil, the same change of constitutions of the cities.  And we are hoping that it can be for the state and the federal level.  Because no politicians — no mayor, no governor, no president — have targets and numbers.  And what is very powerful is to give information to the population about how things are.  The observatory.  The citizens’ observatory.  Because if you give information, about money, budget, indicators — this will mobilize people.

And for this reason, we are so working on the observatory.  And we have four fields of action of the observatory, following the numbers and the indicators of the city; indicators and public surveys; citizen education and mobilization.  Because this can change the public policies.

And here are (this is in Portuguese) 10 proposals for the moment of the candidate — we have an election now in Sao Paulo.  This is our proposal for the process.  The proposal of goals, the proposal of processes.  And also proposals for the alternative candidate for the city council.  This is also in Portuguese.  But the law is in English.

(NOTE:  100% of all municipal elections across all of Brazil –mayors, city councils — will be held in a couple of weeks on the same day– October 6.  Voting is mandatory in Brazil.)

I can talk a lot about how we succeed — but here only to give you a recent example.  The air we that we breath in our cities is very polluted.  Very bad.  And one of the things that we are proposing — in Brazil, we have laws.  But we have laws that function, and laws that don’t function. Especially laws for poor people are very ineffective, and then laws for others.

We have laws, for example, of transparency of indicators, of numbers.  And what we are going to do — not now, because we are in the election process, we vote in two weeks — and to use, this is possible, justice (the courts) to make laws effective.  Law is law.

But we have a law here, in 2002, to take away the sulphur from our diesel. The sulphur, the quantity of sulphur, in our diesel…is so big that it kills, only in Sao Paulo, about 3,000 people per year.  Only in Sao Paulo.  3,000 people people per year.  More than Iraq.  More.  And in 2002, was established a law that in January 2009 this quantity of sulphur must go down, and it depends on Petrogras, our oil company, and the car manufacturers.

And nothing was done.  And we are three months away from 2009.  Because the automobile companies and Petrobras made a very big lobby on the national agency of petrol and oil, so that they would do nothing to advance…. And we took this issue, for example, and today it is a national issue.  It was nothing.  Nobody knew about it… Even the environmental organizations.  Some talked about it.  But it was some.

Today it is an issue for everybody in Brazil.  This is a coalition.  We formed a very big coalition, and today it is a very big national issue.  A lot of things happened.  The manufacturers of automobiles got a lot of pressure.  Petrobras.  This is today in the justice (the courts), in the newspaper, and they are advancing new phases.  A lot of things happened since then.  But its not very easy to face Ford, Volkswagon, Mercedes, Volvo…and Petrobras.  Petrobras, in Brazil, gives a lot, a lot of money to social organizations.  And then some of them say, “I cannot, because Petrobras gives us money.  I don’t know because Petrobras gives us money,” and so on and so on.  But its not so easy.  This is also an issue.  The independence of social organizations.  This is very important to me.  Definitely.

And at this conference, for example, Petrobras was the biggest sponsor, but we organized a debate — I don’t know who of you were there — and it was very bad for Petrobras.  And Petrobras was the sponsor.

OK, this I can talk a lot about.  And this is advancing.  I wanted to show you some examples of how things can happen.  I can tell a lot of examples.  When you make a coalition and when it is possible to make a coalition. For this you need the credibility of some leaders.  You must have the generosity to share with others the leadership and the success — not the failures.  Failures — you always have someone to point at (laughter).  And to have points and to have independence.  You have a lot of keys of how to bring coalitions together and how to make it.  I think we can share these examples with you because, as I said, you are aware that it happened, it is very powerful and will change public policies.  And without this, I don’t believe that really we can succeed.

I think that in this bad English, I hope you understand 50% of what I told you.  This is the most important thing that I wanted to share with you.

Thank you.

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