A Look at the Great Work of the BRAZIL FOUNDATION with their CEO and President PATRICIA LOBACCARO
By Leandro Justen
As I arrive for my interview with the CEO and President of the Brazil Foundation, Patricia Lobaccaro, I am greeted with “Oi” and “Tudo bem?” (Portuguese expressions for “Hi” and “How are you?”). Within minutes I have a cup of Brazilian coffee in my hands and am introduced to everyone in the office, which is colorfully decorated with crafts and photos of dozens of projects the Foundation has supported in the past 10 years.
Lobaccaro is soft-spoken and quickly engages me in conversation about the organization she has helped build since she joined it as a board member in 2003. The Brazil Foundation, established by Leona Forman, the chairman and former President and CEO of the Foundation, is an organization that raises funds in New York City to invest in social projects throughout Brazil. The non-profit has successfully provided resources and visibility to hundreds of projects in 24 Brazilian states, acting as a catalyst for social change in many regions that fall under the radar across the country.
In my interview with Lobaccaro we chatted about the Brazil Foundation gala (the lavish annual party that brings heavy-weight supporters like übermodel, Gisele Bündchen, Valentino Garavani, Brazilian soap-opera stars, and the power elite), her role as the new CEO and President of the organization, and the ambitious plans of expanding the organization beyond New York’s borders.
Leandro Justen: You have been with Brazil Foundation as the President and CEO for about a year now, what do you bring to the organization?
Patricia Lobaccaro: I have very big shoes to fill. Leona Forman, our founder, is a wonderful lady. Since I’ve been on the job I have a greater appreciation for her because it’s not easy to lead an organization. I came onboard as the CEO, but Brazil Foundation was not new to me, I had been a board member since 2003. On the board I was responsible for events and outreach, so I knew our donors and our community very well.
LJ: The Brazil Foundation has grown significantly over the years and raised 17 million dollars so far. Was there a time when this growth was particularly important to the organization?
PL: I think we had a lot of growth in visibility on the 2010 gala when we invited Nizan Guanaes to chair the event. He is probably the biggest executive in communications and marketing in Brazil, and he had a lot of ideas and connections. Every edition of our gala has been very successful, but he took the event to another level. In that year, we had a significant growth not only in revenue, but also in our capacity to support projects and in visibility of our organization.
LJ: I learned about the Brazil Foundation after seeing photos of celebrities that had attended the annual gala. How does the organization manage to continue to get their support?
PL: When Leona had the idea of creating the Brazil Foundation, her idea was to create a philanthropic bridge between the Brazilian community here in the United States who wanted to help and do something that had an effect in communities in Brazil. We’ve been very fortunate; from the beginning we had a lot of support from all sectors of the Brazilian community here, including Francisco Costa, Gisele Bündchen, many models. Many of them have been supporting us for years, but other sectors of the community like diplomats and consuls also support us.
LJ: In 2010, the Foundation received over 1,000 project proposals, what is the selection process to decide the 25 projects the organization supports every year?
PL: We have an office in Rio de Janeiro, led by Suzanne Worcman. She is our vice-president and she has a team of people that analyze the proposals. First, we analyze the proposals, but almost half of them don’t exactly meet the criteria, so they are cut in the first reading. Then we analyze the proposals more in depth, narrowing it down to 40 or 50 organizations that we visit in person.Then we have to narrow to half of that number.
What makes us decide which project to support is actually the community leader that writes the grant proposal. So by meeting that person face-to-face we are able to know if they are recognized by their community and if the community wants to implement the project. We meet extraordinary people in the most remote locations who are doing amazing things. I could give you a million examples.
LJ: The projects are very different, varying from education to agriculture projects. Is there a particular category the Brazil Foundation is more inclined to invest?
PL: It used to be education that account for at least a third of the projects. We support projects based on demand. Now participatory development overgrew education. Those two areas account for two thirds of the projects we support.
LJ: What is participatory development?
Participatory development are projects of local income generation or sustainable development. The initiatives that are proposed usually range from microcredit to programs that create income like agricultural projects. Access to water is also another area that we tend to support within the participatory development category. Brazil has a big semi-arid region in the northeast part of the country. These areas can go for six months with no rain. We support projects that build wells that capture rain water and store it so families can use clean drinking water for the months to come.
LJ: Of the many different projects that the Brazil Foundation supports is there a particular project that surpassed expectations and built something much bigger than what it was expected?
PL: There is one project that is probably my favorite; it’s an education project in Pentecoste, Ceará. There was a gentleman from a small community who was the first person to go to college in his town. Back then there was only one elementary school where he lived. Kids didn’t even dream of going to college because there wasn’t even a high school for them to attend. His family moved to the capital of the state and this move allowed him to go to high school. There he started a study group with other students that would teach each other the subject they knew the most. He ended up getting accepted to the university. After graduating from college, he decided to go back on the weekends to teach high school equivalent courses to kids from his hometown, and encouraged them to also apply to college. Initially he was able to place four students in college. Today he has over 2,000 students in approximately 18 cities. He has helped place 500 students in the university, 100 of them have graduated. Now the state of Ceará recognizes the Cooperative Education Cells Program as a successful education program and wants to replicate it throughout the state.
LJ: Brazil has grown and continues to grow economically, how do you see the role of the Brazil Foundation in keeping up with the momentum the country has experienced?
PL: Brazil has had a lot of growth and a lot of people have been lifted from poverty in the past decade. I remember when we started the Brazil Foundation, Brazil used to be the country that had the second worst income distribution in the world. Within the last decade 17 million people have been lifted from poverty, so there’s less inequality. However, Brazil is ranked at number 10 in the world in terms of worst income distribution. There are only two countries that are worse than us in South America: Haiti and Bolivia. So we have a long way to go.
LJ: The Brazil Foundation is a large, international organization, what are the areas of reach?
PL: The scope of our organization includes whole country. By having a broad scope we have been able to receive proposals and listen to what the needs are on the ground, in all these different locations. We have projects in 118 cities in the country. We also have 10 years of knowledge of what has worked and what needs to be improved.
LJ: How does the Foundation make sure the money goes where it needs to go?
PL: Every new idea has a level of risk. If there’s no risk, there’s no innovation. We embrace that, but we try to minimize the risk. That’s why we visit these places before disbursing any money. We also monitor the projects. We disburse our donations in 3 installments, if they don’t do what they are suppose do, they do not get the second or third installments.
LJ: The Foundation invests and provides resources to these organizations, what other contributions do you think come from this support?
PL: We give them visibility and respect. Our support is almost like a seal of approval so there’s other added benefits for these organizations. We give them visibility and credibility.
Also, big organizations and corporate organizations sometimes don’t tend to fund initiatives that are still in the early stages. So we make sure to support organizations that fall below the radar of these bigger funders. But once we support smaller projects, they become excellent candidates to be supported by more mainstream organizations and corporate foundations.
LJ: What’s the easiest way for people here in New York to help the foundation?
PL: People are welcome to help in whatever capacity they can. Some people have time, so they can volunteer. Some people have money, so they donate. Some contribute with their ideas and their talent. There are many ways one can volunteer. It’s a very good thing for us and for them.
LJ: You said you have big shoes to fill. How’s your relationship with Leona Forman? What’s next for the organization under your leadership?
PL: Leona started the foundation when she was 60, after having a 20-year career at the United Nations. But even before her career started at the UN, she had lived in the East Timor and Brazil. She had decades of life experience that’s so rich. She is still pretty much involved with everything. She is the chairman of the board and the mentor of the organization. I’m working really hard, the best I can to raise the profile of the organization and give visibility to these people that are doing such great work out there. We want to start expanding the Foundation beyond New York, so we have dreams to create chapters, at least a local committee, in Miami and one in Washington.
The Brazil Foundation is a non-profit established in 2000 with the goal of generating resources for social entrepreneurs who propose creative and innovative solutions to challenges faced by communities throughout Brazil. Patricia Lobaccaro is the President and CEO of the Brazil Foundation.
Patricia Lobaccaro interviewed by Leandro Justen
Written by Leandro Justen
Photography by Leandro Justen for PatrickMcMullan.com
Design by Jillian Mercado
Natalia Vodianova & Valentino Garavani, THE BRAZIL FOUNDATION IX ANNUAL GALA, The New York Public Library, NYC, September 19, 2011,
Photography by LEANDRO JUSTEN for Patrick McMullan.com
Patricia Lobaccaro & Andrea Dellal, THE BRAZIL FOUNDATION IX ANNUAL GALA, The New York Public Library, NYC, September 19, 2011,
Photography by LEANDRO JUSTEN for Patrick McMullan.com
Gisele Bundchen, The BRAZIL FOUNDATION’s 8th Annual Gala Benefit, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, NYC, September 23, 2010, Photography by, CLINT SPAULDING for Patrick McMullan.com
Leona Forman, THE BRAZIL FOUNDATION IX ANNUAL GALA, The New York Public Library, NYC, September 19, 2011,
Photography by LEANDRO JUSTEN for Patrick McMullan.com