imagem interna

2018: Business Activism in Politics

In this astounding electoral scenario, it is possible to find promising aspects. One of them is the political activism of a segment of entrepreneurs and executives. Their focus is the public interest, and not obtaining benefits for their businesses, as the ancestral Brazilian patrimonialistic tradition has always directed.

The phenomenon refers to the first years of re-democratization. In 1987, when the sad military dictatorship ended, new industrial leaders of São Paulo such as Oded Grajew, Emerson Kapaz, Ricardo Young, Salo Seibel, Joseph Couri, Paulo Butori, Adauto Ponte, Eduardo Capobianco, Helio Mattar and Sergio Mindlin, decided to more directly participate in the country’s political life, well aware that the conventional business entities’ agenda was primarily corporatist and did not include economic, social and political issues pertinent to the democratic moment.

The PNBE (a national entrepreneurial base think tank) was born. Ideas around citizenship, democracy, income distribution, abuse of economic power and respect for diversity entered the agenda of the private initiative of a credible modern Brazil.

At the same time, philanthropy began to embrace the concept of private social investment. One milestone was the creation of GIFE in 1989, a network of foundations, institutes and companies. Since then, private funding for social purposes, now in excess of R $ 3 billion / year, has evolved from simple charity into public policy models, increasing the quality, impact and extension of the social benefits achieved.

The next wave was marked by the creation of the Ethos Institute in 1998, which defined and promoted the concept of corporate social responsibility. The notion gained strength that companies should not only generate financial returns for their shareholders, but also add value for other stakeholders, a chain that starts with employees and goes all the way to customers, suppliers, government, NGOs and the communities that the organizations interact with.

The resulting gradual incorporation of sustainability into business strategies, with its principles of balancing financial, social and environmental results, better aligned business goals with the common good. This encouraged models and concepts such as shared value, circular economy, B-corporation, companies with positive social and environmental impact, conscious capitalism, among others.

All of this has, thus far, steered clear of politics, the very heart of public interest. Why is that?

Many business leaders use common sense: they consider politics an area infested by corruption, patronage and cronyism – which is true – and where there is no room for “good people” – which is false. Others fear having their companies punished for taking up political positions, in a country with a massive State presence in the economy, and possessing a bureaucratic machinery capable of sending even immaculate angels to hell with its labyrinth of rules and ambiguous legal procedures.

In this context, the candidacy of Antônio Ermírio de Moraes, from Votorantim, to the São Paulo government in 1986, was an isolated heroic act. While he received many votes, he came in second, losing, emblematically, to Orestes Quércia. He abandoned the experience, determined not to repeat it. He preferred to channel his ideals and learnings to dramaturgy. He wrote and produced three plays: Brazil S.A., Wake up Brazil and S.O.S Brazil. Four years after his death, Votorantim now celebrates the centennial of its foundation by launching the Voting Guide, an application to promote conscious voting.

In 2010, another consecrated entrepreneur repeated the experience. Guilherme Leal, partner of Natura and one of the leaders of the creation of Ethos, became Marina Silva’s vice presidential candidate and was one of the campaign’s main funders. But, like Antonio Ermírio, Leal left the electoral arena and did not return. He directed his learning and civic spirit towards the formation of politicians that have sworn off the old politics and articulated the creation of Raps (Network of Political Action for Sustainability in 2012).

Since then, Raps has been recruiting, training, supporting and monitoring political leaders committed to sustainability precepts. The institution currently has almost 600 members across Brazil, more than one hundred of whom with elected or appointed mandates. In the October elections, Raps will have 149 candidates competing for 26 different parties, proving that the initiative is guided by values ​​rather than ideologies.

The pioneering action of Raps has now taken root. Movements like RenovaBR (Renew BR), Agora! (Now!), the Acredito movement and MVA have emerged, also seeking to nurture fresh leadership, engage citizens in public issues and/or raise awareness of the importance of voting and thus of politics.

In this context, it is worth noting another emblematic character: Jorge Paulo Lemann, Brazil’s richest businessman, according to Forbes. After decades of professing strict faith in the market, Lemann declared in 2016: “I spent my life running away from politics. I think that’s wrong. Young people with a calling should seize the opportunity. This is what will make a difference in Brazil”. Since then, he supports leadership development by Estudar – a foundation that offers scholarships at leading foreign universities – to deepen their understanding of policies needed to “transform Brazil”. This year, six of its former fellows will run for congress and governor positions for different parties.

The wave of corporate public spirit was once again on display in August at the “You Change Brazil” forum, organized by prominent businessmen and CEOs such as Walter Schalka (Suzano), Pedro Passos (Natura), Luiza Trajano (Magazine Luiza), Paulo Kakinoff (Gol), Rubens Menin (MRV), Jefferson De Paula (ArcelorMittal), Pedro Wongtschowski (Ultra), Salim Mattar (Localiza) as well as other professionals and scholars. They have been meeting for more than two years to “productively reflect on ethics, citizenship and the country’s challenges.” As a rule, and like other movements, the group has no party affiliation.

Which is a different approach from that of João Amoêdo – ex-vice president of Unibanco and now the most visible figure in business activism – who led the founding of the Partido Novo party in 2010, and presidential candidate with a liberal agenda.

It is true that the wave of political engagement is not limited to entrepreneurs and top executives. It is part of a broader process, a likely consequence of the explosion on the streets that began in 2013. A drive by Brazilian civil society to raise awareness that there is no democratic solution outside of politics.

With good reason, much is said of the historical omission of our elites regarding the absurd levels of social inequity in the country. It is therefore important to acknowledge when part of it ceases to be immune.


Yacoff Sarkovas
Published in the newspaper “Folha de S. Paulo”, in September 28th, 2018. >