Empowering Local NGOs in Brazil to Take Ownership of Their Progress
By Sami Elia, Planning Analyst, Citi Commercial Bank, Brazil July 28, 2016 10:30 AM
Citi supports many community giving programs in Brazil, but one that is truly unique is CitiEsperança, an organization established and now managed by Citi Brazil colleagues in 1997 in Rio de Janeiro to give back to the communities where they live and work. Supported by employee and company matching donations, the association has grown to close to 1,000 participants, including Citi colleagues and other donors.
As someone with a lifelong interest in social issues and a passion for giving back to our communities shared by many of my Citi colleagues, I became a volunteer at CitiEsperança in 2013. It’s been incredibly stimulating work and an immensely gratifying program to take part in. In addition to solidifying the organization’s vision and creating a more formal governance structure, one of the projects I’m most personally proud of has been the development of Rede de Amigos do CitiEsperança, a network of Citi volunteers, partners and NGOs that meets bimonthly to share experiences and best practices in an effort help participating organizations learn from each other while strengthening the nonprofit sector more broadly.
I saw the creation of Rede de Amigos do CitiEsperança as a natural evolution of the original program, because as a CitiEsperança participant I had come to know a good many NGOs and begun to observe some intriguing differences among their processes and practices, which I thought might provide a useful basis for a more formal knowledge exchange. One of those NGOs is TETO, which brings volunteers and community residents together to build emergency houses in communities across the country -- more than 100 to date. I began to coordinate a team of volunteers at the Olaria community in São Paulo, which assists some 500 underserved families facing major challenges ranging from living in woefully substandard housing to overcoming barriers to basic hygiene. In addition to hosting weekly meetings to address those challenges while empowering community residents, I’ve helped oversee the refurbishment of communal soccer fields and emergency housing while developing an assortment of supplementary educational programs, including music lessons.
While the network has already enjoyed significant success, my ultimate goal is to make it self-sustaining. We’ve observed remarkable progress among the organizations currently involved, while continuing to focus in the short term on forging new connections among and between foundations, which will enable them to share knowledge with organizations outside the network.
If we want to move society forward, we must open our minds and hearts to listen to other, competing narratives. I truly believe, and my recent experience in the nonprofit sector has only confirmed, that if you learn more about others you will learn more about yourself. This is the beginning of a personal process based on challenging stereotypes and prejudices that we may be only barely aware of. From that mind shift, going forward, we can start to take real and concrete steps to transform the society we live in.