By Amy Skalmusky, Senior Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – Brazil’s worst natural disaster in history, the floods and mudslides in the mountainous region of the State of Rio known as Região Serrana, brought out the best in many by way of record donations. One of the sources of over US$1 million in cash, material and service donations was the +Unidos (Mais Unidos) Group, a partnership between over 100 American companies in Brazil, and the U.S. government (USAID).
“Companies were calling us asking how they could help,” said Alex Araujo, Partnership Development Officer for USAID. “Our goal was to be able to provide a coordinated response.”
According to Araujo, they were able to take advantage of the expertise and capabilities of each of the partner companies for a more effective response. Companies like Wal-Mart used its large network of stores to set up donation collection points, and FedEx transported donations to where they were needed.
Started in 2006, the +Unidos Group seeks to promote visibility for its participant’s CSR investments in environment, social and economic-related projects; disseminate best practices and success stories; and foster partnerships.
The U.S. Mission in Brazil contacted private companies to find out the types of environmental, health, socio-economic, and educational projects they had to identify opportunities for collaboration. They found that the companies could benefit from each others experiences and complimentary resources, as well as USAID’s technical assistance and development expertise to get the projects off paper and into the community.
Many of the +Unidos Group projects are bi-lateral, or involve a single or small group of companies, such as USAID’s-Qualcomm’s “Fishing with 3G Nets”. The project gives Fishermen in Santa Cruz Cabralia, Bahia broadband access, 3G mobile Internet, custom applications for managing fishing businesses, equipment, and training.
Another good example is USAID-ExxonMobil partnership to promote the preservation of biodiversity in the Amazon region through environmental awareness and educational activities among urban and rural populations.
However, +Unidos most recent educational program, called +Oportunidades (More Opportunities), is taking advantage of the power of the group. It is the first joint project of the organization, and will provide English language training and employability skills to 1,000 disadvantaged young people in Rio de Janeiro per year.
“It’s a change of paradigm,” said Alex Alves, Partnership Development Officer for USAID. “Companies don’t need to reinvent the wheel; they can contribute and become partners on a project.”
This type of effort is a first in Latin America and unique to Brazil. Unlike traditional programs where the government is fully responsible for the investment and management of the project, +Unidos is a partnership between the two sectors, public and private.
U.S. Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, mentioned the +Unidos Group during her visit to Ecuador last year, saying that it is an example of innovative partnerships that contribute to the promotion and advancement of worthy projects as part of corporate social responsibility practices.