Seeding A World Of Transformation

Dec. 21, 2004
Brazil's Natura Cosmticos focuses on improving the quality of education.

In 1993 teachers from a public school neighboring Natura Cosmticos SA's plant in Greater So Paulo knocked at the factory's door. They wanted a little money so they could fix a copying machine and make a few other repairs on equipment. The $988 million Brazilian cosmetics manufacturer jumped at the opportunity. "We decided we could do better than just become a sponsor," recalls Angela Serino, Natura's social-action manager. Not only would Natura help the school, it began to envision transforming the surrounding community-and society at large-by taking a proactive role in education. Natura established a social mission to parallel its business mission. It would transform society by championing changes in attitudes and values through education. As part of that social mission, Natura requires that its programs involve partners from all segments of society, especially local communities, which Natura believes can offer solutions to regional problems. It mandates innovative fundraising and creative solutions to educational problems. For most of its philanthropic projects, Natura teams up with the Abrinq Foundation for Children's Rights. The two organizations focus on improving the quality of public primary schools. The program has implemented 72 projects covering everything from toymaking to programs designed to foster a love for reading and writing. Most follow a dominant theme: Children are encouraged to become self-confident, to know their rights, and to transform their reality for the better. During the last four years Natura estimates its corporate-citizenship efforts have benefited 184,786 children and 1,219 public schools throughout Brazil. During the last two years, Natura has stepped into a thorny issue. Throughout the 1990s an increasing number of homeless and landless families have organized and demanded that portions of unused farmlands in different parts of the country be given to them for agricultural development. Slowly, and at times after violent outbreaks between the landless and the property owners, the federal government transferred land to these organized groups. Once settled, the new communities want education for their children, but face a challenge. Few schools exits, so they must be started from scratch. Teachers are recruited from existing schools, usually in cities, and therefore lack adequate training to instruct children living in rural areas. In big cities, for example, teachers may talk about air pollution to illustrate a physics lesson. In rural areas, a reference to harvesting or seeding seasons would be more appropriate. Addressing that inadequacy was the goal of Natura's "Jornadas Pedaggicas" or "Pedagogic Journeys" project. About 400 teachers were invited for week-long workshops in 20 resettlement areas in 17different states. Instruction covered areas such as history, math, and geography. The training also sensitized the teachers to the Portuguese spoken in rural areas, which differs from that used in cities. Educational tools specifically designed for the improvised schools in the new communities were then transferred to teachers, benefiting 19,000 children in 200 schools. Does this effort pay off for Natura and its partners? The answer is a resounding yes. "Solutions to these problems demand that all sectors of society work together," observes Srgio Mindlin, director-president of Abrinq, a former executive at an auto-parts business before turning to corporate citizenship full time. A company can be a fantastic change agent because of its unmatched financial and human resources, he says.When a company does engage in solving society's problems, its efforts can rub off on the rest of the corporate community. Natura is something of a pioneer when it comes to social responsibility in Brazil, but the number of companies interested in corporate citizenship is growing. In July 1998, when the Ethos Institute was established in So Paulo to promote corporate social responsibility, only 10 companies joined the organization. One year later, however, membership has skyrocketed to 177.

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