Building Racial Equity in Brazil with the Baobá Fund

By Carolina Gowland & Ellen Waggoner Roeder

The Baobá Fund for Racial Equity is the first and only fund dedicated exclusively to the promotion of racial equity for the Black population in Brazil. Founded in 2011 with support from the WK Kellogg Foundation, the Baobá Fund exists to strengthen civil society organizations, provide financial resources, and serve as a catalyst to political change, helping to deconstruct racial inequities across the country with a heavy focus on the northeastern region. With a primary target in the areas of education, health, employment, and human rights, the organization is able to support underfunded institutions through public grants, empowering them to provide pathways that break down racial barriers. In the words of the organization’s Executive Director, Giovanni Harvey, “The Baobá Fund captures and donates resources to social organizations associated with Brazil’s Black movement. They play the role of protagonist in the transformation of ethnic relations in Brazil.”

Following its 10th anniversary in 2021, the Baobá Fund sought to fund 100 -200 Black-led organizations and collectives that promote racial equity programming. While it was clear that engaging new partners and funders would be key to achieving this goal, building the robust national donor network needed proved to be challenging. Thus, the Baobá Fund began to seek support in developing a strategy to increase awareness of the organization to a global audience.

The Baobá Fund saw a partnership with JPMorgan Chase’s Service Corps as an opportunity to build a framework for capturing new donors and broadening the organization’s reach. As a grantee of the firm, applying for pro bono consulting services allowed the Fund to peer through a “new lens” while outlining its future trajectory. On the other side of the Service Corps program, JPMorgan Chase employees applied as a way to deploy their expertise, while supporting a nonprofit leading change in the community. Once finalized, a team of five employee volunteers from Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Colombia, and Mexico were assembled along with PYXERA Global who served as the implementing partner for the project, overseeing the relationship between the volunteers and the Baobá Fund to ensure the project’s successful execution. The JPMorgan Chase employee volunteers worked on the project for 12 weeks, while also balancing the demands of their day job.

Through their background research, the volunteers discovered troubling statistics that gave a small snapshot of the obstacles Black Brazilians face. For example, while over 55% of Brazil’s population identifies as Black or Brown, only 4.7% percent of Brazil’s 500 largest companies have Black board members and Black women hold less than half a percent of those seats. Additionally, the average salary of a White male is 159% higher than that of a Black woman. Around one-third of Black and Brown Brazilians live below the poverty line—as opposed to 15.4% of White Brazilians. These metrics plainly show that Black Brazilians face an uphill battle to gain acceptance into a White-dominated society.

In the spirit of amplifying the fundamental work of Black organizations in Brazil, the Service Corps partnership led to the creation of a plan for the Baobá Fund to establish itself as a recognizable name amongst international nonprofits. Recommendations included using social media to amplify its message and capture new donors. With no shortage of stories to tell and voices to lead, the Baobá Fund has already begun implementing the suggestion by increasing its presence on social media and filing its newsletter with a stream of announcements about new international partnerships. “Our experience with the Virtual Service Corps was very exciting because it is good to have other people provide critical analysis of our materials. It was important for them to highlight both potential opportunities and gaps. Now, if you look at our website or our Instagram, they are much better. We are improving,” commented Program Director Fernanda Lopes.

The impact of this project was not designated for just the Baobá Fund. JPMorgan Chase employee volunteers came away with a deeper understanding of the intricacies of racial discrimination in the country.

Rosana Santos, a JPMorgan Chase team member synthesized the journey by stating “in addition to getting to know each other and planning the work to achieve the proposed objectives in a few months, something unexpected happened. I genuinely connected with a topic that cannot leave someone indifferent. The Baobá Fund broadened my understanding of the magnitude of structural racism.”

Moving ahead, the Baobá Fund will aim to build new partnerships and a digestible narrative for an international audience. These new relationships will not only broaden impact at home in Brazil but will also bring the message of the Fund to other entities working toward racial equity around the world. The Fund equated their current scenario to having received the recipe to a cake that needs baking. Now, the challenge is to internalize the learnings and implement the roadmap. Giovanni Harvey is confident though, stating that. “through dialogue, the identification of points of convergence and strategic interests, and the construction of executable proposals based on measurable metrics, we are going to broaden our partnerships with the corporate world.”

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