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No More "Own Goals": The Case for Expanded CSR in Brazil

For four weeks this summer, no one could take their eyes off Brazil. The FIFA World Cup, previously a catalyst for mass protests against the government, attracted billions of viewers and enhanced Brazil’s reputation worldwide as a modern, thriving nation. As a Brazilian, it was an extraordinary experience to see my country mobilized and engaged with people from all over the globe.

Sadly, by most accounts my country underachieved on the field. But – and it’s hard to say this as a fan – the World Cup also failed more expansively, failing to bring about the kind of social development and economic output promised before the tournament. The country invested $13 billion on a month-long sporting event, but with all its investment and all the corporate sponsorship that accompanied the World Cup, there were limited long-term benefits for the population.

The good news is that, with the Olympics in our doorstep, Brazil has a unique second chance to turn a massive sporting event into an indisputable development success.

You need to know: Brazil is more than just the most soccer-mad nation on earth. Along with our young, upwardly mobile consumer demographics, we sustain a consumer base that favors CSR more than any other nation on earth, according to recent surveys. More than 50% of Brazilians (almost double the global average) want companies to change the way they operate to align with societal needs. Nearly 80% of Brazilian consumers surveyed say they are more likely to buy a product associated with a specific social issue – compared with a global average of 67%. Brazil is a country with a profound social consciousness that only seems to grow year to year – one that should favor companies focused on smart, long-term CSR.

Official World Cup sponsors took the opportunity of visibility in Brazil to tap into this increasingly socially conscious market, and there were some successes – as far as they went. Projects like Sony’s “Dream Goal” provided soccer fields and education workshops for 14,000 children in Brazil and 11 countries in Latin America and Africa. Coca-Cola engaged in a grassroots campaign honoring local heroes involved in educational activities and sustainable development through their “World Cup Trophy Tour”, while Dow Chemical employed environmentally-friendly storage facilities in their Brazilian factories and donated access to rooftops in pacified Rio favelas in an effort to support sustainable living initiatives.

However, despite public interest, companies have struggled to have a real impact on Brazil’s social development. Rather than creating lasting preferences for socially conscious brands, companies are losing the battle for the hearts and minds of many of their target customers. According to Dr. Helio Mattar, President of the Akatu Institute for Conscious Consumption, “Brazilians aren’t seeing the impact of CSR initiatives, so they’re increasingly skeptical of companies”. The small scale of CSR programs during the World Cup stood in stark contrast to the huge expenditures on marketing and infrastructure.

The monumental 7-1 defeat to Germany will live in the hearts and minds of all Brazilians for generations to come. Nonetheless out of despair, there are lessons from the World Cup to be learned, beyond the need for emotional stability on the field. To address our needs as a nation, we need to work together, and corporate leaders can play their part, mobilizing their supply chains, building longer-term projects, and tapping into concerns about environmental sustainability and youth employment that are shared by so many of the Brazilians they hope to reach with products and services.

The Olympics in Rio are less than two years away, and as Brazilians we have a choice: we can replay the game of 2013/2014, with revolt over government spending resulting in a short term spectacle of sports and mass protests – ultimately leaving unmet needs all around. Or we can do better, mobilising a coalition including the state, enlightened corporations and citizen/consumers to make sure that the Olympics leave a truly positive mark on our country.

We have the opportunity, and we have the tools. The extensive mobilisation towards the country’s presidential elections this week reinforces just how much average Brazilians yearn for social and environmental sustainability. Regardless of the medal count, we can

and should do more to make sure that Rio (and Brazil) are the big winners in 2016.

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