Assisting Brazil on its path to become the country of the future

"Brazil is the country of the future – and always will be.” So goes a saying recognizing that despite Brazil’s great potential, the country is stuck in structural problems.

Five years ago, Brazil was on the rise, looking into a bright future fueled by economic growth and the prospects of becoming a major oil exporter. This mindset has changed given that the economy is shrinking by up to 1.5% in 2015; the Real has lost over half of its US Dollar value during the past four years; inflation is scratching double digits; corruption lingers in the highest levels of the political elite; human rights abuses in the favelas and towards minorities remain the rule; and the challenges of the next mega-event, the 2016 Olympics, are around the corner.

Up until today, Brazil has failed to translate its potential, ranging from its young population of 200 million, to massive natural resources and enormous soft power, into sustainable economic and  social policies. Curiously, the largest food exporter in the world is not able to feed its own population. The country of roughly the size of the EU is troubled with distributing its abundant territory. Brazil's sweet water reserves are enormous, but major cities remain without water. These problems, together with social disparity, inefficient public institutions, and shocking security problems animated young Brazilians to take to the streets in 2013 to protest investments in soccer stadiums instead of education and public transportation. 

It is a crucial moment to make Brazil more competitive through wise investment policies, as well as advanced transparency, education and public infrastructure. This is why I decided to intern for the Brazil Office of the Konrad Adenauer Foundation (KAS), a German NGO dedicated to political freedom and economic development. Operating out of Rio de Janeiro and funded by the German Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development, KAS has a track record training social entrepreneurs, as well as supporting transparency and socioeconomic development.

During my time at KAS, I was able to experience the full scope of work of the foundation abroad. I was impressed with the expertise of the analysts ranging from security to economic development. KAS is uniquely positioned, offering access to both communities and policymakers. By bringing stakeholders together, KAS aims to empower small businesses to be engines of growth by helping them to shape mechanisms to finance infrastructure projects, by streamlining local requirements to encourage investment, and by considering community needs. Hereby, the foundation is focusing on a number of innovative projects. Let me present you some of them: 

- "Virtual Democracy" -  The Internet and social media is gaining increasing importance and is leading to many social dynamics. KAS wants to understand and promote the impact of social media and innovative governance tools on policymaking and institutional effectiveness on all levels of the government. Hereby, KAS is initiating dialogue with various experts across the country to discuss how governments, businesses and entrepreneurs are reacting and adapting to these technological and social changes.

- "CB 27" - Brazil has become a front runner in fighting climate change and reducing carbon emissions. However, the country faces major differences in coping with its proclaimed goals. While states in the south of Brazil have proven very successful to implement environmentally friendly policies, such as recycling initiatives, the northern parts of the country (especially in the Amazon) do not have the capabilities to match the success of the south. In order to share best practices among the local stakeholders KAS brings together all of the 27 state governments, along with experts of the private and NGO sector on a regular basis.

- “PSDB Mulher” - The aim is to enable politically engaged women - and those who are keen to become so - to fight for their interests on the political agenda with confidence and to become more involved in opinion-building processes.

Interestingly, just a few weeks before I finished my internship, KAS received a major EU grant that can support projects for the following years. The foundation is currently seeking for a right partner at the municipal level to initiate and implement projects relating to economic and social reforms. While the focus of this grant is rather vague, a KAS team is working to specify where the money can have the most impact. It is amazing how much effort it takes to apply and manage these grants. But having worked with an enthusiastic team of young social entrepreneurs dedicated to Brazil's future, I am convinced that KAS will have a continuing impact on the country's development.

The time at KAS has been very rewarding, not only because I learned a lot about project management, stakeholder management and innovation through the work with my highly experienced colleagues. But also because I believe that I have become part of the solution to some of Brazil's problems. Of course, a German NGO can only have a limited impact on the country's development, but I am certain that we are helping to move Brazil into the right direction to become a country of the future.