What can possibly share a beautician-hairdresser and a farmer who produces organic products, or a pizza maker and an entrepreneur in the concrete sector? These are examples of start-up businesses that participated in Brazil in the "PROFOR" Project, i.e., the "Program for the Reinforcement of Inclusive Businesses of Communion", the first experience that AMU implemented in collaboration with ANPECOM (National Association for an Economy of Communion). See http://anpecom.com.br/
"We looked around, and noted that there are many people in vulnerable social situations," says Clézia Maria Pinto de Santana, the person in charge of ANPECOM projects. "Perhaps many of them had ideas and good will, but no adequate training to creating and running a business. This inspired us to try to support them, drawing on our experience."
Maria Clézia, "Dima" to her friends, was involved in a very unique way in the Project: "I had just retired after working for 40 years in a bank that financed the economic development in my region. One day, I got a phone call from ANPECOM: they proposed me to set out an area that did not exist yet: the ‘Projects’ sector, to create the possibility of giving birth to other businesses inspired by the values of the Economy of Communion."
Maria Clézia accepts, but she explains that she needed time to study the subject, given that until that moment, in her work, she had followed only projects related to agriculture: "They accepted. The first year I studied, and I visited the Brazilian institutions that work with what we call the ‘business with social impact.’ I discovered that Brazil is one of the leading countries in the field of social finance!"
Dima learns the language used by these institutions, and she realizes that even ANPECOM must learn to speak their language if it wants to become popular and spread its aims. Finally, after a whole year of this journey, the first ideas come out: "I realized that in Recife we had not many EoC entrepreneurs but we could count on several experts with a good technical training acquired through their work in foundations, NGOs, and governmental institutions. We could arrange a working week-end together with them and start planning."
What is clear for this working group is that, on the one hand, they want to generate profits and, on the other, they want to cause a positive social impact. During that weekend, they began to dream of the project of a social enterprise incubator. They even chose the criteria for making a selection of the businesses to be involved. The Projects should come from people who live situations of social vulnerability or belong to a low-income group. They should provide basic human services such as education, health-care, housing, and security. They should have as their ultimate goal the recovery of human dignity.
"Then we realized that ANPECOM could not launch a public bid, but it could send a letter of invitation to participate in the Project, which was taking the shape of a business-strengthening program. We received 24 proposals coming from the seven States of Brazil. We selected ten projects. We followed these entrepreneurs for three months, during which we trained them technically, introduced them more in depth into the Economy of Communion, and our consultants helped them drafting their business plans."
During those three months, two businesses withdrew. We selected six of the remaining eight businesses, and we gave them what in Brazil we call the "seed capital", the money that is needed to start the business. Dima explains: "We continued to follow all of them, supporting them with our technical support and human closeness."
One of ANPECOM partners, as I said at the beginning, is the AMU (Action for a United World - non-profit organization socially useful), represented by Ms. Lia Guillen, who has been following the Project from its beginning.
"Each start up business of PROFOR has a very special story," she tells me, "such as the experience of José Carlos Augusto da Silva, from Igaraçu, State of Pernambuco (metropolitan region of Recife). José Carlos had been unemployed for a long time and, in his desperation, he decided to move to Sao Paulo, in search for opportunities to support his family. His friend and neighbour, however, having understood the situation, offered to teach him his craft. He was a builder of concrete structures. José Carlos accepted his proposal and things began to get a very good turn. His neighbour gave him some machinery and sold a land to provide him with a small initial capital. Then, his friend- neighbour got sick, and all his sharing took to José Carlos the value of an inheritance."
Lia said that José Carlos submitted the most structured project. He addressed PROFOR because he wanted to continue his work with more quality. Since his business was born from an act of communion, he wanted it to continue with this same value.
Another participant in the PROFOR Project is José Roberto Cavalcanti Luna.
"He is from Garanhuns, State of Pernambuco. José Roberto owned a production of fruits and vegetables, but his business went bankrupt and he could no longer pay his employees. Then, he proposed them to create a new business together, and share the profits, as entrepreneurs-partners."
Of his eight employees, only two remained. José Roberto began to work the land and his new partners became familiar with the marketing of products.
"They had the idea to offer a different product: organic fruits and vegetables. Now they grow also products that cannot be found in their region, as they cooperate with a young agronomist who is experiencing the adaptation of products from other countries to the Brazilian climate. Their business is doing very well!" So much so that today the entrepreneurs-partners are twenty-six, and many of them have participated in PROFOR.
"For LUCIANA SANTIAGO SOUZA MOTA, from Salvador de Bahia, PROFOR was the tool by which she made her dream come true," Lia tells me. "She is a mother of three who, at some point, found herself in dire straits. As a young woman she had learned the craft of hairdressing. On the one hand, she wanted to put to use her know-how to gain her life, but she did not have the infrastructure, nor the corporate training, nor the material resources."
When Luciana heard about PROFOR, she submitted her project and she was selected. She then started a beauty shop and hair salon where three women from her neighbourhood work with her. A small "seed capital" was sufficient to change her situation, made her achieve a sufficient income for the family, and find a personal fulfilment in the labour market.
"Then, there are those who, like Jane, have participated in all the process but their project needed further work. Jane is a former drug-addicted, she had learned to make pizza in the Fazenda da Esperanza (Farm of Hope). Even without any initial capital, with some technical advice she was able to set up her delivery pizza service. Thanks to her partnership with the EoC commission of Bahia she also managed to create her logo and a marketing plan for her business. Jane came out strengthened from this share-based experience and the results she achieved, and she realized she could do something important for herself."
Based on what we heard from people in Bahia, thanks to the advice of some experts of PROFOR, Jane has also developed a new version of the product, alternative to the usual, using healthier ingredients. To enhance her pizza, new packages were designed, and their implementation has been launched by a special crowdfunding organized by some friends of ANPECOM.
After this first edition, PROFOR was selected among institutions from all over Brazil to participate in the Incubation and Impact Acceleration Program - 2016/2017 edition. This program is sponsored by the Institute of Entrepreneurial Citizenship (IEC) of Brazil, in collaboration with the Governmental Office for the Support of Micro and Small Enterprises (Sebrae) and the National Association of Agencies for the Promotion of Innovative Businesses (Anprotec). The aim is to improve the capacity in terms of social impact of business incubators in Brazil, where businesses are considered essential for the solution of social issues.
"For us members of the PROFOR team, this is an encouragement to move forward along the path we have chosen, i.e. to help reduce poverty in the world. The fact of having being selected requires on our side more commitment, dedication, and responsibility towards people who are socially vulnerable," said Maria Clézia Pinto. "Citing Pope Francis: we cannot just be good Samaritans, we must work to build a system that does not produce victims."
Please find a description of the PROFOR project, which started in 2016, in this video in Italian: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fr9jFrox1mA&feature=youtu.be