Investment in Brazil must go further than the World Cup

Illegally cut timber in Belem, Brazil, was confiscated by authorities in a push to curb deforestation.
Illegally cut timber in Belem, Brazil, was confiscated by authorities in a push to curb deforestation.

Much has been made of the Brazilian government’s sizable investments in this year’s World Cup. Estimates indicate that more than $11 billion was spent on the creation and renovation of stadiums, the construction of new roads and bridges and updates to the nation’s airports and public transportation systems.

This price tag is approximately three times the amount spent by South Africa in advance of the 2010 World Cup, and roughly seven times more than Germany spent in 2006.

While the money spent on Brazil’s soccer venues garnered the most attention, almost 70 percent of the total investment was directed to infrastructure projects intended to foster long-term benefits for Brazilian nationals and future tourists.

Unfortunately, the country’s grassroots organizations working in communities far away from the excitement surrounding the tournament are unlikely to feel the effects of World Cup fever, let alone benefit from the nation’s $11 billion in spending.

With Brazil taking center stage between the World Cup and the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, the nation’s leaders have an opportunity to direct attention beyond heavily touristed areas. This should include a renewed focus on underserved communities and the local organizations working with them to bring change.

For many of these groups, sustaining their mission still requires outside support despite Brazil’s fast-growing economy. Organizations such as the Inter-American Foundation (IAF), an independent agency of the U.S. government, are viewed across Brazil and Latin America as an indispensable source of assistance not otherwise available domestically.

The IAF invests in locally led initiatives proposed by grassroots groups working to help their communities thrive, with an emphasis on economic and social change. Taking its cue from local partners, the IAF supports a range of programs including sustainable agriculture, preserving natural resources, fostering entrepreneurship and empowering marginalized populations such as rural and indigenous communities, women, and the disabled.

The IAF has $7 million actively invested in 26 Brazilian grassroots organizations. More remarkable is the fact that these same groups have themselves contributed $14.2 million to our collective efforts, more than doubling the IAF investment. This highlights the motivation, resourcefulness and potential that exists in communities across Brazil, many of which are deriving a measurable impact from their investment. Examples are everywhere, spanning a range of disciplines.

In the indigenous community of Beija-Flor, just east of Manaus in the heart of the Amazon rainforest, the IAF and its partners have invested more than $325,000 in a two-year project to support sustainable agricultural practices. This short-term investment will lead to a more-reliable food supply and create job opportunities for more than 600 Brazilians.

Further east, investments totaling $375,000 in Couto de Magalhães will help residents formalize agreements regulating fishing activity along the Araguaia River and nearby lakes. The new regulations will ensure the local fishery — and its economic impact — remains sustainable.

Progress will be made toward curbing a chronic water shortage in the state of Tocantins, thanks to more than $415,000 from the IAF and its local partners that will encourage water conservation by reducing the region’s dependence on timber farming while diversifying the local food supply.

As important as the “what,” is the “how,” because thriving communities require more than money. The IAF supports the best ideas coming from within communities and expects local partners to co-invest, ensuring all parties have a vested interest. Forty-five years of experience shows that the most successful communities are those whose citizens are actively engaged in finding their own solutions.

Now that the World Cup has come to a close, it’s time to focus on helping Brazil’s underserved populations become protagonists in their own grassroots development. Supporting their ideas through relatively modest investments is fiscally responsible and will positively impact the national landscape.

Eddy Arriola is the chair of the Inter-American Foundation and founder and chairman of Miami-based Apollo Bank.

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