June 29, 2014
Natura: Building a Better World, One Mind at a Time
by Beth Douglass Silcox
Photo above: Natura Institute’s GENTE program connects students to technology and individualized learning.
Headquarters: São Paulo, Brazil
Executive: Alessandro G. Carlucci
Products: Cosmetics and personal care
Natura Impacts Brazilian Education and Latin American Life
Inclusive and equitable education for all, that’s what makes a better world. Nearly two decades ago, Natura, the largest manufacturer and direct seller of cosmetics, hygiene and beauty products in Brazil, mobilized its salesforce and committed to positively impacting public education in Latin America. Its mission was to build a better world, one mind at a time.
“The investment in education is one of the most cross-cutting to our company,” says Gabriela Callil, Manager of the Natura Movement Project. “We understand education as the driving force to make a sustainable, fairer and better world.”
Brazil’s discussions about public education were once dominated by topics related to teacher unions, student movements and government. Gradually, however, it began to change. “In the last few decades, the public education theme has involved more participants, such as the private sector through institutes and foundations,” says Pedro Villares, President of the Natura Institute.
“We understand education as the driving force to make a sustainable, fairer and better world.”
—Gabriela Callil, Manager, Natura Movement Project
With social entrepreneurship a basic tenet of its corporate culture, Natura welcomed the broadening conversation about Brazil’s public education. As a company, it believes social entrepreneurship is galvanized by motivated visionaries who turn adversity into new opportunities. So Natura put social entrepreneurism to work, looking at the issues confounding Brazil’s public education system and acting in the most impactful way it could.
Natura harnessed its brand—one of the most recognized, valued, reputable and sustainable in Brazil—and empowered a “restless network of resolute men and women doers, concerned with loving and caring for those around them.”
In 1995, Natura consultants began raising money to fund educational projects within Brazil’s public schools through the sale of Crer Para Ver (Believing Is Seeing) products. Each purchase of these non-cosmetic products allowed a child to explore different cultures and better understand the world around him or her.
Last year, more than 800,000 of Natura’s 1.6 million consultants participated in Crer Para Ver. Net revenue from product sales reached a record 17 million Brazilian real (US$7.5 million), with all profits going to public education projects.
|Students use technology through one of Natura’s sponsored programs to build a remote-controlled car.||Maria C. won Acolher support for a community street market.|
Natura’s contribution and expanding impact to Brazil’s public education system has evolved alongside that of the private sector. In 2010, the then 41-year-old company formalized its philanthropic structure and formed the Natura Institute to autonomously manage its charitable efforts. Today, at the institute’s São Paulo headquarters, 30 dedicated professionals manage the company’s charitable initiatives.
“We have worked in partnership with other institutes and foundations, companies, government authorities and even schools—people who have come together and believe in the value of education and who know that only collaborative work can lead to lasting and effective change,” Villares says.
To encourage lifelong learning, support excellence in public education management and foster educational technology innovation—that is the Natura Institute’s mission as a member of a cooperative Education Support Network of several partners and agents in the education field. The network brings together the best of the public and private sectors to develop and support educational projects with the potential for replication so they can guide public policy and, at times, become public policy.
For instance, the Trilhas de Leitura (Reading Trail) Project was created in 2009 as a social technology to improve literacy in the reading and writing process for younger elementary students. The project garnered attention in 2011, because teachers began seeing positive results after using the network-developed project materials for download and play in the classroom as well as for their own training, reference, organization and collaboration efforts. The Brazilian Ministry of Education called for Trilhas implementation as public policy in 2012, when the project reached 3 million students. Last year 93 percent of the 1,976 cities invited to participate enrolled. More than 700 teachers chronicled their successes with Trilhas in a publication called Municipio Leitor e Rede que Ensina in 2013. This year’s goal is to expand access to more schools and grant service in greater numbers to those with diverse backgrounds.
Another current Natura initiative is Schools That Innovate, which implements digital platforms to house and manage school activities as well as guide the routines of teachers and students. Other projects include Conviva Educacqo, which helps municipal education directors manage administration offices from a virtual environment; and GENTE, a pilot program that connects students directly to technology for individualized learning. Alice Andrés Ribeiro, GENTE Project Manager, says, “The school body and parents reported student progress in socio-emotional terms, particularly regarding autonomy, collaboration and solidarity.” According to Ribeiro, students have enjoyed being mixed in teams rather than in separate classes.
Of the company’s 17 million Brazilian real raised through the sale of the Crer Para Ver line, Natura invested 11.2 million Brazilian real (US$5.0 million) to fund educational projects in over 4,000 towns and 73,000 schools, benefiting 143 million teachers, coordinators and principals, and impacting the lives of millions of Brazilian and Latin American children. The remaining funds went toward administrative costs at the institute as well as investments in projects for the coming year.
The numbers show an astounding impact from 19 collaborative educational efforts, current and past, like the Chapada Project, a late ’90s training program for public elementary school teachers and the EJA Campaign-Education for Youngsters and Adults, which saw 162,000 people return to the classroom in four years.
Empowering One Another
|The Acolher Program recognized librarian Jeferson G. for his social welfare activities.
With the help of projects like The Learning Community, which instills the concept of co-responsibility in education and focuses on family and community involvement in Rio de Janeiro’s school activities, the Natura Institute and its partners are transforming social and educational attitudes. And Natura’s 1.6 million consultants are great ambassadors to the effort. “Our consultants have different roles in society, such as fathers, mothers, teachers, students or school employees,” Villares says. “These people are very close to the schools, and their involvement with education can generate a positive effect in the improvement of school quality.”
Callil adds, “We consider our consultants society-changing agents in the communities where they live.” Not only do their efforts through Crer Para Ver fund high-impact educational projects across Latin America and contribute to Natura Institute’s operational and management budget, but they also provide the kind of local change that only a dedicated network of social entrepreneurs can instigate at a grassroots level, she says. It matters little whether these initiatives are educational in scope or not. Where there is a need, Natura’s consultants step up.
“We always knew many of them were already committed with projects in search of improving their communities. However, we did not know who they were, where they were located and what they did, or what stories they had to tell,” Callil says.
Because social entrepreneurism and philanthropy hold such importance in Natura’s corporate culture, it was only natural for the company to create a program to identify, share and reward consultants engaged in social welfare activities. Three years ago, Acolher—which in Portuguese means “welcoming”—was launched to do just that. Since then it has become part of the larger company-wide initiative called Movimento Natura, which invites consultants to tell their philanthropic stories online (www.movimentonatura.com.br). Consultants record lessons learned and challenges met, and open new discussions about social commitment and philanthropy.
“All actions toward the common good are important and valuable, independent of size,” Callil says. “As we received the consultants’ initiatives, we realized they were infinitely more inspiring, particularly because they had a common context as a starting point and were part of the reality of most consultants.”
Since the Acolher Program launched, Natura has considered some 3,000 consultant-recommended philanthropic initiatives. Of those applicants, 36 projects have been recognized with financial and technical support, ranging from recycling and refuse collection and disposable diaper manufacturing to programs for the socialization of the disabled and sheltering of low-income minors.
Acolher prizes the abilities of each consultant, recognizing his or her actions and helping to find the means to achieve objectives by offering personal and project development coaching sessions for 12 months as well as initiative promotion through weekly TV broadcast features on “Aqui Tem Natura.”
|Elementary children improve their reading and writing skills through the Trilhas de Leitura (Reading Trail) Project.||Brazilian students participate in the educational program Comunidade de Aprendizagem (The Learning Community).|
Relevance and Reward
For Natura, the scope of the Acolher Program goes beyond quantitative data. The company measures its success through the lives changed by consultants who are incentivized to invest in a network aimed at social change.
In the city of Varzea Grande, in the state of Mato Grosso, Natura consultant Maria C. won support for a family street market initiative called Feira da Familia. As president of the local Street Market Association, Maria led the transformation of a garbage dump into an area that now serves as a meeting point for the whole community. Due to her efforts, 41 families now generate income at that marketplace—and Maria has found the motivation to continue her studies.
Jeferson G., a librarian from Pocos de Caldas, Minas Gerais, fosters a literary culture in his town through children’s storytelling circles, theater performances and a traveling library bus. Since being recognized by Natura with the Acolher distinction, Jeferson has dedicated himself to selling Crer Para Ver products. He says, “I had no idea my work was this relevant, so Natura’s recognition showed that what I did was, indeed, important.”
“On the one hand, we have benefits for the individual, where the consultant is directly affected, has his or her self-esteem increased and is recognized for the work done,” Callil says. “On the other hand, we have collective benefits, since the consultants’ initiatives are enhanced through their improved actions and, consequently, improved conditions for the world.”
The wealth of material presented through Acolher consultant initiatives expanded Natura’s horizons for new types of collaborative efforts, as well as the way consultants function as a network and the opportunities to include other audiences.
Looking ahead, Natura plans to take Acolher beyond the prize stage and create new technical and financial support mechanisms, such as sponsorships of sub-brands, an additional incentive in crowdfunding, digital training programs and support from other companies. “We also have the ambition of building indicators that help us measure and expand our positive impact,” Callil says. Doing so, Natura believes it will enable the company to maximize results and promote better lives.