For Marielle Franco: An Initiative For Empowerment Of Black Women In Brazil

For Marielle Franco: An Initiative For Empowerment Of Black Women In Brazil


by Andre Degenszajn of Instituto Ibirapitanga

On March 14th, 2018, Marielle Franco was brutally killed in Rio de Janeiro, after leaving a debate entitled black women shaking the structures. Member of Rio de Janeiro City Council and elected with almost 50 thousand votes, she was raised in the favela of Maré, an area where more than 140 thousand people live in very precarious conditions. From there, she rose to become one of the most prominent human rights advocates in the city, denouncing systemic violence, both from State and organized crime.

Her death has generated large protests all over Brazil and abroad. Most of what she represented and stood for reflected many people’s aspirations for what renovation in politics really meant. It revealed the limits of how the Brazilian state has been treating black people. In addition to the demonstrations, many important initiatives were launched as an attempt to both honor and give continuation to Marielle Franco’s struggles.

Among them, the Baobá Fund for racial equality decided to create a special initiative for support of black women leadership in Brazil. Baobá Fund is an independent institution established in 2011 with the support of the Kellogg Foundation, which made a $ 25 million pledge for the Fund, conditioned to ensuring matching funds at the proportion of 1 to 1 for program donations and 2 to 1 for donations to the Fund’s endowment.

Racism occupies a central place in the persistence of inequality in Brazil and has historically received little attention from Brazilian philanthropy. The fight against inequality often places poverty at the center stage, blurring the effects that racial discrimination produces on institutions, policies and society. The assassination of Marielle Franco brought light to many layers of violence – against blacks, women, people living in favelas, LGBTs – and echoed the message that a black woman did not belong to places of power, such as the one occupied by Marielle Franco.

In response, three foundations joined forces with the Kellogg Foundation and to raise support for black women in Brazil and announced a support to Baobá’s initiative honoring Marielle Franco. Instituto Ibirapitanga, a Brazilian foundation yet to be launched, Open Society Foundations and the Ford Foundation each committed a donation of $ 1 million dollars to the Initiative, encouraging Kellogg to raise its matching ratio. From now on, Kellogg will match 3 to 1 any Brazilian donation and 2 to 1 any foreign money, both institutional or individual. With this, the four institutions jointly announced a donation of $ 10 million, which was presented during the recent GIFE Congress, held in São Paulo on April 4-6.

GIFE, the Brazilian association of foundations, opened space for the announcement during its biannual event, the largest philanthropic gathering in Brazil. It embraced the initiative connecting to the conference title Brazil, democracy and sustainable development, bringing to light the need to place the fight against racism at the center of the struggles against inequalities and towards effective democracy. In addition to making a statement around racial equality, the announcement during the conference presented various other special meanings. It called for the need of increasing grantmaking, for supporting social justice issues and use independent funds, such as Baobá, as partners in their investments.

One of the challenges philanthropy in Brazil faces is the excessive concentration of power and resources, with weak connections to other civil society groups. Foundations in Brazil have come a long way in tackling structural problems, such as education, with a vision of improving public policies. But it has fallen short in empowering civil society and marginalized groups in developing their own paths, supporting their own choices and understanding that they are often best positioned to decide on the direction of the changes that need to happen. The contribution to the Baobá Fund intends to be a step in this direction, supporting black women – the largest and most marginalized group – to increasingly occupy spaces of power in Brazil.

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