Covid-19 is a social justice issue: How one Brazilian community foundation is responding

29 Apr 2020

On 18th March, our government mandated the closure of public schools, non-profit organizations and other public services that provide essential services to the most vulnerable families in the region of Greater Florianópolis, Brazil. Vulnerable children in particular relied on the food that was given to them at school, or by local non-profits. At the same time, informal workers started to lose their income as they were forced into a period of isolation. It was a wave of losses that clearly showed how unequal our region is. Vulnerable people quickly started to feel fear: not only fear of the virus Covid-19, but also fear of hunger, fear of not having access to clean water, fears around not having income, etc. On the very same day, 18th March, community-based partners of ICOM – Instituto Comunitário Grande Florianópolis started mobilizing their communities and launching fundraising campaigns to ensure that food would reach the most in need.


The importance of our existing “infrastructure for giving”

Back in April 2018, at ICOM we had launched a “Fundo de Impacto para Justiça Social”, or “Community Fund for Social Justice”: a giving circle of businesses and individuals who regularly donate, and through a participatory grantmaking process support civil society organizations working to guarantee human rights and reduce social inequities in Greater Florianópolis. The fact that we already had this infrastructure for giving in place made a huge difference, allowing us to move quickly. We sent a letter to each giving circle member, requesting that the fund be repurposed to meet urgent needs around Covid-19 in our community. There was unanimous agreement that we needed to react and, within one day, on 19th March, we already had the fund repurposed and up and running, with a dedicated page on our website where donations could be accepted.

While other groups in Florianópolis have launched online campaigns subsequently, back on 19th March we were one of the only platforms set up and ready to receive funds – and we went viral as a result! In only four days we raised enough to support one of our local partners in the Chico Mendes community, which provided assistance to about 100 families (over 500 people) with food, water, cleaning and hygiene products. By the twenty day mark, we had raised $98,400 BRL (more than $17,500 USD) from 145 donors (local people and organizations), and one national corporate foundation donated an additional $500,000 BRL ($89,360 USD). With these funds, a participatory grantmaking committee allocated funding to 14 of our community-based partners, who in turn brought needed supplies to more than 900 at risk families in Florianópolis.


Thinking longer term

In the midst of this, we have also just started a new pilot programme in cooperation with Banco Palmas. We have created a “community bank” that is currently being tested out by 77 families and four local shops in Serrinha, a particularly vulnerable community in our region, as well as Chico Mendes. In a nutshell, with money raised through ICOM’s Fund, the bank will open an account for at risk families (which have been identified by community based organizations working with us), depositing $200 BRL per month into each family’s account (about $36 USD). We are calling these “social coins” even though everything will be managed digitally. These “coins” can then be used to buy products in only local shops. In this way, needy families will be able to buy necessities, while the money will stay in the Florianópolis community for a longer period of time. We are very proud that this new initiative made it onto the news this week!

The ICOM team meet virtually

The Covid-19 emergency situation and related socio-economic crises that we are currently facing have made me realize the importance of keeping our community philanthropy organizations strong and resilient. I’m not thinking only in financial terms, but also in terms of having strong governance systems and an engaged team in place! This is making all the difference for ICOM as we test new ways of working and doing in this unchartered, complex terrain. Longer term, we may need to tap into different skill sets – around food security or social assistance, for example – but for the moment we are relying on each other, giving what we have to give.


By: Mariane Maier Nunes, Executive Director of ICOM 

To support ICOM in its Covid-19 response work, please visit or contact Mariane at ICOM is a member of the Brazilian Philanthropy Network for Social Justice. 

Notify of
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments