The praise was a bit embarrassing, and I am not sure I liked how it was tactically deployed, but the masters of ceremony held up the USA as the paragon of volunteerism.  They gently disparaged the Brazilian audience, pointing out that only around 4% of Brazilians were involved in volunteer activities.

The Importance of Volunteerism
“Do you know what that number is in the USA?” the MC asked the audience.  A few hands went up with guesses ranging from 10-40%.  Then she dropped the brick.  “84%,” she said.  I would not vouch for the accuracy of that number.  I think we are dealing with various definitions of volunteerism and different durations of the activities.   There is no doubt, however, that Americans are remarkable in the amount of their time and money that they voluntarily donate, and this is a consistent thread that runs through our history. But all his is a narrative for a different place.

My colleague Wesley Oliveira and I were at the kickoff of “Transforma Brasil,” an interactive web platform that connects volunteers with opportunities and aims to register 5 million volunteers and 20k non-profit organizations by 2022.

A Big Launch for a Big Idea
And what an event it was.  The auditorium at Civi-co São Paulo was packed.  Talk show host Fátima Bernardes (who Wesley tells me is the “Oprah of Brazil,” absent the car giveaways) introduced the program, emphasizing that she and all the other people present were volunteers.  The obligatory reading of honored guests included mayors and high officials, the Governor of São Paulo and three presidential candidates, although we actually saw only one of these.

Transforma Brasil is the creation of Fábio Silva, who is a 2014 IVLP alumni from Recife. It was this connection and the specific request from our colleagues in Recife that moved us to attend this event. I am sure glad that we did.  This had most of the important aspects of public diplomacy. We saw and were seen (we were among the honored guests mentioned), made and renewed contacts and gained insights into a developing trend in Brazil.  Volunteerism, at least the idea of it, is trending in Brazil, as evidenced by the high-level of interest in this event. Some of this result from a need to fill in gaps left by government services, but much of the real power comes from a realization that citizenship in a democracy means involvement beyond voting and demanding that others do something.
Fábio Silva was aware of volunteerism statistics and seeing advantage to Brazilians society to improve them, as a social entrepreneur he decided to create organizations that could be platforms to help connect would-be volunteers with appropriate NGOs.  The idea was not only to raise awareness and encourage volunteers, but provide those encouraged with practical ways to get involved, i.e. turn aspirations into useful actions.  I like to think that this was at least partly an insight he got from his IVLP visit, that specifically addressed volunteerism and how to move people from indifference, to aspiration to action.  If people do not know how to do something, they usually will do nothing.  It is a primarily tenet of marketing, both of products and ideas (although I stipulate that some object to the use of marketing in this context, I find it apt) that the initial inspiration and call to action must be closely followed by a simple answer to the question, “So wadda we do next?”

In Recife it Began
Fábio Created his first version of a platform in his native city of Recife in 2015, and in cooperation with others, similar platforms have been installed in Campinas (São Paulo), Petrópolis (RJ), Cuiabá (MT) and Campina Grande (PB). “Transforma Recife” has already registered 120,000 volunteers and 400 NGO, registering more than a million hours of volunteer work in Recife. Recife features a Voluntariômetro, an outdoor tabulator that counts the volunteer hours in the state of Pernambuco in something like real time.
Fábio Silva was already an active social entrepreneur before he was nominated for IVLP.  That is how we found him and why we wanted to help.  We cannot claim that the program turned his life around, but we can say, as he does, that the program greatly accelerated and facilitated his progress and gave him ideas.  In other words, our program was part of a web of factors responsible for success. A logician might say that the program was necessary although not sufficient to these great results we are seeing.  Even if it sounds like faint praise to some, I consider this one of the greatest compliments. All great things are accomplished in cooperation with others, which means that many are necessary, but none are sufficient, even if some like Fábio play the lead role. Fábio expressed this sentiment well in his own remarks.

If you want to make great things happen, play your role and help others play theirs and let something bigger than the sum of the parts emerge.   This seems to have happened here.
Media attention to the event
FOLHA DE SÃO PAULO: ‘Tinder do voluntariado’ conecta doadores e organizações
DIÁRIO DE PERNAMBUCO: Recife exporta modelo de voluntariado
UOL, Blog de Jamildo (colunista de politica e economia de Pernambuco: Ciro, Marina e Amoedo participam de lançamento de plataforma nacional de voluntariado
SUPER INTERESSANTE: Conheça o “Linkedin” para quem quer fazer trabalho voluntário