The time has come for a new look at impact business in the Amazon

Photo: SBSA Publicity

Interview with Aline Gonçalves Videira de Souza, partner of the SBSA Office

Impact organizations and startups are relatively new in the country, and their operation requires a favorable legal environment, with regulation and self-regulation in a permanent process of improvements and adaptations.

The growth of the ESG agenda in Brazil is an opportunity to move faster and pursue business impact maturity. This is the vision of Aline Gonçalves Videira de Souza, partner of SBSA office (Szazi, Bechara, Storto, Reicher and Figueiredo Lopes Advogados), who has been advising AMAZ since its inception and also the accelerated business.

Operating in the legal market for two decades, SBSA's work is focused on civil society organizations, such as institutes, foundations and associations; corporate social responsibility, private social investment projects, impact businesses and articulated actions between the public and private sectors. It has units in Curitiba, São Paulo, and one of the partners leads projects directly from Tel Aviv – Israel.

Partner for Innovation, Impact Business and ESG in the office, Aline sees a growth in the amount of business and startups committed to generating a positive impact: 

“I see the emergence of a new economic segment. In recent years, we have seen the creation of institutionalized incentives for this business profile, as is the case of AMAZ – Impact Business Accelerator in the Amazon, the BNDES Garagem programs to accelerate impact businesses and several other actions that have been generated due to the National Strategy for Investments and Impact Businesses, as well as the articulations of the social entrepreneurship ecosystem itself, in which Aliança por Impacto plays an important role.”

Specifically about the impact ecosystem of the Amazon, Aline points out the challenges of overcoming the generalized and simplistic vision that still prevails about how business is done in the region. 

“When we talk about the Legal Amazon, we are facing an area that concentrates more than half of the Brazilian territory, with many different realities and needs. Evidencing that there are quite different sizes and profiles of businesses in the Amazon is important. This is relevant due to the identity and cultural importance, but there are even more practical effects, such as attracting investments and consumers who are more adherent to the proposal of that business.”

Check out the interview below.

How has the SBSA Office been working with civil society organizations and impact businesses?

We have been in the legal market for twenty years, specializing in a niche that is not usually seen in law firms. We advise companies and civil society organizations on issues of Corporate Social Responsibility, Environment and Human Rights, bases of the ESG agenda. Many of our clients are foundations, associations and businesses with a socio-environmental impact. We also have a strong area of public law and we advise public interest bodies and projects. 

We are six partners (mostly women), with a team of around 30 professionals dedicated to serving both national and international clients. We have a peculiar characteristic, which is our direct involvement so that the legal environment is more favorable to impact organizations and startups. Therefore, for example, we played an important role in the formulation of Law 9,790/99 (OSCIPs Law), on the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in 2006, on Law 13,019/14 (Regulatory Framework for Civil Society Organizations). – MROSC). More recently, we contributed to the regulation of the General Data Protection Law, as well as the National Strategy for Impact Investments and Businesses.

We offer a wide range of advice and representation to our clients, with a team specialized in several areas of law, including tax, labor, corporate, environmental, human rights, compliance, public law, intellectual protection, contractual, data protection, litigation, litigation strategic, among other areas of knowledge We provide support from the initial structuring (with support for the creation of legal entities and contractual arrangements), through management support and constant improvement of the projects and initiatives that are presented to us. We believe that acting in this area demands a specialized look at sectoral legislation and also the need to contribute to the debates around the trends of regulation and self-regulation that are under construction in Brazil and in the world.

How do you rate the impact business ecosystem in Brazil today?

There has been an increase in the number of businesses and startups that come with commitments to generate positive impact. I see the emergence of a new economic segment. Following this phenomenon in recent years, we have seen the creation of institutionalized incentives for this business profile, as is the case of AMAZe and the BNDES Garagem programs to accelerate impact businesses, in addition to several other actions that have been generated as a result of the Strategy Investments and Impact Businesses (Enimpacto), as well as articulations of the social entrepreneurship ecosystem itself. 

With the pandemic, the importance of these businesses for solving complex problems in our society became evident. I align myself with the vision of the last mapping carried out by Pipe Social in 2021, that the time has come to act faster and seek more maturity for the business models. I add the importance of maturing the impact theses of these businesses, so that the new economic segment is consolidated on more solid foundations. I see the growing visibility of the ESG agenda as an opportunity for that to happen.

How has the firm been specializing in this area?

The biggest school for our constant specialization is given by the work we develop for our customers. I highlight some public cases where our performance was relevant, such as the case of the First Social Debenture in the Country, where we advised the Sustainable East Zone Fund in structuring the philanthropic capital of that operation. The creation of AMAZ; the feasibility of the Café Apuí initiative, among many other integrity and diversity programs that we implement with our customers.

It is also essential to participate in courses and training opportunities – either as teachers or as students. In recent years, I had the opportunity to be a student in ESG and Responsible Investment courses at Capital Aberto and IBGC. This year, I have already contributed with classes on the topic of Benefit Corporations in the ESG classes for Counselors offered by the IBGC and I continue to contribute to the Legal Group of Sistema B, as well as closely monitoring publications and research in this area. My partner, Èrika Bechara, is a commentator for environmental issues at CNN and weekly delves into relevant issues about the sector. 

I also highlight the importance of participating in collective spaces for dialogue, as is the case of the commissions at the OAB, the Legal Group of Sistema B, among others. Our partner Laís Lopes, for example, is president of the Third Sector Commission of the OAB/SP.

Both the partners and part of the team, we are professionals with experience in the field of organized civil society and impact business, being postgraduate professors who teach courses related to the themes in which they work and participate in research and consulting projects of renowned institutions. teaching institutions such as PUC/SP, FIA/USP and FGV. 

We are always involved in studies and research on the topics we work on. As an example, I was very happy to have launched, last year, a publication on the regulation in Brazil of the so-called “purpose companies” at the request of UNDP/SEGIB. On our website, we created an SBSA+ tab where we publish reference materials for the topics we are dedicated to.

What are the challenges faced by impact businesses operating in the Amazon?

I believe that the first one is to overcome the generalized and simplistic view, which still prevails, about the profile of businesses in the Amazon. It bothers me that, sometimes, the power that the people of the region have is not recognized, or a vision that, with few adjustments, it would be possible to adapt business models in the south and southeast regions of the country. When we talk about the Legal Amazon, we are facing an area that concentrates more than half of the Brazilian territory, with many challenging realities, such as fires, deforestation, illegal mining, violation of human rights. Recognizing the reality is very important so that businesses in the region can actually contribute to overcoming socio-environmental problems. Therefore, I think it is important to highlight that there are quite different sizes and profiles of businesses in the Amazon. I know of initiatives in the area of innovation and technology that develop solutions to systemic logistics problems in the region that other companies, and even the public authorities, have not been able to dedicate themselves to. This is relevant due to the identity and cultural value of these businesses, but there are even more practical effects from the recognition of these peculiarities, as is the case of attracting investments and consumers who are more adherent to the proposal of that business.

Another challenge that still exists is in relation to the conclusion of fair contracts. Sometimes, the private contracts celebrated between local communities in the Legal Amazon (such as extractivists, quilombolas and indigenous people) and companies or corporate investors are complex, difficult to understand and with disproportionate rules. 

There is an opportunity to improve this from methodologies that can support the celebration of fair contracts between these parties, as there is a growing context of interest in initiatives related to the green economy and biodiversity. In addition, communities have developed sustainable businesses with growth potential and increasingly want the protection of the assets and people they work with. We are precisely developing a project to support the creation of a methodology for the celebration of fair contracts.

The regulatory challenges are many. It is necessary to unlock the bioeconomy agenda, as important studies have already pointed out, especially on the National System of Access to Genetic Heritage and Traditional Knowledge and the sharing of benefits. Finally, a challenge that is not exclusive to the Amazon, which is so common in several locations in our country, is due to the precarious infrastructure of physical and virtual access that, unfortunately, still presents itself as a barrier to the development of so many businesses in the region.

How do you rate the partnership with AMAZ?

It is a great honor and satisfaction to be the law firm responsible for advising AMAZ and the accelerated business. It is a process of mutual learning. The firm has increasingly sought to use simple language and unconventional ways to make legal issues more accessible to different audiences. In addition, this link encourages us to produce innovative legal arrangements, as we are faced with multisectoral initiatives that are at the forefront of sustainable investments. In addition to AMAZ, the firm is an institutional partner of the Folha Empreendedor Social Award, held by Folha de São Paulo and the Schwab Foundation, since 2011. It is a signatory to several causes of public interest, such as the Pact for Democracy and the Coalition for Philanthropic Funds.