“It was obvious that traditional philanthropy was not the option I was looking for. I needed to find a catalyst that would trigger the type of sustainable human development that all governments of the world had agreed upon at the Earth Summit.”. “Stephan Schmidheiny, My Vision, My Path”, January 2006.
The Foundation for Sustainable Development, FUNDES, was created by Stephan Schmidheiny and the archbishop of Panama, Marcos McGrath, in 1984. It is a non-profit project whose purpose is to promote the sustainable development of the private sector in Latin America. The foundation specifically seeks to strengthen the business skills of micro-, small and medium businesses (SME), in more than 10 countries in the region; to contribute to sustainable progress; the transformation of the productive sectors; and the establishment of a favorable climate for business.
FUNDES was born as a result of the crisis that started in the 1980s, that slammed the least firmly established sectors in Latin America. It started as a pilot project in Panama and its success extended to other countries in Central and South America. FUNDES was one of the first organizations in the region that granted micro loans and carried out programs of basic administrative training, aimed at consolidating the projects of entrepreneurs. It is an innovative and visionary program for the development of SME in the region. In the 21st century, the organization executes more than 100 projects a year which benefit approximately 10,000 SME in Latin America.
Its headquarters are located in Costa Rica and there are offices in Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador, Panama, Colombia, Venezuela, Peru, Bolivia, Chile and Argentina. Its projects in Nicaragua and Honduras have technical and human skills to strengthen SME in any country on the continent.
World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD)
The World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD) started as the Business Council for Sustainable Development (BCSD), created in 1991 by Stephan Schmidheiny, when the Secretary General of the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED), Maurice Strong, appointed him Principal Advisor for Business and Industry, in preparation for what would be of the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development, better known as the “Earth Summit,” held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, in 1992.
In order to face the task given to him and with the purpose of influencing the debate to be held two years later at the “Summit in Rio,” Schmidheiny decided to create a council of businessmen focused on sustainability. Between 1990 and 1991, he traveled the world searching for the leaders in different regions and industries to be part of the BCSD. The idea was that they would share their experiences with the objective of changing corporate behavior at the social and environmental levels in a positive way. He brought together 50 high-level executives, all heads of important companies, such as Chevron, DuPont, Mitsubishi, Nissan, Shell, and Volkswagen.
The first of several meetings he would convene was held in 1991 in The Hague, The Netherlands. It was decided at that meeting to publish Changing Course – A Global Business Perspective on Development and the Environment. The expression “eco-efficiency” was coined in this book to define a company’s contribution to sustainable development. The prefix “eco” combines two fundamental concepts: economy and ecology. The combination of both words means to add more value to goods and services by using less resources and producing less waste and contamination.
The book’s recommendations and conclusions were presented by Schmidheiny at the Earth Summit the following year. The successful book, edited by MIT Press, became a best seller and was translated into 15 languages. Knowing that time is one of the rarest resources a high-level executive has, Schmidheiny decided to dissolve the council once it fulfilled its duty. However, after the Earth Summit, the members stated that companies had the duty to work together with governments and non-governmental organizations in order to achieve sustainable development; therefore, the BCSD continued its work. Stephan requested that a new president be appointed to the Council so that the responsibility would not rest on only one individual.
In 1995, the BCSD decided to merge with the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC), resulting in what is known today as the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD), which currently functions as a forum, with membership from 200 companies from a variety of industries and countries, to share better practices of sustainable development. Due to his contribution in creating this Council, Stephan Schmidheiny was named Honorary Chairman of the WBCSD in 2000.
Avina Stiftung is a foundation he created in 1994 in Switzerland, in line with the philanthropic spirit instilled in him by his family. Its specific objective is to promote sustainable development.
From the beginning, Avina Stiftung adopted the concept that philanthropy optimizes social and environmental impact when measuring return on investments (ROI). In 2001, when his actions in Latin America achieved a significant dimension, Schmidheiny decided to establish a similar organization in Panama under the name Fundación Avina.
Both entities are financially and organizationally independent, but their collaborations with each other have allowed them to share their learning between both continents.
Fundación Avina began operating in Latin America in 2001. The foundation builds social leaderships that advance towards forms of sustainable development, with a continuous financial growth that will offer more opportunities to a broader population, while continuously protecting the environment.
Its model for action is focused on promoting concrete and relevant changes, generating and supporting collaborative processes that improve the quality of the relationship between entrepreneurs, companies, academia, the private sector, and governments. The Fundación Avina creates favorable conditions so that these actions can impact those in power and the necessary changes to society can occur and lead to a sustainable Latin America.
In order to create these conditions, the organization works together with hundreds of organizations, foundations, companies, governments, and thousands of social leaders in Latin America and the world, with whom it defines its strategy, identifies opportunities and creates agendas for shared action.
Fundación Avina has a presence in 21 Latin American countries and has teams in the USA and Europe, which help to identify individuals who are interested in promoting sustainability in Latin America.
Its main funding comes from VIVA Trust, created by Stephan Schmidheiny from the profits generated by Grupo Nueva. It also channels resources from several social investors, foundations, international cooperation, and multilateral entities.
VIVA Trust is an irrevocable trust created by Stephan Schmidheiny in 2003. It was initially established with the donation of his Grupo Nueva shares, valued at around one billion dollars. Its objective is to ensure the long-term sustainability of the philanthropic organizations in Latin America. As a result, part of the dividends and profits of the Grupo Nueva companies are reinvested in the FUNDES and Fundación Avina programs, as well as others.
VIVA Trust is managed by an advisory committee comprised of social and business leaders from around the world, who supervise and guide the business operations and the philanthropic efforts in Latin America.
Fundación Latinoamericana Posible (FLAP)
Fundación Latinoamérica Posible (FLAP) originated in 2008 to promote the increased and responsible participation of the manufacturing sector in the sustainable development of communities and countries.
Its goal is to be an effective and highly reliable channel for spreading knowledge and innovative concepts related to sustainable development for manufacturers and non-profit organizations in the entire region, while encouraging alliances between them and their governments.
The foundation currently has strategic alliances with the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD), the World Resource Institute (WRI), INCAE Business School, and the Latin American Center for Competitiveness and Sustainable Development.
Knowledge Exchange Center
One of the projects that VIVA Trust is in charge of is the Knowledge Exchange Center (KEC), which seeks to be a meeting point for the new generation of social entrepreneurs in Latin America. Its mission is to motivate, inspire and encourage the use of new ideas, and promote the exchange of ideas between social entrepreneurs that are just starting and those with experience. The KEC supports a network of leaders and entrepreneurs committed to prosperity, equality and sustainability.
With its headquarters in Costa Rica, the Center endeavors to transmit the necessary knowledge to social entrepreneurs in order to consolidate and expand the reach of social, environmental, institutional, and productive projects.