Politics, Business & Culture in the Americas

Business Innovator: Marcos Flávio Azzi, Brazil

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The motto of Instituto Azzi, situated on Rua Carreia Dias in the heart of São Paulo, reads, “Canalizando recursos de quem quer investir para quem precisa de investimento.” It’s the vocation of 37-year-old founder Marcos Flávio Azzi. Translated: channeling resources from those who want to invest to those who need investment.

Azzi launched the Institute in 2007 to help wealthy individuals support social causes. Traditionally, Azzi says, potential philanthropists have been reluctant to donate, finding Brazil’s NGO community “fragmented, unfocused, opportunistic, and lacking any measurement of impact.” Azzi’s institute helps to smooth those relations. Since its founding, Azzi and his four colleagues have directed over $1.14 million from 20 individual donors to 40 worthy organizations in São Paulo and the surrounding region. Among the grantees have been Liga Solidária (Solidarity League), a social services organization that works with 3,400 children, youth, adults, and seniors, and Habitat for Humanity Brasil, which builds affordable housing for low-income families.

Institute advisors begin working with investors by asking them to think of the donation as a percentage of their assets and to choose a specific social issue that matters to them personally. The Institute then helps each investor select a reputable, effective organization to receive the donation, monitors how the money is used until the project is complete, and measures the overall impact of the project on the community. The idea is to connect wealthy Brazilians to causes they care about, help them understand and calculate the nature of their gift and make the process transparent.

To be eligible for funding, each prospective grantee must pass a battery of tests assessing the organization’s accountability and effectiveness. The application begins with a screening questionnaire nearly 60 questions long on four aspects of organizational strength: quality of management, transparency, financial soundness, and potential impact. Only NGOs that score high on all four measures are invited to submit individual projects for evaluation and potential investment.

To ensure sustainability, Azzi is adamant that projects match investors’ interests and resources. Each project must fit its investor’s budget, clearly outline a spending plan and define the expected indicators of impact. The Institute also conducts regular field visits to NGO sites to ensure that projects move forward as planned.

Azzi says that in the last 10 years, government support and tax breaks for corporate donations have increased corporate giving to the nonprofit sector, but few incentives exist for individual philanthropy. “The result,” he explains, “is that individuals end up donating small amounts to people and organizations they know, but there’s no transparency and no clear results.” With the guidance and assurances of Instituto Azzi, that is beginning to change. Within five years, the Institute expects to manage $5.56 million in individual philanthropic donations, nearly a fivefold increase over 2010.

Today, Azzi pays the operating costs of the Institute out of the salary he earns as a fund manager at the investment bank Credit Suisse Hedging-Griffo. He will soon create an endowment for the Institute from those earnings as well.

Currently, Azzi does not charge donors fees for the Institute’s services, passing on 100 percent of the money granted to recipient organizations. Once a broader culture of philanthropy has been established, however, he believes he will begin charging clients.

In Brazil, where wealth has long been the measure of success, Azzi’s example is creating a new measure of status: giving back.


Matthew Aho is a consultant in the corporate practice group at Akerman LLP.

Tags: Instituto Azzi. Brazil, Marcos Flávio Azzi
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