This year’s Brazilian Formula One race was one of the most exciting ever. The local hero, Felipe Massa, was heading for the championship when only 70 meters from the finishing post, his rival Lewis Hamilton sneaked ahead of another and finished in fifth place, thereby ensuring that he gained enough points to become the world champion.
The Englishman’s victory was a bitter blow for Brazilian fans, especially as it happened on their home ground. Among those watching was Viviane Senna, whose brother, Ayrton Senna, is still regarded as one of the greatest drivers in the history of Grand Prix racing.
His death at Ímola on May 1, 1994 was a great shock and millions of people filled the streets of São Paulo for his funeral cortege. Viviane Senna has ensured that her brother’s name lives on, not just as a sporting champion but also as someone who cared about ending the social inequality which blights Brazil.
In November 1994 the Ayrton Senna Foundation was founded to create opportunities and help educate children and young people in cooperation with companies, governments, town halls, schools, universities and NGOs.
Since then, it has helped more than nine million children and young people obtain access to educational opportunities. In this interview, Viviane Senna talks about Ayrton’s Senna’s dream, the work of the Foundation and how the private and public sector have cooperated to make it a success.
Why did you decide to focus the Institute’s work on education and child development?
My family took the decision to found the Institute to try and fulfill Ayrton’s wish to offer educational opportunities to children and young people. This arose from a conversation we had in March 1994 in which Ayrton spoke about a project which would be broad and well structured. Another reason was our belief that education is the best way of transforming an individual’s potential into skills for life.
How did you manage to obtain such impressive results – more than nine million children and adolescents attended, over 468,000 teachers trained and around 1,400 towns reached?
The first project we carried out was rather limited and I began to realize within a short time that isolated actions like this would not bring about the changes that Brazil needed. The problem facing Brazil is the enormous social inequality and this demanded action on a large scale.
For this reason we created, set up and assessed educational solutions adapted to the municipal and state education systems. The aim was to increase the impact and create changes in the medium term in all the schools involved. These solutions are also created in such a way that they can be applied in any part of Brazil, a country with immense cultural and social diversity.
Our proposals respect this diversity at the same time as they provide good quality public education for boys and girls. To achieve this, we rely on partnerships with municipal and state governments which provide the structure and the teachers. This increases the number of children who benefit considerably.
Can you give some examples?
We set up programs to combat illiteracy among students who have to repeat their lessons and help other pupils get up to speed and into a class in line with their ages. These programs are being carried out in many cities and also in the states of Pernambuco, Paraíba, Tocantins, Sergipe and Mato Grosso.
What are the Institute’s current programs?
We have a total of nine educational solutions, including the two programs already mentioned. Four are directly related to formal education, i.e. they influence the day to day life of the student and the school of the first four series – primary schools. The other two focus on administration which is the key for success in achieving quality education as far as we are concerned.
This translates into using efficient management tools within the educational authority departments and schools to accompany the learning of the student in real time. Another program is aimed at educating children and young people who are outside school and, finally, we have two programs in the educational and technology areas – the Connected School and Connected Community.
These improve the learning process as they take an interdisciplinary approach. One involves partner NGOs which look after poor communities and opens educational space for young people and adults to insert them into the digital world, thereby developing skills to prepare them to the competitive world of work.
Do you have bureaucratic problems in your relations with the governments, other organizations and NGOs?
Bureaucracy certainly exists in Brazil but we have always had a positive relationship with the public authorities. Problems have been resolved because the parties involved have a real interest in making things work. As we do not receive nor pass on resources to the government at any level, bureaucracy does not play such a large part. What makes the partnership a success is the mutual cooperation and commitment. Our work with NGOs and universities is highly successful and all sides are completely committed to the cause.
How do you raise your resources?
In 14 years of activity the Institute has invested around 161 million reais (around US$ 69 million at the current exchange rate) in educational programs. Some of these funds come from receiving 100% of the royalties from the use of the Ayrton and Senninha images which my family has granted to the Institute.
Another part is generated from partnerships with socially responsible companies such as Bradesco Capitalizações, Microsoft, Vale do Rio Doce, Votorantim, Citigroup, HP Invent, Vivo, Martins, Neoenergia, Lide/EDH, Lilly, Tribanco, IBM, FedEx, Grendene and Credicard/Citi. We started receiving donations from individuals a year ago. Anyone who wants to become involved with our cause can access our site, register and start working with us. The address is www.senna.org.br.
When you began, did you think that almost 14 years later the Institute would still exist and be as successful as it is?
Actually, I didn’t really know where I would be today but I did believe we would have made progress and helped reduce social inequality through education. I did not imagine that it would reach this size but I have always believed in the Institute and in my brothers’ dream.
Do you expect the Institute to be still in existence in 15 years’ time?
I hope the situation will be much better by then and that the government will create efficient public policies for education. We are working just now so that one day the Institute will no longer need to exist.
Is there international interest in the Institute’s work?
Some companies have contacted us to license the image of Ayrton, whether to help directly or by providing resources for educational programs. Hublot is an example of licensing the image outside Brazil. Microsoft and HP have been impressed by the high quality education we are helping provide new generations and are also working with us.
In the technical sphere, we are approached by other NGOS and international universities which see our work as being efficient and serious. We received the “Cathedra in Education and Human Development” title from UNESCO, the first time an NGO has received this recognition. It is usually presented to universities and centers of knowledge creation. This unparallel event made us an international benchmark, raised our profile and strengthened our work.
You met Lewis Hamilton recently. What did you talk about?
We spoke about the Formula One and the similarity between his driving style and that of my brother. He is a differentiated driver, charismatic and very talented. He spoke about his affection and admiration for Ayrton Senna.
What is the best recollection you have of the Institute’s work?
It is difficult to recall the best moments because I am involved emotionally in all the work. However, seeing my brother’s dream become a reality and learning about the children who have had their lives transformed because they received opportunities is gratifying. This is my main pride: to know that every day a boy or a girl discovers that he or she is capable of learning, being successful in school and building a better future.
How important do you think the private sector is in helping Brazil face its social problems through social responsibility initiatives?
The private sector is an indispensable part of a triangle of social transformation involving the public, private and voluntary sector. Each one has its role to play and should not do the work of the other. For these reasons, companies which are good at running their businesses should try and do so on the social side.
They should place resources in large-scale causes with solutions which have been built on well-founded strategies, pre-established goals, regular assessment and are constantly focused on results. By doing so, the companies will ensure that social questions receive the attention they deserve and that resources which have been well invested and managed will bring efficient results.
John Fitzpatrick is a Scottish writer and consultant with long experience of Brazil. He is based in São Paulo and runs his own company Celtic Comunicações. This article originally appeared on his site www.brazilpoliticalcomment.com.br. He can be contacted at email@example.com.
© John Fitzpatrick 2008