Impact Innovation from Europe to the Amazon
29 January 2021 - Impact Hub Berlin

This guest blog post is the third and final written by Tomas Rosenfeld, Impact Hub Berlin’s outgoing German Chancellor Fellow from the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation. Read the first post here and the second here.

In the recently released documentary, The Forum, we can watch the World Economic Forum from behind the scenes for the very first time. In the film, we see uncomfortable moments of interaction between the then newly elected Brazilian president, Jair Bolsonaro, and figures like former US presidential candidate, Al Gore or Executive Director of Greenpeace International, Jennifer Morgan. I imagine that the scenes are disturbing for anyone concerned about the environment. For many Brazilians, including this author, the desire is to close the eyes, leave the room or break the television.

When our head of state and government makes us feel ashamed, we can find reasons for hope by observing the many other leaders in several sectors of Brazilian society. While deforestation grows, numerous initiatives and impact businesses have been emerging to contribute to the preservation of the largest tropical forest in the world.

Innovators on the ground

To better understand what’s happening in the Amazonian impact sector, I interviewed Juliana Teles, Co-founder of Impact Hub Manaus. If I were to summarise Juliana’s biography as an entrepreneur, I’d say that the central point for her is the ‘round trip’. Juliana says that it was only after working at AIESEC, going for an exchange programme in Uganda, and living for almost two years in São Paulo, that she started to really ‘see’ her hometown of Manaus. She says that she needed the experiences in other cities and countries to realise her desire to contribute to the development of the city in which she was born. It was only after the return that her entrepreneurial journey began.

When she decided, together with her business partner, Marcus Bessa, to set up an Impact Hub in the middle of the most populated city in the Amazonian region, it was also the round trip that helped. As one of the main sponsors of the country’s second-largest folk celebration, the Parintins Festival, Coca-Cola rents a ship every year to take groups of VIP guests to the event. After the party was over, however, the boat always returned empty. The company then invited the newly created Impact Hub, together with other impact organisations, to think about how to use it at this idle time. The idea presented was called The Boat Challenge, an event for social entrepreneurs willing to develop solutions to some of the region’s socio-economic issues. Therefore, it was the return from the festival that gave rise to the first work of the local Impact Hub.

A network for change

Among the initiatives currently hosted at IH Manaus, Juliana mentions Nakau, a social enterprise that produces chocolate from native Amazonian cocoa. By valuing a native fruit and the involvement of agro-extractive riverside communities in the value chain, the company has already contributed to the preservation of more than 3,000 hectares of forest, in addition to increasing the income of the families involved.

Nakau was also one of the fifteen businesses selected to participate in the 2020 edition of the Partnership for the Amazon Platform Acceleration Program (PPA, in the original acronym), which has the support of several local NGOs and funding from USAID, among others. Another company selected that same year was Nossa Fruits, which sells another traditional product from the Amazon rainforest: Açaí.

The Açaí is a small berry that grows on top of palm trees. Its frozen pulp is usually consumed accompanied by other fresh fruits. According to Nossa Fruits’ website, Açaí is considered a superfruit because its nutritional composition is exceptional – compared to blueberries, it has antioxidant power five times higher and is 18 times richer in manganese. The focus of Nossa Fruits is to popularise the consumption of the Amazonian fruit on European soil, where it is still less well-known. To achieve this, they implemented a value chain in which the entire harvest comes from wild palm trees in certified organic forest areas, supported by several partners, among them German Development Cooperation (GIZ).

Obviously, we won’t reverse the course of Brazilian politics simply by sustainably consuming the fruits of the Amazon (although for those who want to contribute to this mission, both Nakau and Nossa Fruits products can be purchased on the companies’ websites – and delivered in Berlin). But it’s important to amplify the local voices of the sustainable economy where we find them, to change the narrative and show the way that a better, greener and kinder society can be built. By following the work of Impact Hubs on the frontline of the climate crisis, you may find the inspiration to take action where you are, too.

About the series: This is the third and last article in a series written as part of the author’s participation in the German Chancellor Fellowship programme of the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation. Together with Impact Hub Berlin, Tomas has been researching social entrepreneurs who are transforming the current reality of the city. The first two articles were dedicated to the physical reality of Berlin, and the third to the author’s native country, Brazil. Based on the Chinese-American geographer Yi-Fu Tuan’s ideas, where places are defined as spaces endowed with value, the three articles have in common the fact that they consider the experiences attributed to localities as a central aspect of the social entrepreneur’s activity.

About the author: Tomas Rosenfeld holds a bachelor’s degree in International Relations and a masters in International Economics. He has more than ten years of experience working within the social innovation field, especially in Brazil, where he was born. Tomas is also a writer and has published two novels, the first of which was a finalist for the São Paulo Literature Prize.

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