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    Committed to Conscience


    International Trade Forum - Issue 1/2009

    Through its tourism initiative, a Brazilian bank is successfully continuing its commitment to corporate social responsibility. Financial crisis, it says, is no reason to turn away from sustainable development.

    'The significant problems we face cannot be solved at the same level of thinking we were at when we created them.'

    Einstein's message is simple: at moments of distress in business life or in society, it's important that we strengthen our commitment to finding groundbreaking solutions. The reality of these words is as meaningful today as ever.

    We must maintain our commitment to corporate social responsibility. It is hard to imagine any crisis being the reason or excuse for one to stop engaging in the sustainable development of society. We each have our own personal social responsibility, which should not change as our financial situation worsens or improves. For ourselves, as for the corporations we work for, it is a matter of survival.

    The future belongs to organizations that can expand business and make profit without losing their soul. Corporate principles such as ethics, respect, moral values and trust will motivate people, employees or not, to think outside the box and find new ways to reform old processes. I believe that this practice will eventually lead to innovative solutions in a chain reaction towards a better world.

    Grupo Santander Brasil is a successful example of a financial institution implementing a strategic model in order to fit a new and changing society. The bank, which is part of the Santander Group, is the country's benchmark when it comes to leadership towards sustainability. Chosen from 129 financial institutions across 54 countries, Grupo Santander Brasil was recognized as the Sustainable Bank of the Year in the 2008 Financial Times Awards. This standing is the result of the long-term mission of its CEO and a group of Directors almost 10 years ago, which is now part of the corporate DNA.

    One of the bank's initiatives is a project called TurismoReal, or Real Tourism. Started in December 2007, the project aims to engage the company's stakeholders in the sustainable development of the tourism industry and its value chain, as well as the education towards responsible tourism.

    The project was based on Brazil's enormous tourism potential, and the comparative lack of infrastructure in this industry. The country offers one of the richest biodiversities on the planet, with mighty forests and rivers, sunny beaches and an amazing cultural diversity, yet the country's inbound tourism contributes little to the total export earnings: only 3% of GDP, compared to a global figure of just over 10%, according to the World Economic Forum. With little over five million visitors per year, tourism isn't reaching its full potential to participate in the country's social and economic development and, most important, in its sustainability.

    The project's first challenge was therefore to make internal decision makers understand the opportunities and embrace the cause. The bank's well-known pro-sustainability reputation helped TurismoReal to gain credibility as a mobilizing agent to engage other partners in the same objective.

    TurismoReal is based on a series of education, training and awareness-raising initiatives, and national and international partnerships that encourage sustainable development practices. Together with local partners, it is also creating and delivering specific activities that will place importance on the growth of micro and small enterprises. The programme takes into consideration a number of key criteria: accessibility of the tourism services; cleaner processes; renewable energy and energy efficiency; health and education; entrepreneurship and good governance; and sustainable certification of products, such as fair trade and organic.

    One of the project's greatest hopes would be to reduce poverty in Brazil, through giving socially excluded people the opportunity to be educated and qualified to work in this industry. Tourism can generate work and income for thousands of families, economic growth in the region, and give back optimism and self-esteem to locals at tourism destinations. By fostering the sustainable development of this industry, the project also aims to give hope to younger generations, and reasons for communities to keep their traditions, to preserve their culture, learn their history, value their land and Brazil's biodiversity and, most importantly, to be proud of who they are.

    Today TurismoReal is growing exactly because of its necessity. It is an element of a larger movement, with the bank providing support with ideas, its network, and of course its financial services and products, from microfinance to small entrepreneurs to multi-million-dollar project financing.

    It is clear that building and formatting new partnerships are essential, and therefore this movement requires the experience, knowledge and methodologies of partners from private and third-sector organizations, as well as government and other agencies. The goal is to create a replicable, sustainable business model that can be implemented all over Brazil, with real benefits to society, the environment and the economy.

    I don't think there will be a financial crisis or economic downturn that could justify the discontinuity of projects like this; on the contrary, I believe there is an increasing global determination to change for good, and I have great expectations for the results we can all achieve by converging our ideals for a better society.

    As the physicist Fritjof Capra puts it, 'There is a mutation point for the planet, where a new view of reality is required to transform the forces that are creating a new standard into a positive movement towards social renewal'. If it is not for us, it will be for our children or even their children, but one can be sure, it is happening and there is no way back.

    ITC-Santander Group Partnership

    In April 2009, ITC signed an accord with the Santander Group in Brazil to work together on promoting sustainable tourism in the country. As part of this, ITC will be involved in the bank's TurismoReal project. Santander will have access to ITC training modules and experience, which focus on working with tourism operators and hotels to encourage local hiring and local sourcing of services and products. The bank will promote results of the communities benefiting from the tourism programme; mobilize other Brazilian organizations towards the cause; and advise associations and co-operatives on how to access finance.

    ITC has been working with partners in Brazil to reduce poverty through tourism since 2004, with great success. Its latest project along the Coconut Coast, launched in 2008, helps poor producers sell products and services to hotel resorts. The project offers incentives for apiculture, agribusiness and cultural products of the region; creates cooperatives to improve marketing opportunities; sets up computer centres that expand internet access and human resource development; and ensures that products and services are offered at the quality standards required to sell into the tourism industry.