Companies seek social impact initiatives in the Amazon

By Sergio Adeodato, from Manaus for Valor Econômico

The expansion of small innovative businesses that profit by doing good, seen in recent years in hubs in the Center-South and Northeast, is now reaching the Amazon with greater force. The movement seeks solutions capable of combining market logic with the sustainable use and maintenance of the largest tropical forest on the planet, with the expectation of gains in development indicators. As a sign of this trend, four forest startups aligned with the socio-environmental challenge received news in November capable of making them change scale: access to resources totaling R$ 1.1 million, to boost nascent innovations.

At the 1st Impact Investment and Sustainable Business Forum in the Amazon, held in Manaus (AM), another ten initiatives were selected for a business acceleration program in areas ranging from education to food. “The movement is at the center of the necessary transformations for the economy of the Amazon, which is home to 25 million Brazilians and represents less than 8% of the country's GDP”, says Mariano Cenamo, researcher at Idesam, an NGO dedicated to sustainable development projects in the region. “In a delicate political-economic moment, the private initiative must assume the protagonism of the solutions, independently of governments”.

Young “millennials” see the environmental and social challenges of the forest as an opportunity for income, in a scenario that needs to be rethought: “The pillars that reduced deforestation and poverty based on income transfers by the federal government are no longer sustainable”, he says. Denis Minev, impact investor and president of Bemol, a retail chain that is part of the Parceiros pela Amazônia (PPA) platform – an alliance that was created last year to build innovative paths with companies and is responsible for holding the startup event in Manaus as a showcase for change. For the entrepreneur, the scale of existing pilot projects in bioeconomy should be increased, with greater contributions in technology and productivity, and in this sense the Manaus Free Trade Zone “needs to reinvent itself”.

Associated funds add up to a potential investment of R$ 2.8 billion per year that could foster innovations, but, according to analysts, have not been well used. According to a survey by Ande Brasil, social businesses move US$ 60 billion worldwide, with growth of 7% per year. “But in Latin America, about 70% of early-stage companies don't have access to capital to grow,” says Nicole Etchart, director of NESst, a global organization of impact investors. From panels for construction with açaí fibers to the cheapest feed for fish farming based on leftover pulp, Amazonian innovations surf the wave of the circular economy. And also industry 4.0, as does the business of ManaósTech, a programming and robotics school for children based in Manaus.

In addition, old products gain value with a new face: in the Encauchados de Vegetais da Amazônia business, in Castanhal (PA), rubber is revitalized by incorporating wood dust from the sawmills in the form of sandals with a socio-environmental footprint. Revenue of R$ 400,000 this year provides extra income to communities, as is the case with startup Da Tribu, from Mosqueiro (PA), which rescues the indigenous technique of covering cotton threads with latex, in the production of necklaces and bracelets.

“In the Amazon, business is more expensive, risky and time-consuming, and companies are looking for social impact initiatives. applied in 100 organizations that impact 350,000 people. For Anna Tonnes, director of environment at the American Agency for International Development (USAID), an investment partner in the region, “the moment is opportune, because the conservation of the forest depends on the dynamization of the economy and for the first time sectors that were previously antagonistic are sitting at the same table”. The news reaches the Amazon Fund, maintained by donations from Norway and Germany with support of R$ 1.8 billion over ten years, with R$ 440 million for sustainable production activities. “The plan is to join the startup movement with a combination of financing models, mixing non-reimbursable resources with private ones”, says Daniela Baccas, head of the BNDES' environment department.

Impact Investment in the Amazon: Pathways to Sustainable Development

The study “Impact Investment in the Amazon: Pathways to Sustainable Development” aims to outline an image of the region, identifying investment mechanisms, types of undertaking, value chains, obstacles and opportunities for investment in the area. The publication was produced by Sitawi Financeiras do Bem, through the PPA initiative – Parceiros Pela Amazônia, managed by IDESAM – Institute for the Conservation and Sustainable Development of the Amazon and financed by USAID – United States Agency for International Development, through CIAT – International Center for Tropical Agriculture. 

Related publications

Skip to content