Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Creative Giving- The Bill Gates of Switzerland

This story started from a person, Roberto Laureano da Rocha. He lives in impoverish neighborhood in Brazil. Most residents in his neighborhood make a living as waste pickers, and so does he. However, five years ago he has worked with the Avina foundation. Avina Foundation was launched fifteen years ago by Stephen Schmidheiny, a social philanthropist. Every year Schmidheiny puts 30 million dollars to help entrepreneurs in both Central and South Aerica in an effort to reduce the poor population. Also, what he cares about is corporate environmental responsibility. The approach The Avina Foundation utilizes is to encourage the poor to become entrepreneurs rather than to provide them welfare, including aiding latin America’s waste pickers in Brazil to raise their earning and training the poor to run business in rural areas.
Leaders influence people and decide when, where and how to exercise influence in an effort to bring about the attainment of social goals (House&Howell, 1992; Mumford, 1986; Winter, 1991). In this case, Schmidheiny is a leader in dealing with a social problem. He saw that people in Latin America suffered from poverty and environmental pollution was exacerbated. His visions are poverty alleviation and environmental conservation. He mobilized the poor to move toward their collective goal, namely decreasing the ratio of poor people (Burns, 1978) and further reached another vision-environmental protection.
In order to approach his desire, the way he used was to teach people and train how to enhance their income through being an entrepreneur, instead of handing the poor money directly. He realized that without teaching, giving away is too passive. People still do not know how to earn more money to improve their life, so what he emphasized is to the growth of his followers-the poor people. This is a typical example of servant leadership (Smith, Montagno, and Kuzmenko, 2004). Schmidheiny’s motivation came from development of the poor and his first priority is to serve society first and lead second.
In addition to helping people away from poverty, another important concept he brought to society is to raise the awareness of environment in Latin America. As a philanthropist, Schmidheiny definitely proposed the creative and effective policies to improve financial condition of the poor and dedicate to the reduction of pollution, so he is an exemplar of leaders in leading social changes.


  1. Brenda, this was a very thought provoking article for me. The leadership focus by Schmidheiny on this philanthropic mission seemed to be first on mobilizing those who needed money (Burns, 1978; Heifitz, 1988). Next, he seemed to be able to pair this need with another end value, that being environmental stewardship (Burns, 1978, Selznick, 1975).

    I'm impressed with the adaptive leadership (Heifitz, 1988) Schmidheiny shows by creating solutions to make a difference with two very complex global issues (Gardner, 1990, Florida and Goodnight, 2005).

    Thanks for this contribution to our understanding of leadership as well as to certain global initiatives that seek to tackle complex problems.

  2. Brenda,

    Interesting post. It makes me want to learn more about Schmidheiny and perhaps how his beliefs, values, and life experiences influenced his decision to decide to serve those less fortunate than him.

    He definitely seems like someone who has motivated and mobilized people through his servant and I would even say participatory leadership style. I wonder how he communicates with the people he is leading and furthermore, how did the Avina Foundation come to find about his efforts? Was it from his followers carrying out his vision or was it something that he proposed?


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