Oded Grajew

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Oded Grajew

In 2004 Oded Grajew was "president of the Ethos Institute for Business and Social Responsibility. He is also a member of both the secretariat and the organizing committee of the International Council of the World Social Forum." interview

"Oded is spearheading the corporate social responsibility (CSR) movement in Brazil as president of the Ethos Institute for Business Social Responsibility (Instituto ETHOS De Empresas E Responsabilidade Social), which he founded in 1998. He also is the founder of the annual World Social Forum, the citizen sector alternative to the World Economic Forum that meets in Davos, Switzerland. The WSF is attended by representatives of more than 100,000 organizations and social movements." [1]

"Oded founded Grow Games and Toys (Grow Jogos and Brinquedos) in 1972, a company devoted to developing quality toys such as "intelligent games" for adults and adolescents. In 1989 he became a founder and one of the first general coordinators of Thoughts of the National Thinking of the Business Community (PNBE), a movement to put concerns about democracy, social justice, and improving the relationship between capital and labor onto the agendas of business leaders.

"From 1990 to 1992, Oded was president of the Latin American Toy Manufacturers Association. As president of the Brazilian Association of Toy Manufacturers (ABRINQ), he established the ABRINQ Foundation for Children's Rights in 1990 and serves now as the president of its administrative council. Today, more than 2,000 companies from various economic sectors and geographic regions in Brazil participate in the ABRINQ Foundation, supporting a variety of programs that reach more than one million children.

"The ABRINQ Foundation has placed issues like the eradication of child labor on the Brazilian social agenda by mobilizing diverse economic sectors to assume their responsibilities along the chain of production. The foundation also seeks to influence public policies at the municipal and federal level so that children?s issues receive priority attention.

Bridging Sectors

"In 1993 Oded left the toy industry to focus full-time on social entrepreneurship. He is the founder and ex-coordinator of the Brazilian Association of Businessmen for Citizenship (CIVES). He also holds memberships with the Global Compact, the Sao Paulo 21st Century Forum, and the Advisory Council of Transparency Brazil (dedicated to fighting corruption).

"When Lula da Silva was elected president of Brazil, Oded took a leave of absence from Ethos to serve as an advisor to Lula for a year. He has since returned to Ethos and remains actively engaged in WSF organizing work and service to the various organizations on whose boards he serves.

"Oded is in his late 50s; he is married to an organizational psychologist. They live in Sao Paulo, Brazil." [2]

He notes that:

Origin of the World Social Forum

"My company—Grow—was 25 percent owned by a German company, the biggest German Company in the toy industry, and its representative is Hans Schwabb, the brother of Klaus Schwabb, who is the President of the World Economic Forum.

"I always had the idea of bringing a social element into the World Economic Forum, so I tried to persuade it to produce a social and environmental agenda, but I always found a lot of resistance because he'd argue that the market would solve things by itself. He'd say: "Look at the Argentinean situation and Cavallo and Menem, look at how they've transformed Argentina . . . The market will take care of it."

"And I'd say: "No. This will blow up very soon!"

"He was very conservative. He held great events with great media exposure in the world, preaching this "world view" that the market would lead to the well-being of society and spreading all of these free market ideas that you are all very familiar with.

"Anyway, it's important to say that I was bothered by something. Things started to bother me, and things always start happening when you're bothered by something.

"So this situation was bothering me a lot. I was in Paris with my wife in one of those periods of doing nothing and during the World Economic Forum I came up with the idea of the World Social Forum.

"It is always important to know what choices we have ahead of us. We are capable of doing things and we have so many choices, which we sometimes don't stop to think about, or we are influenced by others' expectations instead of our own expectations. We must recognize that there are opposite sides to every situation—this recognition led me to the idea of the World Social Forum.

Using a Network to Test Ideas

"This was an interesting process because it illustrates well what I've just talked about. It is important to have a partner like I do—my wife—in order to exchange ideas and ask opinions. This is fundamental. And you must also ask yourself what your choices are and where you want to be in the world.

"And you must recognize that there are other choices, not just one alternative.

"In my opinion, the reason why so many people are exploited by so few is because these many people are not getting together, not articulating their needs among themselves and others—because when this happens then things will be certain to change. We even see this happening with organized crime, but not with actions to help civil society.

"The idea of the forum is to join individuals and NGOs that don't know each other so that they combine forces, articulate their needs and their missions, and gain political influence.

"I talked to my wife, and to Chico Whitaker and his wife, and proposed that we start checking and discussing the idea. I talked to Bernard Caston (see how important it is to have people with whom to share your ideas). I called him up and asked him his opinion. He is a man with great international influence, especially in Europe.

"He suggested that the forum be held in Porto Alegre. We decided to check the idea and launch it in June, if everything worked out well in Geneva, where they were holding a big meeting of NGOs before the evaluation of the five years of the Copenhagen Social Summit.

"In Brazil, I called Sergio Haddad, whom I already knew from ABONG. I called Cândido from IBASE and others and Maria Luiza from Global Exchange, Chico. I also called the mayor of Porto Alegre, whom I knew through the Laborers Party PT. I told everyone about our idea and explained what it would require. (I even joked that the mayor would have to explain to everyone in the world where Porto Alegre was because it would become the most famous city in the world).

"Everyone agreed and we went together again to the ETHOS Institute and decided to invite MST and CUT. We went to Porto Alegre and visited the facilities of PUC there. We saw that the airport was being built and that ultimately our idea was moving forward.

"We then needed funds so I talked to Ford Foundation, which I knew from Abrinq. We obtained $100,000. We needed $200,000 in total. So I went to the U.S. and talked to the Brazilian representative of Ford Foundation who was there. I secured the other $100,000 and the rest of the story you all know." [3]