André Abucham of Santa Fé Beneficent Association: “Understand their mission and why do they exist”

My leadership style — it is all about my team to make sure they are happy, healthy and have a well-balanced life. I am always thinking about how we really can take care of our biggest asset of the company, which is our people. They know they can come to me and I am ready and available […]

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My leadership style — it is all about my team to make sure they are happy, healthy and have a well-balanced life. I am always thinking about how we really can take care of our biggest asset of the company, which is our people. They know they can come to me and I am ready and available to listen and work together with them.

As part of my series about “individuals and organizations making an important social impact”, I had the pleasure of interviewing André Abucham.

André Abucham is the Board Chairman of Santa Fé Beneficent Association, a nonprofit that welcomes and treats children, adolescents and families at risk by providing support, education and appropriate environments so they may develop to their full potential. The YPO Global Impact Regional Honoree for Latin America, André and Santa Fé have aided in the support of more than 6,000 homeless single mothers and children through their programs focusing on shelter homes, children’s families and life after living in shelters.

André is also the CEO of Engeform, one of the main maintainers of Santa Fé. He developed his career accumulating national and international experience. He graduated in civil engineering at Mackenzie University in 1998, also studied between 2011 and 2013, attending the Owner and President Management Program, at Harvard Business School.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

When I went to Harvard Business School and took a leadership class with former Chairman of Goldman Sachs Robert Kaplan, he shared with us a case study about when someone had to help his best friend create a foundation to support cystic fibrosis. What came to my mind was that I could use my network to make great impact. I was 35 years old, and I thought it is time for me to do more. I was already involved with Associação Beneficente Santa Fé, but it was then I decided to create a board to further support Santa Fé’s actions and that’s how I started to connect more with the organization and make a further impact on the lives of the homeless kids and teens in São Paulo.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company or organization?

What I have learned is that there is a lack of awareness around the importance of doing social work in Brazil. It is much easier to do than people think — all you need is a strong purpose, a cause they believe in, an NGO that is well managed, and the trust that money is going to be well invested and create better returns. Year after year, I have seen that more and more people are seeing the good work we are doing at Santa Fé and trust me and my leadership and that we will create great impact. An example of this was recently, within my personal social networks, I posted about how we needed to fight the hunger in São Paulo and what we were proposing to do. I stated, “If you guys think it is important, please donate here and we will take care of 20,000 people.” In just a few days, we had 240 people donate to our crowdfund, and we made our goal. It is just an example of how raising awareness around important subjects, speaking and connecting with people can really make a significant difference.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

This may not be the funniest, but it was the one of the most influential mistakes I made at the beginning that shaped my leadership style. The way things are managed when dealing with kids that come from a background of violence, suffering and pain is not liking managing a business. It was funny to see the way my mind was tuned into solve problems in the corporate world and how that would not translate to making social impact at Santa Fé. It just does not apply. You need social workers, therapists, educators and so many other resources to support these vulnerable communities, and you need to approach your management style in a much different manner. Things take more time with social impact organizations compared to corporations

Can you describe how you or your organization is making a significant social impact?

At my main company, Engeform, we hold a social competition at the end of the year. We create teams along with a point system, where our teams can earn points by giving blood, raising money, donating food and much more. At the annual party, we reveal the top three teams. With this, we are creating a massive impact with thousands of people participating. And then, after the competition, our employees are inspired to continue the good work they have implemented throughout the year.

Besides that, we promote other campaigns during the year, such as clothes donating to warm homeless in winter season; food donations to fight the hunger and more. At Engeform, we also have an education program to help poor children get into good colleges. Some members of our team dedicate monthly hours giving reinforcement classes to these children.

Can you tell us a story about a particular individual who was impacted or helped by your cause?

There was a girl who was raped when she was 12 years old. She suffered from some of the most horrific violence you could imagine. She grew up in Santa Fé and was able to have her kid there. She was a very troubled child, embracing her background of violence and trying to replicate it at Santa Fé. We took care of her with all the expertise and support we have at Santa Fé. Now she is completing her degree in São Paulo at the best civil engineering university. If it were not for Santa Fé, she would still be on the streets without a future and her story would be so different.

Are there three things the community/society/politicians can do to help you address the root of the problem you are trying to solve?

As citizens of our cities, we must look at the kids on the streets and really see them. Those are kids with no support, and it is important to look at them and feel something. It is way to easy to turn a blind eye and ignore the problem.

Santa Fé tries to influence public policy, and over the years we have helped politicians really understand the issues at the heart of the community and how to best help. It is key to create and maintain these relationships as well as the continue to educate and build awareness.

Within the community, it is so helpful to have the support of the people. The more who know about what we do, the more they want to support us. Every day I get a call from someone who wants to help Santa Fé in some way.

How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?

My leadership style — it is all about my team to make sure they are happy, healthy and have a well-balanced life. I am always thinking about how we really can take care of our biggest asset of the company, which is our people. They know they can come to me and I am ready and available to listen and work together with them.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.

  1. With social projects, you really need to understand their culture.
  2. Understand their mission and why do they exist.
  3. Understand the complicated issues around communicating what we do. We cannot share the name of our kids until they are older and their stories, and that is a challenge in raising awareness of the cause and the amazing things Santa Fé is doing.
  4. It is a lot easier to make an impact that you think. To create impact, it is a manner of passion and donating some time and knowledge.
  5. It is much harder to implement and execute what you have planned. It is very easy to create a strategic plan, but it is way harder to execute what you have planned and very different from the business world.

You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

I am working as an ambassador of Caça Fome, which is helping the hunger problem in the streets of São Paulo. I reached out to the founder and told him, “I know you need more money.” I donated some and reached out to my network. We ended up creating a lot of traction and momentum. And then I shared further with my community, and we raised even more money. Within a few days, we created something beautiful and fed more than 20,000 people.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

My favorite quote is by Steve Jobs. “I’m as proud of what we don’t do as I am what we do.” In order to be really good and make a difference, it is just as important to know what not to do.

Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂

I would like to meet again Queen Silvia from Sweden, who founded Childhood Foundation, an organization very similar in its mission as Santa Fé to ensure children have a safe and loving childhood without violence, sexual abuse and exploitation. She has already visited Santa Fé, and it will be very gratifying to share these moments and this recognition with her.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

Caça Fome Instagram —

Associação Beneficente Santa Fé Instagram —

LinkedIn —

This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success on your great work!

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