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Pro-bono Program Transforms Lar da Bencao Divina, a Brazilian Non-Profit

In 2015, the World Institute for Action Learning (WIAL), created the Better World Program. The goal was to bring Action Learning to others in a socially responsible way, by encouraging Action Learning Coaches to share their skills pro-bono with non-profit organizations to help these organizations solve problems in a more creative way, to improve functionality and better serve their constituents. Better World is now a global program. One of the leading countries living the mission of Better World is WIAL Brazil.

In 2018, three Action Learning coaches, Simone Donadel, Debora Gaudencio, and Magali Lopes, with over fifty years combined coaching experience, were asked to assist a sixty-two-year-old NPO, the Lar da Bencao Divina (Home of Divine Blessing – LAR), in Sao Paolo. LAR supports the neighborhoods surrounding the Congonhas Airport in Sao Paolo. The organization began in 1956 providing food through its soup kitchen. By the 1980s, they were offering daycare, academic support with their Pedagogical Excellence Project, and most recently, music education through their Experimental Orchestra.

LAR´s President learned of the benefits surrounding Action Learning and created a three-month program for their management staff. The problems initially identified were: a lack of commitment by managers to their functions; delay in delivery of monthly reporting and financial processes; a limited bus driver pool creating a safety risk for children; lower than expected writing performance of the children, and a failure of instructors to provide in-depth reports about the children to their parents.

Various groups met bi-weekly with profound results, experiencing first-hand the many hallmarks of Action Learning. They were in a safe environment, removed hierarchical barriers, asked powerful questions, listened with intention, kept an open mind, and worked in collaboration. They began meeting with teachers as a group, clarifying roles and expectations. Timelines for employee professional assessments and development were put in place. Procedures were addressed. A bus driver retention plan was created. They continue to put into practice what they have been taught.

The staff’s work benefitted LAR’s immediate community in the form of two significant programs. The Pedagogical Excellence Project began with a remedial learning focus and a goal to keep children off the streets. The first cohort of 110 children, ages 6-16, received academic support, supplemental foreign language classes, and cultural as well as sports activities. The Experimental Orchestra, a second project, began as a recorder lesson workshop, under the direction of Conductor Amelia Motta Cruz Zini Antunes. It grew in over just 10 years to become a genuine youth orchestra performing all over Sao Paulo. Their stage performances include free public concerts, offering others in their own community, as well as the greater city of Sao Paulo, the opportunity to experience different types of music. This opportunity isn’t immediately available to these impoverished groups of citizens. This three-tier approach, with combined efforts of staff education and constituent program development, to the program’s exposure for a larger community, is the truest form of Action Learning.
“With Action Learning we have had very practical results to integrate the team. Now we’re a homogenous group, the ideas flow, we’ve done away with power relations. We know that we’re not alone and we can ask for help, we succeeded in getting closer to one another. In addition, a lot of actions generated from the meetings have been implemented.” –President of LAR
“Today I’ve learned that the more we know the cause, the more strength we’ll have to come up with ideas and propose solutions. So going deep into the very root of a problem is the flash of genius!” –LAR employee