Interview with Luca Burinato, head of Amref’s Corporate Partnerships

New episode of our section dedicated to “Defining interviews”. This month we will talk with Luca Burinato, head of Corporate Partnerships of Amref.

Many companies are afraid of positioning themselves on social issues for fear of making the wrong communication register or committing mistakes that can be amplified via social media: how can supporting a certain cause improve the position of some companies with respect to their market? 

I believe that in no way can positioning oneself on social issues lead to mistakes. Each company is right in communicating its commitment according to its own values and feelings. Provided that this is a conscious choice and not dictated by the logic of return in terms of mere profit and visibility. That time is over: now is the time for companies to be aware that supporting social and environmental causes (and eliminating the negative consequences of their actions) is a collective responsibility. An unsustainable, unjust and inequitable world not only must no longer exist from an ethical point of view, but also carries with it a very high risk of instability. 

There is a lot of talk about “Impact Economy”, that is a growth model aimed at generating positive social impact: what should be the characteristics of this model, in your opinion?  

We live in a historical moment where inequalities have reached unacceptable levels. In order to respond effectively to social needs, it is necessary to rely on new schemes. Therefore, the Impact Economy model can transform finance and investments from speculative to generators of value. 

I imagine this model characterized by companies stimulated to create business models whose ambition corresponds to the demand of investors, the market and customers, and with the latter active in demanding a concrete benefit for the community. The essential pillars of this model are vision, the ability to look to the future with high quality planning, which in addition to finance involves all the main players: from the public, to companies, up to the private social sector. A model of this kind needs a system of social and environmental measurement and assessment to be integrated into all business activities, central to government policies, market operations, investor behavior and consumer choices. An integrated financial accounting that offers concrete tools to transform the current capitalist model, effectively excluding social and green washing actions from the game.

For many years, collaboration between for-profit and non-profit organizations has been a reality: do you think there are any risks that both the non-profit organization and the company may face in establishing a partnership? If so, which are the main ones?

I have worked a lot on this front for Amref, and the KOKONO™ project underway with De-LAB is a further development, a true hybridization. 

Personally, I don’t see risks, only opportunities. Certainly, a cultural change is needed on both fronts, overcoming the natural resistance that emerges when it is necessary to change and distort mechanisms to which we have always been accustomed.

The other issue concerns large donors (institutions and foundations): it would be really important for them to align themselves with the changed scenario, readjusting the current donation mechanisms that are currently designed exclusively for non-profit organizations.

COVID-19 is putting a strain on Developed and Developing Countries: what are the biggest difficulties that a health organization like Amref is facing in countries like Kenya or Uganda, where the health system was already fragile before the arrival of the pandemic? What is your contribution on the ground? 

Amref has been at the forefront since the beginning of the pandemic in COVID19 preparedness and response actions. The difficulties encountered have been operational ones: carrying out the other programs taking into account the restrictions, reaching the most remote areas, supporting an already very fragile health system. In addition, a number of challenges have emerged related to the impact that the COVID-19 pandemic has had on key health areas including HIV, female genital mutilation, early and forced marriages, socio-economic wellbeing of young people, and the responses of governments that in some cases have exploited legitimacy to reduce the freedom of citizens, in contexts where the rule of law is still very fragile.

COVID and the consequent economic crisis are affecting all economic sectors: which financial instruments should be rethought or improved in order to help the Third Sector and Social Impact Enterprises? 

One of these is the introduction of Solidarity Certificates, which for the first time formally bring social finance into the third sector system, two sectors long kept separate. In this way, investments in projects with a strong social impact are encouraged. In addition to ad hoc financial instruments, what would greatly help the development of the third sector is a paradigm shift on the part of institutional donors and international organizations, shifting attention from individual items of expenditure made to financing by results, linked to real and effective change in the medium-long term.

In your opinion, what will be the elements that will characterize the post-Covid nonprofit world?

What I hope is that the third sector will not be put in competition with the State and the for-profit world, but will be seen as a subject capable of contaminating both, on the one hand by supporting the transformation of capitalism and transferring the ability to put the social objective ahead of profit objectives, and on the other by bringing out creativity and innovation from below that characterize its actions in response to an inadequate welfare system.

If you were given the opportunity tomorrow to enact a law in the area you cover: what would be your first move? What would you activate? 

It is partly related to what I said earlier, and the first thing I would do would be to put third sector entities on an equal footing with other for-profit entities. Let’s take the example of awarding “refreshments.” If we look at the requirements for obtaining the non-refundable financing, we immediately understand that the norm is calibrated on a for-profit model that does not take into account the type of revenue of non-profit entities. The latter, in general reduction, support the carrying out of activities, of general interest and support to the most vulnerable. However, since they are not qualified as revenues, because they are of a non-commercial nature (mostly donations, but also membership fees, etc.) they do not fall within the group of requirements. 

If Amref could make an appeal to Italian citizens in this moment of crisis: what would you say? 

Be resilient, but also proactive and protagonists of a future that belongs to us. Each one of us must feel active in a new participatory and inclusive model that overcomes the inequalities in our societies.

See you next month with the new interview!

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