André Abucham is the Latin America regional honoree for the 2021 YPO Global Impact Award. The award focuses on YPO members making impact outside the organization that is both sustainable and scalable, affecting people, prosperity, peace or our planet.
Sara was pregnant when she arrived at Associação Beneficente Santa Fé in São Paulo, Brazil. The center provides aid for homeless youth and young mothers. Just 12 years old, Sara had grown up in an abusive family, had no self-esteem, was addicted to drugs and prone to violent outbursts.
Like many others who find their way to Santa Fe, Sara was made whole again thanks to the nurturing staff and caregivers. The organization employs 70 people, including therapists, psychologists and social workers. Sara was given the freedom to find herself and create her own identity and ultimately found a way out of the darkness to a much brighter, happier future. Today, Sara is studying at the best engineering school in Brazil and has a good career ahead of her.
Standing alongside Sara, and the thousands before and after her, is André Villac Abucham.
CEO of Engeform, Abucham has spent 10 years as the Board Chair of Associação Beneficente Santa Fé. This private, secular nonprofit has saved thousands of young people – victims of abuse, abandonment and sexual violence – living on São Paulo’s streets since 1993.
São Paulo has almost 2,000 children living on the streets. In Brazil, there are more than 70,000 homeless children. In the world, there are 100 million.
“I believe that if you want to change society, you have to start with kids’ safety and education,” he says. “There is a lot to be done. These children cannot be invisible to our eyes.”
Abucham, who grew up in São Paulo, earned an engineering degree from Mackenzie Presbyterian University in São Paulo. He attended the Owner and President Management Program at Harvard University in Boston, Massachusetts, USA, and served in a leadership capacity at other companies, including seven years at Citigroup in New York, New York, USA. He has served with Engeform for 15 years.
André Abucham On Assembling the team
Abucham was 35 years old and studying at Harvard in 2011, when he started creating the board for Santa Fe.
He credits his family – specifically his grandparents – for instilling his drive to give back to society. He also followed what his company was doing, as the main financial supporters of Santa Fe 2000. Abucham wanted to help more.
So he engaged other CEOs whom he thought would understand the importance of the center’s mission. Since joining YPO in 2017, Abucham has brought six additional YPO members onto Santa Fe’s board of directors.
The initial obstacles were great: Santa Fe had financial, governance, cultural and people challenges.
“First, I had to understand the challenges,” he says. “NGO (nongovernmental organization) programs aren’t run like companies. Social projects must be run differently, especially when dealing with kids with backgrounds filled with pain. I had to try to find a way to bring solutions.”
Abucham sees homeless children in the São Paulo streets every day. They’re like Sara; they are also like George, who fathered a child while he was living at Santa Fe. George now works as an educator at Santa Fe. His daughter had a child, who was been helped by the organization. That’s three generations within the same family supported by Santa Fe. There are many other stories like Sara and George’s.
Changing the path for future generations
Children, from infants to 18 years old, find their way to Santa Fe through Brazil’s judicial system. Girls 12-15 years old are often already mothers.
The Santa Fe program is entirely replicable. The organization receives these youth and provides housing, therapy and education. Their identities and self-esteem are reconstructed through individualized therapeutic work, promoting their full development. The center also provides support to families, aiming to return children and adolescents to their families, whether their parents or other family members, nuclear or extensive in a sustainable and safe way. Every child is treated with dignity, and their individuality is respected.
“They deserve the same rights as every kid in this world,” Abucham says. “A kid who comes from the slums of Brazil may have no perspective in life at all. What we do is totally reverse this bad cycle they’re coming from.”
Santa Fe’s work doesn’t stop when a youth leaves the program. If returning to family is not an option, once emancipated, Santa Fe youths are set up in a home of their own, and the organization tracks their progress and integration back into society for five years.
In 28 years of operation, Santa Fe has helped 6,000 children. When you factor in their families, the number is more than 30,000. On average, the organization helps 400 people per year. Today, 200 Santa Fe youth are going to top schools in Brazil, with 38 attending universities. The organization was named in 2015 as one of the top social programs of the world according to NGO Advisor.
We have a lot of to do! We can’t give up! I strongly believe in a better future, the one where there are no children living on the streets or dying of mistreatment. ”
— André Villac Abucham, CEO of Engeform Engenharia share
Every year, Abucham brings together a network of artists and gallery owners for an auction dinner to raise awareness and funds for Santa Fe.
“I was able to connect art with social work,” he says. “For years, I’ve been saying art can save lives. This is something not seen with other social projects. It’s very innovative. It’s only one night, but we get hundreds of people to learn more stories about the kids.”
Considerations before making an impact
Abucham shares his advice for business leaders who may be considering leading an impact organization.
Find a social project that matches your own personal purpose. Is there a match with what you believe is right, and what you think is going to make a difference in the world?
Dig deep. Understand the culture, the challenges and governance.
Be open to developing new skills. Abucham admits Santa Fe taught him that patience was a key to problem-solving.
“As a CEO and a board member of other companies, I’m used to managing things in a very fast way,” he says. “Things in social areas don’t work at the same speed as the corporate world.”
Abucham says his dream is to walk around São Paulo and no longer see kids living on the streets. This power to change the future of so many has kept him hooked.
Says Abucham: “We have a lot of to do! We can’t give up! I strongly believe in a better future, the one where there are no children living on the streets or dying of mistreatment.”
Names were changed to protect the identity of the victims.