Jair Ribeiro is the Latin American regional honoree for the 2022 YPO Global Impact Award. The award focuses on YPO members making an impact outside the organization that is both sustainable and scalable, affecting people, prosperity, peace or our planet.

“As a nation, Brazil has neglected to provide satisfactory quality education to the base of the pyramid,” says Jair Ribeiro, YPO member and Co-Founder and CEO of Associação Parceiros da Educação, an organization that brings together entrepreneurs who believe in the transformational power of education impacting the social and economic development of a country.

As one of the top 10 nations in the world with a high Gini index — a summary measure of income inequality — Brazil’s divide between ‘the haves’ and ‘have nots’ are more glaring than most. Oxfam reports that someone earning the minimum monthly wage in Brazil would have to work 19 years to make the same amount that a Brazilian from the richest 0.1% of the population makes in a month.

… If I had been born just five miles down the road, my life would probably be much different. I found that kind of luck-of-the-draw reprehensible. ”
— Jair Ribeiro, Latin American regional honoree for the 2022 YPO Global Impact Award share twitter

“We are living in the 21st century and remain beset with hunger, illiteracy and millions of kids without the bare minimum to succeed in life,” says Ribeiro. “This is simply unacceptable. In my view, all of civil society should bear arms to combat this cancer.”

Ribeiro’s weapon of choice? Education.

Fundamental motifs of the human experience

“In the developed world and more recently in Asia, education has been called “the great equalizer,” Ribeiro continues. “Much has been done in the past 30 years to develop Brazil’s educational system and we now have enough schools for all children to attend. However, as a friend of mine says, ‘As volume entered through the front door, quality left through the back.’ We are one of the last countries to universalize grades K-12, which puts us about 40 meters behind most developed countries in the 100-meter sprint.”

In Ribeiro’s eyes, one of the most tangible ways to advance the country’s educational system is to use  private investment to maximize public investment in education. 

“This has been my passion now for nearly 20 years,” he says. 

As it turns out, Ribeiro’s passion around education was stoked further back than that, when he was just 21 years old, drinking beer in a bar with a group of friends. The discussion turned to everyone’s desire to improve the Brazilian educational system, they just didn’t know what could, or should, be done. 

Over the next 20 years, Ribeiro built his first business and started a family. But occasionally, he would think back on that conversation in the bar. It wasn’t until he sold his enterprise and took a year-long sabbatical to do some soul searching, that it all began to coalesce. 

“When you’re 20 you get married, you have kids, make money, gain social status and then you turn 40,” Ribeiro says, smiling. “And you say, ‘OK, what am I going to do with the rest of my life?’ Carl Jung calls that time of your life individuation.” 

While Ribeiro was unaware that what he was experiencing was so ubiquitous an entire theory was designed around it — one in which a person recognizes his innermost uniqueness by identifying the philosophical, mystical and spiritual areas of being human — he knew he needed a purpose.

“I took a look at all of the major issues in Brazil and realized that I had a passion to combat inequality,” Ribeiro recalls. “I was born into an upper-middle-class family with parents and grandparents who were doctors, lawyers, engineers … if I had been born just five miles down the road, my life would probably be much different. I found that kind of luck-of-the-draw reprehensible.”

New school of thoughts

In 2004, following months of analyzing a local entrepreneur’s public school program in one of São Paulo’s largest favelas, Parceiros da Educação made its first appearance in the classroom. The program was based on a methodology that sponsored teacher training, supported the school’s management team and pedagogy, promoted group learning and social emotional practices. Much of the work with teachers focused on the basics, like literacy and basic math, a major issue in Brazil, most acutely among those in lower-income families. And partnerships between companies and donors with the school offered much-needed financial assistance and enabled a sustainable market-based approach to achieving outcomes at scale. 

The subsequent year, Moise Politi, Ribeiro’s close friend and fellow YPO member, adopted a second school. The following year, another friend adopted a third. As Ribeiro tells it, “Fast forward 18 years and by the end of 2022, we will have more than 600 adopted schools, 300,000+ students and more than 100 business partners, many of them YPO members.”

To date, Parceiros has impacted more than 750,000 students, increasing, on average, 35% of the schools’ educational indexes in the first three years of implementation. Parceiros is currently present in 400+ public schools, directly impacting 250,000 students in grades K-12 but even more importantly, as Ribeiro notes, “The practices we developed in our schools are now being adopted in thousands of other schools in São Paulo and in states throughout Brazil.” Since 2011, Jair has been a member of the São Paulo Department of Education External Management Committee.

Measured social steps

There are many reasons for Parceiros’ success, but one is due to Ribeiro running the program the same as he would any other business — using goals, PDCA (Plan-Do-Check-Act, a problem-solving iterative technique in four steps) and conscientious management practices. The difference? A stronger purpose. 

“I came from the financial markets where people were driven by bonuses and meritocracy, measuring business by the ROE,” Ribeiro notes. “Here, it’s a measure of SROI, social return on investment; of how much we’re moving the needle on the number of schools and municipalities participating in and completing our program.” 

Parceiros recently hired an external consulting firm to measure its SROI under an internationally recognized methodology. “For our program with municipalities, which has been in place for many years, for each dollar invested, the community received USD7.17 back in present value. One of the highest ever calculated under this methodology!” Ribeiro notes.

The program also undergoes a significant amount of measurement, with teams regularly addressing what they did right, what they did wrong, what worked, and what didn’t.

“Because of this,” says Ribeiro, “We are now operating in version 17.0, continuing to introduce new elements to the program and eliminating others. It is a very results-driven, organizational world.”

Get ready for a challenge (or three)

Public sector executives, principals, teachers, students, families … that’s a slew of different points of view derived from different experiences, seeking different goals, all working together for the common good. 

“I always warn potential business partners interested in adopting a school that it will probably be the most challenging program they will ever face,” laughs Ribeiro, for whom challenges are the succor of life. “Many things can go wrong!  A change in the school’s principal, for example, might alter the partnership’s entire dynamic.”

The second biggest challenge is scaling, some of which has been alleviated by partnering with municipalities and the São Paulo State’s regional departments with 80-100 schools each. Many new programs are also piloted under the Parceiros’ schools and then incorporated by the other public schools, which ensures that when Ribeiro’s team leaves, their legacy will remain. 

Here, it is a measure of SROI, social return on investment; of how much we’re moving the needle on the number of schools participating in and completing our program. ”
— Jair Ribeiro share twitter

“We are talking about 15- to 20-year cycles to transform a large school system such as São Paulo’s with more than 5,100 schools.  Governments change every four years in Brazil and secretaries of education do not tend to stick around very long,” explains Ribeiro. “In my 18 years of dealing with public education in São Paulo, I have dealt with eight secretaries!” he smiles ruefully, and adds, “The major challenge is to convince the new person in charge to maintain the previous practices — a layer of risk that we mitigate by involving many echelons of multiple departments in our work. Working well with the department’s bureaucracy is critical!” 

While the São Paulo state public school department is No. 1 in the country in elementary and middle school assessments and number three in high school, “Our long term goal is to achieve the average Programme for International Student Assessment of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development countries despite our economic inequality,” says Ribeiro.

Resilience, resilience, resilience

Speaking of No.1, Ribeiro’s No. 1 piece of advice for anyone considering leading an impact initiative is, “Resilience, resilience, resilience. Dealing with the public sector for long-term transformation requires patience and resilience, but we must persevere to reach our goal.”

As Ribeiro notes, historians and anthropologists have shown that homo sapiens became the dominant species not by working alone, in silos, but as a consequence of our ability to create teams and labor collectively. By building a strong board, a robust team of managers and a strong allegiance with the public sector, Ribeiro feels confident that Parceiros will continue to thrive and create sustainable impact in every school it touches. All made possible, in no small part, to the continued support of business leaders around the world. 

“As YPO members, we are uniquely positioned to change the communities we live in,” says Ribeiro. “Especially in countries like Brazil where there is so much to be done — we can exponentially leverage our efforts by working together!”