What started as a handful of young entrepreneurs gathering 200 people in an auditorium has evolved into a convention unlike any other, spanning six days of events with an attendance of over 6,000. And now, the Instituto de Estudos Empresariais’s Fórum da Liberdade has become Latin America’s Super Bowl of Liberalism.
Brazil underwent massive, rapid change in the mid-1980s. The military dictatorship that had ruled the country for decades gave way to a democratically elected president. The economic status quo, dominated by state-run enterprises, unemployment, and inflation, was now up for debate, and 20 young entrepreneurs wanted to get involved in such a discussion. In 1984 they formed the Instituto de Estudos Empresariais (IEE) – Institute of Entrepreneurial Studies – as a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization focused on developing both a free market economy and the business leaders needed to make such a market economy grow.
Four years later in 1988, Brazil adopted a new constitution. That same year, IEE held its first “Fórum da Liberdade,” which recently had its 30th iteration in 2017. What began as a small gathering of 200 people in an auditorium has evolved into a convention of sorts, spanning 6 days of events with an attendance of over 6,000. Attendees include entrepreneurs, professionals, politicians, teachers, university students, reporters, and other shapers of public opinion. Fórum da Liberdade has become a behemoth of a summit of classical liberalism, expanding its focus from the national policies of Brazil to encompass Latin America generally.
Proportionate with the increase in size has been Fórum da Liberdade’s increase in scope. In addition to its traditional speeches, lectures, and panel discussions, it now hosts trainings, workshops, book launches, and an internal conference called “Unconference” to connect investors and knowledgeable thought leaders to entrepreneurs whose projects had been pre-selected to present. The fourteen projects chosen addressed various social, economic, and political issues and included ideas like microcredit, online work platforms, and others. Each project leader was given the opportunity to solicit feedback, investment, and knowledge by forum attendees.
Another trademark of Fórum da Liberdade is its annual theme, which changes each year. Much thought is put into selecting each theme, and the most recent was “The Future of Democracy.” Nearly a year removed from the impeachment of Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff, it sought to examine the implications that such an event holds for the future of Brazil’s democracy.
IEE has continued to innovatively engage participants in Fórum da Liberdade, and in 2015 they created an app to increase interactivity among attendees, which provided its users with the full event schedule and bios for all the speakers, their resumes, and the capacity to submit questions in real time to speakers. In its first year the app had nearly 1,000 downloads and allowed participants to submit over 200 questions to speakers.
The event has a colossal digital impact: the most recent Fórum da Liberdade received 269 media hits in the top media outlets of Brazil and elsewhere while accruing more than 30,000 online views of forum events, 150,000 online views of its produced materials, and 100 associated articles, TV, and radio appearances. This massive media coverage has brought classical liberalism to a spate of new audiences, many of which with no prior exposure to such ideas. The political climate in Brazil has even opened up to accommodate more classical liberal principles. Past forum attendees, like Marcel Van Hattem, have won election to public office.
“Fórum da Liberdade is more than an event: it is Brazil’s chance to flourish and empower liberty culture from within, creating a thriving atmosphere that proposes alternatives to develop a society with more prosperity and freedom,” said Júlio César Bratz Lamb, president of IEE.
IEE has a rather unique organizational structure – it’s composed of active associates, all younger than 35, who constitute a general assembly which in turn elects a seven-member Board of Directors annually. Over its history nearly a thousand entrepreneurs have matriculated through IEE’s formation circle, becoming influential advocates for a freer society in Brazil and helping IEE to take a leading role in the defense of liberty and promotion of principled entrepreneurship in Latin America.
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Atlas Network maintains that some of the best lessons for achieving impact are taught by sharing success stories of similar organizations. The case study highlighted here features the work of Instituto de Estudos Empresariais, a 2017 finalist for the prestigious Templeton Freedom Award. If you would like more in-depth inquiry, guidance, and discussion, be sure to participate in Atlas Leadership Academy’s Think Tank Impact online course, which includes case studies about other award-winning projects. This course, run quarterly throughout the year, allows participants to learn, share, and address organizational challenges along with others from the worldwide freedom movement. New case studies are being published regularly, so keep an eye out for future publications and recommend this course to your colleagues.