A cautionary tale about incorporating charitable acts into an incentive program outside the U.S.
When Harith Wickrema's pharmaceutical client asked him to plan an incentive trip to Rio de Janeiro that would also give back to the local community, he knew he had his work cut out for him. Wickrema, founder and president of Philadelphia-based event planning company, Harith Productions Ltd., had never been to the Brazilian city, and he didn't speak a word of Portuguese.
Making the project even more challenging was a lack of local experience with corporate community outreach as part of meetings and events. While giving back has become de rigueur in the United States in recent years, the concept is not a common one in Brazil. “More and more there's an interest,” says Clive Ernest Clarke, managing partner of Brazil's largest, GB Internacional, “but I haven't experienced it actually happening.”
Wickrema didn't let that stop him. Working with a Rio-based supplier and a translator, he learned of Legião Feminina de Educação e Combate ao Câncer, a non-governmental organization that provides cancer medications and hospital transportation to 35 indigent patients — a perfect charity to tie into the pharma company's objectives.
Of course, there were still complications. At the event, an executive from the American pharmaceutical company presented the president of the charity with an oversize ceremonial check for $2,500. But once the charity's leaders left the ballroom, they asked Wickrema for their money — in cash.
There are a number of hurdles to planning high-end incentives in Brazil, and making financial arrangements acceptable to all parties is the most difficult. The charity had been advised by its receiving bank that there would be as much as a 20 percent surcharge on a wire transfer from the United States and had balked at giving up $500. In the end, hasty arrangements were made with the cancer hospital with which the charity is affiliated to receive the company's payment without incurring fees.