Millions Of Causes

Partners create publishing products such as magazines and calendars, with income directed to causes; in 10 years, their work yielded R$ 25 million to 39 nonprofits

Ana Estela de Sousa Pinto
São Paulo

They earned their first million before they were 30 - and donated every penny.

This is the business model journalist Roberta Faria, 37, and business manager Rodrigo Pipponzi, 38, created ten years ago when they founded Mol, "the largest social impact publishing house in the world," according to them.

"We create affordable books and magazines with upbeat, inspiring content. Sales revenues go to a recipient organization", Roberta explains.

Those "socio-editorial" publications are sold through partnerships with retail networks, to collect micro-donations for several causes. In a decade, Mol's publications raised more than R$ 25 million in donations for 39 nonprofits and foundations.

Roberta Faria and Ricardo Pipponzi, founders of Editora Mol - Renato Stockler

"The company's, and Roberta and Rodrigo's, big insight was their magazine's transforming content. It helps in saving lives but also in transforming their readers' lives", says Tammy Allersforff, superintendent at pediatric cancer institution Graacc, about Sorria, Mol's most successful publication.

The magazine, which is sold in drugstores, raised R$ 14 million for the charity, a leading provider of cancer treatment for children and teenagers.

In their first meeting, for coffee in a bakery in São Paulo, both future partners soon realized that even with widely diverse backgrounds, they had a common purpose.

"The value that oriented the creation of Mol was making a difference with whatever we do," said Roberta. Soon after graduating, she was selected for a prized internship with one of the largest publishers in Brazil, Abril, and was quickly hired afterward.

"We have never put money ahead of our purposes. We were born this way", says Rodrigo, who has a degree in business by FGV.

"We wanted to understand how we could pay society back, with our work, our competence, and even our privileges."

Teenage mother

Roberta grew up in Rio do Sul, a small town in the state of Santa Catarina to where her family moved after a traumatic episode of violence in Rio de Janeiro.

Her mother owned a beauty parlor, and her father was the only infectious disease specialist in the public health department of a region with 32 townships and one million inhabitants.

"We had a beat-up old VW car, a car right out of 'The Flintstones', with rust holes on the floor, and lived in a house made of wood, with cracked boards and possums running through the attic," says Roberta.

She started working at 13 and got pregnant at 17, the same year she was accepted into the Federal University of Santa Catarina to study journalism.

Her daughter Gabriela, now 18, was born when Roberta was in her second semester at college. She had to manage her studies with part-time jobs to support her new family. "My classes started earlier than I could drop her in childcare, and few professors were understanding."

Some of them lowered her grades for arriving late for classes, even though this was because she had to wait to leave her daughter in daycare.

"I had a child when I was very young, and I had to make it work."

She wrote about this experience in an editorial on how to overcome difficulties, for magazine Sorria.

Roberto Faria, 75, is still working as a doctor and keeps a collection with all the magazines his daughter publishes. "I learned from my father, and taught my daughter, that the most important thing is not getting rich, but doing something you love."

Roberta kept her family values in mind, no matter the difficulties. "He always said we should not charge for knowledge received for free in public schools and universities, and that our goal in working should not be getting rich, but contributing to society."

Her mother taught her entrepreneurship. "Roberta has decided that helping others would be her business, and she doesn't deviate from that," says Loiva Faria, 60. Her daughter helped in her beauty parlor in Rio do Sul, working the front desk and the till, or wherever else she could help.

Roberta trained to be a make-up artist, and that, besides helping her apply her make-up even while driving the car, and without one blurred line, has also been a source of income, while she was in college.

A role model at home

Rodrigo has also learned about entrepreneurship at home. "Retail has always run in my veins, though I was not interested in the family business," he says.

After getting his bachelor degree, he chose not to find work at a bank or consultancy, like most of his classmates.

Rodrigo is the son of a successful businessman, who turned a small family-run business into one of the largest retail companies in Brasil, Droga Raia, now part of the Drogasil group, with 1,900 stores.

"My father is the most important figure when I think in my professional development. He has never worked to get rich, to add to his net worth. He has always believed in work as a tool for social transformation, and in creating opportunities for people", says Rodrigo. "So I work to earn much more than money."

To his father, Antonio Carlos Pipponzi, 61, Rodrigo and his business partner are a good match as heads of a social impact business. "He has a solid entrepreneurial vein, and she is an extraordinary journalist," Rodrigo's mother, Isaura, 62, also praises the partners' harmony, and their capacity to promote social actions that go beyond charity and are sustainable as businesses.

Rodrigo's position as an heir to Droga Raia helped then get started when they needed to prove that selling their publications in drugstores instead of newsstands was a viable proposition.

"It's true that it helped the process, but Raia became more and more professional, investors came in, there was an IPO, and we had to prove - what we did every day - that this relationship was worthwhile even discounting Rodrigo's position in the company," says Roberta.

Mol's founders can celebrate a very positive balance sheet as social entrepreneurs who made a lot of money, in the last decade. "We donate R$ 5 for every real in profit we make," says Rodrigo.

"Profit was never our guiding principle, but it was always relevant. We are not a nonprofit, but a sustainable social business, both profitable and generous", claims Roberta.

The partners dream about reaching 100 million reals in net donations. "It's not utopian," he says, pointing that they advanced one-quarter of the way towards that goal in their first ten years.

"Our role is to show how that model can be multiplied and applied to any entity, in Brazil and worldwide. We are here to foster a culture of giving".

While serving a more significant cause, Mol's partners hope to embrace many smaller ones, even though they are not a nonprofit and do not work directly with the end-receivers of their micro-donations.,

"We want to help to fight childhood cancer, to empower women, to improve public education in Brasil, to clean up our rivers, to create high-quality urban mobility systems. The list is endless", says Roberta. "When our business grows, our causes grow with it".

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