Kainen Bell, a 2017 graduate of the Columbia School of Social Work’s Advanced Standing Program, has received a Fulbright grant to study in Brazil. Kainen will leave for São Paulo in February of next year to conduct a research project on the impact the nation’s prolonged recession has had on its nonprofits that practice social entrepreneurship.

Brazil has fallen on hard times recently. Not only is the country facing its longest and deepest recession since the 1930s, with rising inflation and unemployment, but it is still reeling from a massive government corruption scandal. President Dilma Rousseff was impeached and removed from office at the end of last summer, and now corruption allegations are swirling around her successor, Michel Temer. To add to this turmoil, the country has also borne the world’s highest burden of Zika virus cases. This public health emergency came in the wake of another mosquito-borne epidemic, an outbreak of dengue fever in drought-stricken São Paulo.

After studying Social Enterprise Administration at CSSW, Kainen is worried about the impact of these multiple crises on Brazil’s once-vibrant social sector. Notably, during the period when Brazil was enjoying double-digit growth, there was a corresponding swell in the number of nonprofits that were providing the kind of support and social services many of Brazil’s more than 200 million people desperately need. Given that few Brazilian nonprofits have paid staff let alone steady funding sources, how well have they managed to weather the country’s economic storm?

As part of his fellowship, Kainen will spend nine months meeting with both successful and struggling nonprofits in three cities: São Paulo, Recife, and Salvador. He will compile his findings into a how-to manual that he hopes will be of benefit not only to Brazilian nonprofits but also to their counterparts in other countries that may likewise be facing unstable conditions.

Kainen first became interested in Brazil in high school, and he had his first opportunity to visit the country as an undergraduate at the University of Washington in Seattle. A social work and business major, he studied abroad as part of a program offered by the Foster School of Business. “I looked at how Brazilian businesses were being socially conscious in helping communities,” Kainen said.

“When I went there, I loved it,” Kainen said. “The culture was amazing. The people were amazing.” He went back to Brazil the following summer and taught English for three months.

If finding the key to sustainability for Brazil’s nonprofit sector in just nine months sounds daunting, those who have known Kainen at Columbia are confident of his ability to make headway, even in such a limited period. As an Advanced Standing student, Kainen was at Columbia for only one year but somehow managed to complete his studies while also serving as the student representative for the School of Social Work in the University Senate. He became actively involved in finding a space for Muslim students to pray and ensuring they had a religious advisor. And, as a member of the Senate’s Campus Planning Committee, he advocated that priority for lounges and rooms in Lerner Hall be given to student organizations that serve students of color.

“Kainen has distinguished himself not only as a scholar but by the tremendous impact he has made on the Columbia School of Social Work and the larger Columbia University community,” said Michael Lovaglio, Assistant Dean, Enrollment & Student Services. “I am certain his Fulbright will offer him many more opportunities to impact the communities he will interact with in his host country. I wish him continued success and expect to hear more great news about Kainen in the future.”

Kainen is one of only 20 people in the United States to receive Fulbright’s 2018 Open Study/Research Awards for Brazil. The program was designed to help improve mutual understanding between the United States and Brazil.


To learn more about Kainen Bell—his love for Brazil, his interest in social enterprise, and his persistence in landing a Fulbright scholarship—please watch this video:


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