Son of Emílio and Herta Odebrecht, Norberto Odebrecht was born on October 9, 1920. With the values of ethics, discipline, respect and trust taught and incorporated during his childhood, he worked in the shops of his father’s company, Emílio Odebrecht & Cia, and decided to enroll in the Engineering course at Salvador’s Polytechnic School in 1938. During his third year of college, he assumed leadership of his father’s company, which faced difficulties due to World War II. In 1944, one year after he graduated, he sought to settle all of his debts and founded Construtora Norberto Odebrecht, which grew, diversified and went international, becoming the Odebrecht Group, with 15 businesses and approximately 170,000 members.
As CEO of the Group, he created the Odebrecht Foundation in 1965, based on the belief that people are a company’s most precious capital: “Our greatest asset is intangible and curiously, not included in our statements: they are people educated for the exercise to serve – and serve with joy, never as a sacrifice,” stated Norberto Odebrecht. Based on this line of thinking, he was able to achieve not only business growth, but also contributed toward the social and economic development of dozens of communities and families.
For 10 years, during an interview with Odebrecht Informa Magazine, Norberto cited Spanish poet Antonio Machado to emphasize the paths followed by the foundation during its history: “Travelers, there is no path, paths are made by walking.” During the course of its history, it has encouraged research and work to improve the quality of life of Brazilian workers, and later, focused on developing adolescents for life, based on the belief that it is during this phase that values are formed that consolidate a human being’s development. Later, it began to focus on creating an innovative model for integrated and sustainable development, designed to generate income.
Focus On Building An Innovative And Sustainable Model
Norberto Odebrecht’s history with the Bahia Southern Lowlands began in 1940, during his frequent visits to the construction company’s projects in the municipality of Ituberá. Enchanted with the region’s natural wealth, he was dismayed to see the extreme poverty suffered by the local population. Norberto believed that the process to change any reality should begin with the family, which is responsible for raising the new generations. For this purpose, it was necessary for them to have dignified living conditions, something not observed in those communities that lived from subsistence farming. He believed that it was necessary to educate them so that they could produce something beyond what was necessary for their own consumption, and accordingly, save and re-invest. These premises were later disseminated through a special publication for the foundation’s 40-year anniversary: “40 Proposals for Brazil’s Social Development.”
The commitment to fight poverty in the region produced projects such as the Alliance with Adolescents for the Sustainable Development of the Northeastern Region, implemented from 1999 to 2004 together with the Ayrton Senna Institute, Kellogg Foundation and Brazil’s National Economic and Social Development Bank (BNDES), which is focused on training adolescents to work autonomously to build a productive, integrated and sustainable society. Another highlighted initiative is the Program for Development and Growth Integrated with Sustainability (PDCIS), created by the Odebrecht Foundation in 2003 with the involvement of public and private partners and currently considered a reference due to the results achieved.
In this way, Norberto was able to create citizen-focused and productive development paradigms for youth from the rural zone. “They are educated and then educate their families,” said Norberto Odebrecht during an interview granted in 2005 to Odebrecht Informa Magazine. “They will be the new local transformers, while also contributing toward this country to transform it into a thriving, dynamic Brazil rich with opportunities,” he said.
One of his greatest contributions to PDCIS was to create the means for the construction of the program based on the Odebrecht Entrepreneurial Technology (TEO), which he created and systematized following ethical, moral and conceptual principles to orient the work of the Odebrecht Group members. On July 19, 2014, Norberto Odebrecht passed away at the age of 93, but he left behind lessons in humbleness, spirit of service and the certainty that the perpetuity of his projects and aspirations continue alive and well today in all of the Odebrecht Foundation’s actions through solid values, based on discipline, that generate respect and consolidate trust. Everything, as Norberto said, “supported by a base that never changes.” With education through work as the central theme in this philosophy of life, the Odebrecht Foundation continues to work centered on its principles and their example.