Gisela Maria Bernardes Solymos

CREN Centre of Nutritional Recovery and Education
Year founded: 

CREN fosters the effective nutritional education and recovery of children and adolescents with slight, moderate or serious primary malnutrition in Brazil and other parts of Latin America.

Focus: Education, Health, Children, Youth, Nutrition
Geographic Area of Impact: Brazil, Colombia, Haiti, Honduras, Italy, Mexico, Mozambique, Peru
Model: Leveraged Non-profit
Annual Budget: US$ 1,954,000 (2011)
Recognition: Social Entrepreneur of the Year, Brazil, 2011

Brazil, like many countries in Latin America, suffers from a high rate of child malnutrition or under-nutrition. Despite clear documentation of the problem in official and third-party statistics, it persists and leads to serious public health issues, while deepening the poverty of thousands of rural and urban families. CREN, taking advantage of the obvious need and documentation, promotes integrated and innovative approaches to end child malnutrition in Brazil and around the world.

Activities and Innovation
CREN has pioneered new methods for tackling the widespread malnutrition and under-nutrition problem, first in Sao Paolo, and now throughout Brazil, parts of Latin America and Africa. By first transforming the manner in which malnutrition is measured among young children, CREN has received methodological support from Unifesp (Federal University of São Paulo) and the municipal governments where they operate.

Contrary to the common treatment of simply medicating malnourished and undernourished children, CREN seeks to address the problem through a holistic education method. Other institutions working with child malnutrition either approach the problem through hospitalization, which often leads to difficulties in maintaining the mother-child relationship, or through clinical rather than educational services. CREN expands the conventional approach by undertaking medical examinations, but then engages in an active search including home visits and training workshops, involving the child’s entire family in the diagnostic and treatment process. Thus far, the centre’s method has led to a long-term transformational impact.

Using a highly qualified, knowledgeable staff and renowned impact measurement system, CREN implemented an array of new projects, including the Creches (day care) project, which brings nutritional education in CEIs (Child Educational Centers) in São Paulo. Another project, Eu Aprendi, Eu Ensinei (I Learned, I Taught) in Minas Gerais, involves adolescents fighting malnutrition in their own communities through interdisciplinary activities integrated into the school curriculum. Presently 11 cities, 53 schools, 850 teachers and 16,000 students are part of the Eu Aprendi project.

CREN’s activities have benefited +50,000 children since its establishment in 1992. In 2011 the two units together have accounted for the care of 142 malnourished children up to 6 years of age, through a day hospitalization system, and around 2,000 undernourished, underweight or obese children and adolescents, through an outpatient system. In the past year, CREN carried out 3,262 consultations in the community, 7,326 outpatient consultations (medical, nutritional, social and psychological) with children and their families, and received 6,346 hospitalized patients.

The Entrepreneur
Gisela Maria Bernardes Solymos obtained a Masters in School Psychology and Human Development from the University of Sao Paolo, with her dissertation focused on the link between malnourished children and their mothers. In 1997, she began working on her doctorate in Psychiatry and Medical Psychology at Unifesp, while also working in a consulting office studying corporate management and organizational development. She formerly worked at a foundation making twice the salary, but left this position to take over as Managing Director at CREN, devoted to nourishing the dreams of thousands of people in Brazil and elsewhere.