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Brazil Blossoms as Solidarity Economy Beacon

Brazil has one of the most advanced solidarity economies in the world, though it has received little media attention outside of Brazil for this, partly because of the language barrier (Portugese). I was lucky find a translator who has many contacts within the Brazilian solidarity economy. Through translator Miguel Hirota, I was able to interview Luigi Verardo, a consultant at ANTEAG (National Association of Workers in Self-managing Enterprises). Below is our interview.

To give some context, the solidarity economy movement emerged in Brazil when the country was hit by a recession caused by the liberalization of capital markets in the late 90's. Many businesses closed and traditional employment opportunities shrank significantly. Then in 2003, the Brazilian Forum on the Solidarity Economy was established, formalizing the movement. That same year, the Network of Government Policymakers on Solidarity Economy first met and the National Secretary of Solidarity Economy was established under President Lula. In 2004, the first National Meeting of Solidarity Economy Enterprises took place. Today, there are more than 120 local solidarity economy forums and 27 state forums held on a regular basis. Working groups communicate with the forums and government and develop technical plans and operational aspects of the movement.

Here are the values of the solidarity economy, as cited by the National Secretariat of Solidarity Economy of Brazil:

  1. Self-management

  2. Democratization of the economic relations

  3. Co-operation instead of forced competition

  4. Valuing diversity. Human beings are more important than profits

  5. Valuing local knowledge, constant learning and training

  6. Social justice and emancipation

  7. Protection of the environment

Many networks, associations, forums, governmental entities, and grassroots organizations now exist to support the development of the solidarity economy including community banks, microfinance, complementary currencies, cooperatives, fair trade, and nonprofit enterprises. The list is inspiring and numbers over 22,000 social enterprises, now mapped online to connect entities, promote to consumers, and develop integrated solidarity economy commerce chains. A large percentage of these entities are cooperative enterprises. The architecture of the movement is large and complex, and according to local activists, emerges mainly from the grassroots while integrating with elaborate government initiatives.

As part of Brazil's mission to share their experiences with the world, Brazil will be represented at the 5th International Meeting of the Social Solidarity Economy in Manila, Oct. 15-18, 2013.

What is the current state of Brazilian Solidarity Economy?

Currently Solidarity Economy is going through a redefinition process. It was built up with a social organization by the people and also with an institution (Brazilian government’s public policies). The relationship between these two entities hasn't fully matured. So there’s a need to work for autonomy and to deepen their characteristics.

What are some of the most exciting or important recent developments?

Among what has happened recently, the 5th National Plenary of Solidarity Economy (09th to 13th December 2012, at Luziânia, Goiás: see http://e.eita.org.br/vplenaria for the final report in Portuguese) and the 2nd Solidarity Economy Social Forum (11th to 14th July 2013, at Santa Maria, Rio Grande do Sul).

What tools do you use to strengthen Solidarity Economy?

The tools to strengthen are: holding plenaries, forum activities, communication between participants, mappings, trainings and funding.

What are its major accomplishments?

We have many accomplishments.

- Holding and broadening of forums (national forums, state-level forums all over Brazil regional and local forums).

- Having achieved, by way of the petition to the Letter to then President Lula, the National Secretary of Solidarity Economy (SENAES) and appointing the Prof. Paul Singer as its secretary.

- Linking Solidarity Economy with self-management. Defining Solidarity Economy’s principles.

- Having set up a social network and movement beyond political parties.

- Doing activities that combine the policies of the Brazilian Solidarity Economy Forum (FBES) with that of SENAES by way of mapping existing Solidarity Economy practices in Brazil.

What are its major challenges?

We can point out, among other challenges, the problem of segmentation due to the fact that Solidarity Economy has been built up from three segments (public policymakers, different organizations and businesses) with a policy to put businesses as main players. As a perspective to get over this picture, there’s a need to deepen the characterization as a social movement with policy and culture to promote necessary autonomy for its development.

What enabled the movement in Brazil to move so fast and be so successful compared to other countries?

The movement’s organization has been developed quite quickly thanks to the following reasons:

The fact that the FBES organization was born as a fruit of the activities at the 1st World Social Forum which took place in Brazil in 2001. The fact it was held in Brazil promoted a significant impact among Brazilians who could join directly or indirectly. First of all a working group, the Brazilian Working Group of Solidarity Economy, was set up with the mission to diffuse and organize state-level forums at different regions, which turned into FBES in 2003 with representation, at that time, in almost every Brazilian state.

Solidarity Economy’s proposal found, especially in the first five years of the last decade, a fertile context - at that time there used to be a high level of unemployment, precariousness of the labor market and little social mobility.

With Lula’s election for president, at the end of 2002, there were a lot of expectations and possibilities to promote the solidarity economy within the executive power.

What role has government played? Has the government been helpful or resistant?

The government was both helpful and resistant.

There are difficulties for the government to work with social organizations. The State’s very structure is against promoting social organizations and movements. The executive power has its priorities, in the legislative power, the opposition parties created hurdles.

For more details on the organizational structure of Brazil's Solidarity Economy see this brief.

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