October 3, 2009

Social Economy 101 – Brazil

Filed under: social economy 101 — benmetz @ 8:50 am

Here’s part four of my social economy 101 series.  This time Brazil, and focusing on the sector’s history.

The history of the social economy in Brazil

Conversations with individuals in leading third sector support organisations in Brazil paint a picture of Brazil as a country that is between 20 and 30 years behind much of Europe in it’s development of the third sector and the social economy.

The development of the sector in Brazil was fundamentally shaped by the military dictatorship, which ran from 1964 until 1989, during which time most of the NGO movement was based around human rights campaigning.  This was focussed both against atrocities committed by the military regime and in campaigning for basic human rights of marginalised, impoverished and indigenous communities.  Feminism as a campaigning force began to appear in the late 1970’s as did a movement to promote basic health care and sanitation for all, which was heavily invested in by major international NGO donors.  In 1989, when the dictatorship was replaced by democratic rule, these campaigning sectors contributed substantially to the shaping of the country’s constitution.

By the mid 1990’s a centralist approach to policy development, implementation and service creation and delivery had developed.  This led many civil society organisations to partner with central government in the delivery of services.  This stimulated to a huge increase in numbers of NGO’s in existence and a backlash, commencing in the late 1990’s, critical of these NGO’s of becoming instruments of the state.

Corruption was one of the issues picked up on by this backlash and contributing to a bifurcation within civil society – between organisations aligned to government and organisations campaigning for reform of the often corrupt and opaque relationships between government and civil society.  This split led to a second wave of development within the third sector, at the end of the 1990’s and in the early part of this decade, of organisations funded from sources other than government and taking a strongly independent and often-critical position of government and government funded NGO’s.

This campaigning base of NGO’s desiring of independence and financial self-sufficiency has led to a third wave of NGO development currently being experienced across Brazil.  It is from within this third wave that social entrepreneurship and the creation of a social economy is emerging.

There are now between 300,000 and 400,000 registered third sector organisations in Brazil, the majority being grant funded but with an increasing minority engaging in some level of trading activity and emerging as social enterprises.  However there are very few pure social enterprises operating in Brazil at any scale or approaching any level of financial self-sufficiency.


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