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The Advance of Social Enterprise in Brazil

If you or I, clinging to what’s left of our melting advanced economies were to take a quick look over at bustling Brazil, we might find it hard not to think that a business as usual approach to creating prosperity is working out just fine and that this social enterprise thing is probably not for them.

After all, in the last 15 years more than 40 million people have been lifted out of poverty, becoming consumers for the first time and the engine of a stable economy. Unemployment is at historic lows allowing more people than ever to plan for the future and invest in homes, cars, themselves - the trappings of life. The logic goes that they are driving the country onwards alongside a fruitful commodities arrangement with a hungry China. And over time on that journey, social gaps will be bridged, living standards will continue to rise and pernicious problems will be solved.

But this march to prosperity that is reliant on traditional models - which, by the way, appear to have bankrupted the North - has some flaws. If Brazil wants to truly vanquish its inequities and create a 21st century economy that is fit enough to tackle its problems with the requisite aplomb and create the type of spaces for its 190-odd million citizens to truly flourish, it is going to have to embrace the new social edge.

Brazil’s future success at creating a type of prosperity that is built to last, not bust, will depend on its ability to weave durable threads between three key areas of economic dynamism, institutional deficits and unsolved social problems. This mix, set against the backdrop of a radically changing global environment that is becoming more interconnected, purpose driven and creative with every passing second, will - if nurtured and fostered with care - unleash an untold wave of innovation and opportunity. And for the rest of the world, bereft of ideas and scrambling for clues as to what the future shape of global prosperity creation will look like, this matters.

Luckily for the rest of us, across Brazil this movement is very much underfoot. Pioneers are thrashing their way out of the 20th century undergrowth, building links between the three critical strands. Across spheres such as funding, enterprise development, local currencies and hybrid business models, these pioneers are nurturing a next economy. It’s worth you and I taking a small look at some of what is going on:

Take Vox Capital. This impact investment fund has stakes in businesses generating social and financial returns (you can read an interview with one of its founders on Forbes here). Other organizations such as Artemisia are helping provide the struts to a social business ecosystem.

Other crowd-based funding channels such as Impulso Microcrédito and Benfeitoria offer other options to help social entrepreneurs access capital to get their businesses and projects off the ground. They are part of a burgeoning collaborative economy that is helping individuals bypass traditional models and harness digital efficiencies to connect people around projects, ideas and initiatives.

Some communities have launched their own currencies building on the pathbreaking, internationally renowned work of the Banco das Palmas. The capivara and the CDD, to name but two, are circulating in the Rio de Janeiro communities of Silva Jardim and Cidade de Deus aiming to strengthen local commerce and community ties.

Elsewhere, entrepreneurs are launching businesses with social objectives baked into the model on a range of scales and with varied scope. For example, Fabio Bibancos Turma do Bem offers low cost dental care to children from low income families. Author Alessandro Buzo and his bookshop Livraria Suburbano Convicto in São Paulo is promoting local authors, artists and culture, proving that a bookshop can be more than just what it says on the tin.

This is but a microscopic glimpse at just some of the new models, methods and means that make up a dynamic Brazilian landscape. They are building the foundations that will let a new type of prosperiyy creation flourish in tune with what the 21st century is likely to throw at us. The rest of the world should take note.


Jimmy is the founder of Brazilintel, a research and analysis hub that explores Brazil’s growing economy, changing society and new role in a rebalancing world. You can find out more about his work and other projects at [Read more about Jimmy Greer]


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