Solidarity Economy Part I: Cooperative Development in Rio and Beyond

Article RIOONWATCH Sept 29, 2016

Anna Cash, September 2016

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Summary :

When one stops to consider Rio’s hundreds of favelas for their plurality, with a lens of recognizing assets instead of just highlighting problems, one common thread is clear: in the face of public neglect, favela residents are expert at doing things for themselves, many times coming together to do so collectively. There is even a word for this, gambiarra, a native Brazilian Tupi-Guarani word meaning ‘improvised solution.’

There are many examples of this in both consumption and labor: favelas have been practicing collective consumerism since their inception (and well before the “sharing economy” was trendy); favelas come together in mutirão collective work sessions for infrastructure upgrades, such as building sewerage systems or cleaning up abandoned lots; and favelados (favela residents) have come together in work collectives, such as the baking and skills sharing collective Mangarfo featured in the short documentary, Here Is My Place.

These grassroots collective economic practices are all examples of the “solidarity economy” that exists in favelas and in other communities all over Brazil and the world. Solidarity economy has many definitions but, most broadly, is both an umbrella term and a movement that seeks to promote alternative economic structures based on collective ownership and horizontal management instead of private ownership and hierarchical management. Such structures include community banks, credit unions, family agriculture, cooperative housing, barter clubs, consumer cooperatives, and worker cooperatives or collectives, most well-known in Brazil in the industries of recycling and crafts. The goal is to decentralize wealth, root wealth in communities, and financially and politically empower stakeholders participating in these structures toward another, more just, economy.

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