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COVID-19 and the Brazilian Reality

The COVID-19 pandemic revealed innumerous structural and systemic flaws that tend to aggravate the historical problems faced by Brazilian society, in addition to the openly exposed and widely known scars of the country’s reality.

The imminent danger of a new collapse shudders yet again the Brazilian people, who are now more experienced and lucid than in past historical moments, finding a chance to dream, rethink and reconcile interpersonal relationships and the way we see our economy, in order to meet the people’s needs respecting the boundaries of the living planet.

Considering this, the concept of “Build Back Better”, translated to Portuguese as “Voltar Melhor”, gains strength worldwide, aiming to facilitate the paths towards a regenerative and inclusive economic recovery.

With eyes and heart on the Global South reality, we propose the Brazilian version of a “Build Back Better” campaign that is inspired by the principles of Regeneration, Community, Systemic Thinking and Well-Being.

Strategically aligned to these fundamental values are the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) of the United Nations (UN), standing as an important communication tool in the methodology of this article. Our purpose is to converge efforts to reach the SDGs via public policies that are construed from a triple bottom line perspective; economic, environmental and social, as well as aligned with the contexts that reflect our interdependence, resilience, and vitality.

Brazil Jesus

We understand that the countless challenges in Brazil are not yet listed or addressed. However, we highlighted those we consider most urgent. It seems logical to assume that finding solutions to the essential issues of each of these challenges will prove to be a virtuous circle of healing, with deep consequences in diverse areas, especially the most needed and thought upon — notoriously health, education and reduction of social inequality.

This article presents a horizon of feasible and necessary ideas that provide the backbone of ​​a Brazilian “Build Back Better” movement in the light of principles exposed below.

Principles and Policy Examples

Regenerative Development

Brazil has the potential to be a major leader in nature-based solutions, bringing regenerative design to the center of the processes that guide our public policies. In order for this to happen, we need to feel part of nature again, developing legal frameworks that promote, organize and reimagine ecological matters in our national territory.

Regenerative development must be based on a specific, tailor-made perspective, understanding that the physical, biological and social characteristics of each region of the country will guide decision-making processes by policy makers.

Nature protection laws should be widely regarded as a safe and reliable regulatory pillar of a country. The concept of the “commons” is fundamental for this. The environment is a collective treasure, which communities are linked to spiritually and physically. Therefore, countries should put in place systems of governance that are in harmony with these ideals.

Guided by this principle, and considering traditional and indigenous communities, the country needs to seek to reconcile its relationship with the first nations of these ancestral lands, reversing and mitigating the damage already inflicted to the ecosystems that used to thrive here, guided by the ancient wisdom of these people.

It is essential to identify, honor and promote initiatives that integrate the three essential elements of triple bottom-line businesses: purpose of generating positive impact, responsibility to consider your stakeholders in short, medium and long term decision-making and the commitment to measure, manage and report impact, supported by a solid governance structure.

To regenerate is to foster new life and to promote the emergence of a new spirit. We need to recognize our historic debts to the land and its people, defining our purposes as a nation, and committing a devoted sense of care to all aspects of our nation’s identity, if we are to pave the way for development.

Policy Examples

  • Approve of the National System for Payment for Ecosystem Services.
  • Development of regulatory frameworks for reduction of emissions from deforestation and degradation (REDD +).
  • Expand public and private investment to scale agroforestry systems, as well as encourage and develop the existing network of smallholders and indigenous communities already practicing agroecology.
  • Approval of a regulatory framework for the National Bioeconomy Policy.
  • Development and implementation of the Basic Sanitation Regulatory Framework.

Climate Emergency

The Brazilian Build Back Better movement is strategically connected to the more ample “Green New Deal”, which vehemently opposes the status quo which contributes to the climate emergency we face, proposing a new model of socioeconomic development, translated into a set of actions that involve public policies to mitigate the effects of the climate crisis, as well as innovative programs with triple positive impact, incentives for renewable energy, development of regenerative agricultural practices and many other policies.

In the area of ​​urban planning per se, we need to bring climate resilience to the center of discussions, seeking to incorporate the climate risk-assessment into the urban planning of cities and also to the center of regenerative design in urban centers.

In essence, sustainability is the ability to reconnect nature, society, and the economy. We need to regenerate connections with each other, the planet, living beings, and the conscious use of resources.

Climate justice stands as a cornerstone of contemporary environmental challenges, reconciling the ethical facet of climate change with its purely environmental prism, which is often only seen as a matter of degradation of nature — the physical/biological aspects of it — creating a symbolic disassociation from the societal context in which it is inserted.

Therefore, this concept translates into the need to recognize the social consequences of climate change, understanding social inequality in Brazil, especially in peripheral communities, such as the example of northeastern Brazil. Climate justice addresses the effects of social and racial inequality in our society. The concept of “Build Back Better” is intertwined with the historical reparation to the afro-descendant and indigenous population, understanding their position of vulnerability under the lens of the climate crisis.

Policy Examples

  • Incorporate climate-risk assessment into urban planning, especially considering environmental racism and the vulnerability of poor communities
  • Introduce regenerative principles to urban planning and public policy design, as per Amsterdam’s example of “Doughnut Economy”
  • Expand the principles and practices of the circular economy in value-chains and government policies
  • Sustainable standards for public bidding and contracting procedures
  • Promote expansion and subsidize renewable energy

Racial Equality

Brazil MuralThe global alert about social inequality, present in the SDGs, does not seem to have been enough to awaken Brazilian society, especially about issues involving racial discrimination. Racial inequality is a structural problem that affects the majority of the afro-descendant and indigenous population, restricting the country’s development. The problem of racial inequality is a cruel reality in Brazil.

The inequality produced by racism is at the origin of Brazilian society, erected at the expense of the enslavement of African and Indigenous peoples. There is an economic, social, cultural system that maintains this historic debt until today.

The lack of representation and low presence of different social groups in political and governmental institutions and decision-making entities, as well as in private businesses, contribute to making invisible the demands of the poorest and most stigmatized groups, which constitutes a barrier for the elaboration of policies and measures to promote equity.

In the construction of an economy that does not incur the mistakes of the past, the confrontation involves the creation and implementation of programs and public policies in three pillars: affirmative actions to correct behavior and social barriers, anti-racism policies to repress racist manifestations, and policies that publicize the contribution of the afro-descendant and indigenous communities to Brazil.

Policy Examples

  • Promotion of the history of Africa and pre-columbian America, enhancing the contribution of indigenous communities and Afro-Descendants to Brazil
  • Affirmative actions for the insertion of afro-descendants in the labor market, free from racial discrimination, with equal pay
  • Housing program with affordable financing for the population with less economic power, especially afro-descendants
  • Microcredit networks for Afro-descendant entrepreneurs and indigenous communities.
  • Expand public policies for basic income in poor communities

Regenerative Approach to Drug-Related Issues

The “war on drugs” created innumerous economic and geopolitical consequences. In 2019, the UN and its allied countries recognized that the social damage and losses were much more significant than any possible gains. In Brazil, these conclusions are directly correlated to racial issues. The Atlas of Violence of 2019 showed that in 2017 more than 65.000 people were killed in homicides, of these 49,500 are afro-descendant men and women, a staggering 75% of the total.

Between 2007 and 2017, there was an increase of 33% in homicides of afro-descendants, a total number of 400,000 were killed by violent crimes, under indisputable police violence, drug gang and narco-militia disputes, and above all, victims of the historical structural racism in Brazil. Therefore, the war on drugs in Brazil is in fact a war founded upon racially determined factors.

Considering the objectives of the SDGs, these must be properly contextualized in the process of social development of the country, bearing in mind the almost four hundred years of a society built upon slavery.

Furthermore, these systemic consequences impair the social and economic development of the urban afro-descendant youth, which is threatened by lack of opportunity. Statistics indicate that 23% of young people are out of the labor market and not enrolled in educational institutions, not to mention subject to a higher mortality rate than their white peers.

In fiscal terms, the State’s resources are directed to deal with the fight against drugs and the consequences on the public budget are vast and pernicious. As a consequence of this network of policies regarding drug violence, the State needs to support public security, the prison system, social assistance in the payment of pensions, sick leave and retirement to assist victims of violence and many other factors. This represents around 5.9% of GDP according to the Institute of Applied Economics (in Portuguese, “IPEA”).

There is room for regeneration in legalization policies. Consider, for example, Cannabis Sativa, with applications that range from the textile industry to medicinal uses. Notwithstanding, from an economic perspective, data shows that the market for Cannabis Sativa is a billion dollar industry. This is essentially a financial pipeline that could be reverted through taxation to a regenerative economy.

Policy Examples

  • Public policies approaching drugs as a public health issue, decriminalizing the use of many psychoactive substances and treating addicts in dignified, well-kept public facilities.
  • Total legalization of Cannabis Sativa, including the use of taxation to finance pre-defined objectives, such as the continuous development of health and education in the country
  • Legislation to end impunity for police abuse, as per the example of the use of cameras in cars and uniforms when officers are in active duty
  • End of police raids on favelas and vulnerable communities, including indemnification for families affected by police brutality

Diversity and Empowerment

Society needs to correct harmful social distortions to women, LGBTQI + groups, people with disabilities, indigenous people, afro-descendants, as well as the obese and aged population, among all those who have historically been underrepresented in our society.

Empowerment brings the notion of anti-racist, anti-sexist social behaviors, bringing individual and institutional shifts. The terms go together in the search for inclusion, integration in all socioeconomic and political dimensions, so that development gives a voice to diversity.

Powerful and positive new narratives are being exchanged, momentum is being created. The “wellbeing economy” will only be erected upon the dispersion of seedlings. These microcosms are present throughout the country, proving that unity starts as summer weather; scattered rainfalls that create systemic, everlasting change.

Throughout history, gender and other asymmetries have been naturalized and propagated as a default family and social design. In this context, the socio-political, legal, economic, and cultural spheres were constituted from a predominantly white, male, heterosexual framework. Diversity is a pillar of society and a minimum of otherness and empathy is necessary to understand, respect and consider each other. People are different, but the opportunities must be the same for everyone.

Policy Examples

  • National, multi-sector campaign to promote diversity in public and private spaces
  • Goals for inclusion and empowerment in companies, with the creation of Diversity Committees, in order to install effective affirmative actions
  • Educational programs for diversity in public and private schools
  • The Elaboration and Recognition of a National Isonomic Categorization of Privileges

Triple Positive Impact Investments and Businesses

We need to strengthen the change in corporate culture and also use market mechanisms to resolve complex social and environmental issues, seeking an inclusive, regenerative, and equitable economy for the people and the planet. It is essential to identify, honor and promote initiatives that integrate the three essential elements of triple bottom-line businesses: purpose of generating positive impact, responsibility to consider your stakeholders in short, medium, and long term decision-making and the commitment to measure, manage and report impact, supported by a solid governance structure.

Medium and large companies must understand their role of interdependence in the limits of planetary boundaries. The predominant logic of short-sighted economic growth and profit maximization has been consolidated in the last seventy years, and now we live in a capitalist system that concentrates wealth, privatizes gains, and socializes losses. Unquestionably, this system benefits the shareholders of a company to the detriment of an entire ecosystem of stakeholders.

There is a market trend that shows an increase in awareness and a desire to promote adjustments in the global economic system. Taking part in the construction of a better future demands a shift in consciousness from major business leaders, since younger generations are bringing new demands, questioning every aspect of our system and caring about who they buy from, work for, and invest their time and money in. The Davos World Economic Forum manifesto in January 2020 and the frequent letters from Larry Flink, CEO of the world’s largest asset manager, Black Rock, point towards ESG (environmental, social and governance) criteria.

Adjusting the sails of the economic agenda to meet ESG criteria has become a priority in many organizations, but the complication of COVID-19 and its dire health-related, social and economic consequences have accelerated and highlighted this urgent need for more humanized governance, taking to account socio-environmental performance indicators.

Policy Examples

  • Introduce new corporate structures to the Brazilian legislation, such as “benefit corporations”, “steward-ownership” models and “Future Fit Businesses”
  • Regulate the National, State and Municipality´s Strategy for “Positive Impact Business” (in Portuguese, “Negócios de Impacto”), creating a solid legal framework for triple bottom line enterprises
  • Expand ESG practices in institutions, accelerating the transition to stakeholder capitalism, as per the example of the Brazilian Securities Exchange Commision and the Stock Exchange to develop further criteria for the framework of ESG definitions
  • Expansion of impact investment and innovative financial mechanisms, as per the example of Green Bonds and Blended Finance

Participatory and Peaceful Societies

Steps BrazilIn essence, sustainability is the ability to reconnect nature, society, and the economy. As discussed in the previous topics, we need to regenerate connections with each other, the planet, living beings, and the conscious use of resources. This is also a spiritual and inner journey, a trait that should be expressed through our public institutions also.

The strong political polarization that has taken place in Brazil in recent years, following the global wave of extreme right-wing ideologies, has damaged dialogue and understanding between people. The quality of empathy loses strength where antagonism predominates. Fake news, denial of science and history have assumed compromising proportions, corroding the trust that is a fundamental pillar of the social fabric.

Nevertheless, we witness the rise of new mediation techniques in the broader legal universe, enhanced by the interdisciplinary connections with non-violent communication, for example. The demand for real and thoughtful dialogue, brings forth a new era of extrajudicial mediations, facilitations, reconciliations, conflict management and, even, the figure of restorative justice, composing a more humanized paradigm for the judicial system.
These approaches and philosophies offer the possibility of new arrangements and forms of participation regarding the way we relate to the state and public authorities, understanding dialogue and belonging as main functions of a healthy political system, including the strengthening of democracy.

Policy Examples

  • Introduction of non-violent communication and education in judicial and extrajudicial mediation facilities
  • Innovation in local municipal decision-making structures, promoting “devolution” to regional administrative authorities and engaging all stakeholders, for example, expanding the role of public consultation
  • Expansion of municipal participatory budgeting, empowering local communities with a say in the destination of tax financial resources
  • Recognition of newborn territories that benefit place-based economies such as “Community Wealth Building”, “Bioregionalism”, and “Public-Commons Partnership”

Conclusion

The economic recovery is an opportunity to build a more just and democratic society, where the public authorities can provide more qualified public services, fairer distribution, and generally a better quality of life, including an ecologically-oriented public policy framework.

Considering the objectives of the SDGs, these must be properly contextualized in the process of social development of the country, bearing in mind the almost four hundred years of a society built upon slavery. The recognition of this oppression is a fundamental pivot for change. We need to correct and adjust our conducts to generate socio-environmental impacts and positive financial results that are genuinely sustainable for all.

In order to structurally face socio-environmental problems and build a well-being economy, we must construct inclusive economic development that benefits the whole of society. Brazil is understanding the symbolic dimension of weaving common dreams. Powerful and positive new narratives are being exchanged, momentum is being created. The “wellbeing economy” will only be erected upon the dispersion of seedlings. These microcosms are present throughout the country, proving that unity starts as summer weather; scattered rainfalls that create systemic, everlasting change.

Syntropy develops as a droplet of water in the desert. Let’s regenerate, think collectively and build back better!

This article is published in partnership between Iönica and Weall.

 

References

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Bruna Albuquerque, Attorney, is Specialist in National and International Environmental Law at Federal University of Rio Grande do Sul - UFRGS and Master-in-progress in Environment Management at Federal Institute of Pernambuco - IFPE.  Her environmental expertise includes being Auditor of ISO 14.001, and an environmental consultant for B-Lab. She is ... Read more
Bruna Freire Ribeiro Hirszman is an Impact Lawyer, Specialist in Public and Tax Law, Anthroposophy Facilitator of Human and Organizational Development, Key Account Manager for Large Enterprises at Sistema B Brasil and Coordinator of B Lab's B Movement Builders program for Latin America.  
João Bernardo Casali is Chief Regeneration Officer and Co-Founder of B Corp Iönica, Impact Consultant for Business, Policies and Municipalities, and Board Member of Sistema B Brasil, Sinal do Vale, Viva Água, and Weall Spokesperson. He is a specialist in Environmental Management at COPPE-UFRJ, New Economics at FGV-RJ, Sustainability Designer ... Read more
João Daniel de Carvalhois an Attorney and consultant with experience in civil, corporate and environmental law, strategy, governance, startups, and innovation. Passionate about forestry law, related public policies and nature conservation efforts, Joao is exceptionally interested in the intersection between climate-change, nature-based solutions, and emerging technologies.
Sideise Bernardes Eloi is Clinical Psychologist at University Santa Ursula – USU, and Master in Sustainable Development Practice at Federal University of Rio de Janeiro - UFRRJ. Sideise is a Specialist in Professional Development and Racial Inequality in the Labor Market in Light of the SDGs, as well as a ... Read more

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