"Youth in Brazil: Social Conditions, Culture and Public Policies"
More than 200 people came to Dr. Ruth Cardoso's public talk on Comunidade Solidária,
an umbrella organization for community service in Brazil. Dr. Cardoso, president
of the organization, First Lady of Brazil, and a distinguished anthropologist,
is a visiting scholar at CLAS, which hosted the event.
"Fighting social exclusion must be the project of both government and civil society," Dr.
Cardoso said. Comunidade Solidária facilitates just that, by serving as
a link between government agencies, community groups, universities, and corporations
to work on issues such as poverty, illiteracy, and hunger. CLAS Chair Harley
Shaiken stated in his introduction that Dr. Cardoso has been "a witness to history" in
Brazil -- as well as in Chile and France -- and is a "public intellectual in
the finest sense of the word." As such, she is in a unique position to put scholarly
research to work in public life. Although only five years old, it is clear that
Comunidade Solidária has learned from and side-stepped some of the common
pitfalls of large service organizations.
Key to its success is the organization's strategy of working with community groups
and small, local-based NGOs. While it is always necessary to think of scaling
up in a country as large as Brazil, said Dr. Cardoso, Comunidade Solidária
addresses issues in different ways in different communities. "You have to work
where the problem is," said Dr. Cardoso, noting Comunidade Solidária's
flexibility. In addition, both Comunidade Solidária and the projects it
works on are funded partly by the federal government and partly by businesses
and foundations. This allows the organization to interact with public programs
while having the support of individual communities.
Comunidade Solidária has three main goals, according to Dr. Cardoso: to
engage government and society in a public dialogue around social issues, to plan
and implement youth development programs (such as literacy, professional training,
and mobilization of students), and to strengthen civil society. She acknowledged
that government representatives and civil groups rarely come to complete consensus
on issues, but that it is possible for them to agree on points -- as long as
dialogue is undertaken. Comunidade Solidária pushes for these kinds of
discussions, and also promotes volunteerism and government/civil society partnerships,
but distances itself from partisanship. "Our strategy is to be far from politics," Dr.
When asked how this is possible, being that she is the First Lady of Brazil,
Dr. Cardoso responded, "I've felt from the beginning that the First Lady is not
part of the political system." After a round of applause she explained, "Comunidade
Solidária is not government, it's civil society; it's something new and
ambiguous, with the support of both."
Youth are clearly at the center of Dr. Cardoso's interests, and that of Comunidade
Solidária. According to Dr. Cardoso, this is because of their vulnerability
-- to unemployment, poor education, violence, inequality -- and also because
of their "energy and desire to learn to communicate with each other and change
society." She explained in detail Comunidade Solidária's literacy program,
for which university students volunteer to teach in rural villages. The program
is funded by the Ministry of Education, universities, and private corporations.
Currently there are more students interested in volunteering than the program
can afford to send -- even so, 1,700 villages are affiliated and more than 800,000
people are being served by the program. "Brazilian students are really motivated
by community solidarity," Dr. Cardoso said.
After a question about the roots of the declining birth rate in Brazil, Dr. Cardoso
said, "Women did that in Brazil. I think we have to be very happy because it
wasn't a government decision, but women's decisions." This sort of initiative
needs to be supported by the health care system and government resources, according
to Dr. Cardoso. More generally, she emphasized the ongoing need for government,
corporate, and civil society to support community programs and the struggle against
poverty and inequality.
"Money may be scarce in today's Brazil, but resources are abundant," said Dr.
Cardoso, regarding the "social capital" that Comunidade Solidária is working
to mobilize. "After five years, we are learning how to generate society to move.
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Also in attendance at the public
talk was Dr. Lourdes Sola, the Spring 2000 Rio Branco Chair, President of
the Brazilian Political Science Association, and a CLAS visiting scholar;
and the Hon. José Lindgren Alves, Consul General of Brazil.
Dr. Cardoso noted that her time as a visiting scholar at Berkeley was a
valuable chance to reflect on the work of Comunidade Solidária. Her
scholarly work focuses on political participation and youth in Latin America.
She has published extensively on these themes during her career at the University
of São Paolo, and has served as a visiting professor at the University of
Santiago, Chile; Cambridge University; and at UC Berkeley's Department of
City and Regional Planning, where she taught in 1981. At the Center for
Latin American Studies, Dr. Cardoso is currently teaching a graduate seminar
on youth in Brazil, addressing issues of political participation, social
policy, and the impact of globalization on youth in Brazil. Her course forms
part of the "Brazil 2000" series at CLAS, which includes other Brazil-related
events and opportunities, among them the February 25 conference "Challenges
for Brazil", at which Dr. Cardoso will deliver the keynote address.