Can Social Entrepreneurship Work in Brazil? – Fábio Rosa and Rural Electricity (Part 1 of 2)

High taxes and red tape make the business environment rather hostile in Brazil. Small businesses pop up and fail at an almost dizzying pace, unable to cope with the fees and often excessive regulation. Large corporations and international investors tend to fare better, but only if they take the long view on returns.  I’ve written before about this situation in What Keeps Brazil Back, so no point going into it again here.

With all of the above in view, it made me wonder if or how social entrepreneurs could ever get a foothold in the country. Doing good for the social good is a high-minded ideal that can crash pretty hard against the jagged, stony reality of adverse tax and business codes.  Looking around, I found a shining example of a successful social entrepreneur in Brazil: Fábio Rosa.

Looking at the rural area of southern Brazil where he grew up he saw clearly that the poor were moving rapidly to the cities not because the quality of life there was so much better, but because they couldn’t make a living outside of the cities. One of the major hindrances to life in the country was the lack of electricity. Incredibly, a great many people in Brazil’s rural areas have no access to the electrical grid. In the eyes of the private energy concerns, it simply isn’t profitable enough to invest in building and maintaining the needed infrastructure over large areas for a relatively small population.

Check out the slide presentation below for more, as well as the two articles linked at the bottom of this post. If you understand Portuguese then the IDEAAS site is worth a look. It’s the site of the organization Rosa leads in promoting sustainable development.

Next week I’ll bring more on Mr. Rosa and the projects he has led to improve the lives of rural Brazilians.


See also:
Fabio Rosa: The Sun Shines For All (youthxchange)
A Visit to IDEAAS: Clean Energy Solutions for Brazil’s Poor (NextBillion.net)
Dealing with Brazil’s Red Tape (IgneousQuill.org)

Advertisements

Early Ruby on Rails Video – Creating a Blog in 15 Minutes

In the above – rather quirky and now somewhat dated – video, David Heinemeier Hansson demonstrates how to create a blogging engine in 15 minutes with Ruby on Rails. This was a significant early presentation of Ruby on Rails, and we watched it recently in the Ruby Nuby meetup/class.

Dealing with Brazil’s Red Tape

Standing in line to buy a bus ticket to Brasilia (I had to make a run to the U.S. embassy as part of finalizing my Brazilian immigration process), I saw a sign on the wall. It was one of the very common “official decree” announcements explaining some aspect of legislation relevant to the location. In this case, it stated that no one over the age of 5 could travel for free on any bus line. Seems simple enough, but then I remembered the “two-for-the-price-of-one” deals I’d seen offered before by Greyhound in the United States. Essentially, in the unyielding, over-legislated environment that exists in Brazil, bus lines don’t have the freedom to do promotional offers that enable anyone to travel for free. This may seem like a small example, but it is one of countless that can be shared from every aspect of daily life in Brazil. From the bank to the supermarket to the school and pretty much everywhere else, there are multiple, often little-known or unknown laws that can be invoked to ruin someone’s day or even bring down their business.

In “Too much red tape leaves Brazil’s economy lagging,” Andres Oppenheimer neatly lays out straightforward examples of how Brazil’s bureaucracy compares to that of other nations. Although the article is apparently from 2005 or so, not much has changed in the past few years. A more recent article, entitled “Demand for 4G grows in Brazil, but common hurdles stand in the way,” describes how wireless carriers are striving to upgrade the nation’s network in time for the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Summer Olympics. Unfortunately, obtaining all of the needed permits from all involved agencies is placing a serious drag on the process.

The root causes of Brazil’s chronic red tape and unfriendly business environment can be boiled down, in my opinion, to three ideological factors that are deeply ingrained in the country’s political culture: Collectivism, Centralism and Positivism. The first holds that all property, to some extent, is common property. Rights of personal ownership, while technically guaranteed, are undermined by many prevailing laws and regulations. The second causes the entire nation to look to Brasilia for answers, even directing the nation’s tax system (called a “tribute system”) to the federal government for redistribution. Federal law even regulates the traffic law for the entire (geographically very large) nation, one of the most obvious but perhaps least harmful examples of local conditions not being taken into account. The third reinforces the former two, advancing the notion that leadership can micro-manage the country through legislation to create optimal conditions. For more on this, read my post, “What Keeps Brazil Back.”

What can be done? In times past I thought the answer would have to be almost purely political, involving the success of a particular party in persuading the populace and winning national offices to implement change. While I still tend to think that one party, O Partido Federalista, has the right idea, I’ve also come to believe that more immediate, direct action is needed on the local level. People can’t easily be sold theoretical ideologies, but they can be brought on board projects to teach valuable technical skills to young people and improve neighborhoods. It may be slow and small-scale, but it’s collaboration that can make a genuine difference. For more on this, check out “Helping Under-Resourced Neighborhoods in Brazil” and “Ideas, Resources and Objectives for Community Development in Brazil.”

In the short run, people need to be helped to navigate the heavily bureaucratic system. Over time, the red tape will need to be cut through community organizing and related social action. In the long run, perhaps proven success can sufficiently overcome corruption at high levels and old habits, permitting the poorest to really live free, make the most of opportunities and realize as a society the lofty twin goals of order and progress that are emblazoned on the national flag.

A Computer for $25: What it Could Mean for Tech Education in Brazil

What One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) promised but never delivered (namely, a laptop for under $100), it appears that David Braben and his Raspberry Pi Foundation is going to accomplish with a USB stick. It’s a computer you can fit in your pocket, and that costs around $25.

The implications for education in Brazil come to mind immediately. The government there already favors free, open source software. There’s a “free software portal” sponsored by the federal government and a remix of Kubuntu has been created for schools, dubbed “Linux Educacional.” One of my brothers-in-law is a high school chemistry teacher in Brazil and told me that there have been courses in using Linux made available for teachers. Since this USB-based computer apparently will ship with Ubuntu and likely run with many different GNU/Linux distros, I can see great possibilities here.

This isn’t to say that OLPC is a bad idea or that this device will fully replace that solution. Although the USB-stick will reportely cost about $25, that doesn’t include peripherals like a monitor, keyboard and mouse. This can be a good option for schools to save some money, though, and put the USB-sticks in the hands of students, leaving the other equipment in the classroom. Perhaps OLPC can focus on grade-school students, while the Raspberry Pi finds its way to high schoolers.

I especially appreciate Braden’s point about current school programs focusing more on how to run software rather than on true computer science. It’s my hope that a central aspect of any youth-focused community development work I do in Brazil will be programming/web development education. Brazil’s emerging grid can benefit greatly from talented, creative young people solving problems and creating great tech solutions, but they need the opportunity to really learn.
 

See Also:

Game developer David Braben creates a USB stick PC for $25 (Geek.com)

A 15 pound computer to inspire young programmers (BBC)

Tech Mission to Brazil’s Emerging Grid (IgneousQuill.org)

Project Cauã  (IgneousQuill.org)

Helping Underresourced Neighborhoods in Brazil

While I was living in Brazil nearly a decade ago I began to connect the dots on what holds Brazil back and perpetuates grave injustice in that beautiful country filled with amazingly creative people. In a separate post, entitled What Keeps Brazil Back, I’ve attempted to explain how centralism, collectivism and positivism have hobbled Brazil, limiting the ability of people to improve their situation and change their economic class through education and work. This reality I perceived motivated me to engage in ideological conversations with anyone who seemed interested and offer to support the efforts of a libertarian-minded political movement in Brazil. The trouble with these approaches is that they simply don’t work. Most people are not inspired by ideological theory, but rather by real, tangible situations to which they can bear witness. In the years since that time I’ve come to understand the value of community activism, and am formulating a way to engage in this effort directly.

Brazilian favelas are (in)famous the world over. Some folks seem to have romantic notions about these often dangerous, poor neighborhoods. I’ve even heard stories of silly foreigners attempting to go into neighborhoods for a look around without the permission of the local drug lords. Yet, not all under-resourced neighborhoods in Brazilian cities are favelas. I lived in a couple of working class neighborhoods in Brazil that might have qualified as “under-resourced” by U.S. standards. There are also poorer urban communities that are neither favelas nor stable working class neighborhoods. These are most definitely within the scope of any community development project. This latter type of neighborhood, on the line between full-blown favela and regular, connected residential area, is what most draws my attention. Into this type of situation I would like to enter, working in three main areas.

First, resolve land ownership issues. A neighborhood may not be considered a favela in the traditional sense (or maybe it is), but many residents may not hold clear title to their land. This could come about either through genuine squatting or else through a fraudulent sale of the property to the current “owner.” Whatever the case may be, issues of ownership must be resolved in order to provide stability to the family in residence and to the community at large. I’ve brought up this topic before and found an interesting article about efforts to help put the poor on the map through legal and just means.

Second, get the local government to act on infrastructure/basic services. As long as a neighborhood is “irregular” in the sense that there are property ownership issues, local government may use this to drag its feet in providing paved streets, sewage, water, trash pickup, electricity, street lights and even a police presence. Once the majority of ownership issues are dealt with, agitation can begin in earnest to petition an investment in the community from city hall. If the official response is prompt and positive, all well and good. If not, community organizing and activism will be necessary. I’ve begun to learn a little about this area recently in a community organizing training session, and hope there will be more classes of this nature in the near future. This is precisely the sort of concrete, positive action that can be taken and to which people in the community can be called to support.

The following video helps explain the troubles of under-resourced communities as I’ve described them in the above two points:

Third and finally, I really believe that the neighborhood’s youth are who need to be reached and made a priority. Most parents and grandparents will agree that they want the best for the young people in their family, so this makes helping youth the best option for gathering support for change. Further, rather than work with kids merely to keep them away from bad influences or teach them skills that satisfy the spirit and/or body but not the demands of the future, I’d like to work with them in providing tech training. Something along the lines of Project Cauã, Ruby Nuby or both. I’m also thinking in terms of adapting the methods of CLAY Student Leadership for use in Brazilian public schools. I first heard about this at a youth worker’s conference and really believe the non-sectarian approach, drawing on the resources of faith, can be a great benefit to young people in Brazil.

There are, of course, many more areas in which an under-resourced neighborhood in Brazil can be helped by a holistic community development effort. Urban gardening is definitely one area, if experts could be located who would be willing to volunteer some time to provide instruction in this area. The work of Instituto Rukha along the lines of community development inspires me, and though I’ve shared the video below before, it’s worth seeing now if you haven’t already:

What I believe I’ve learned over the past several years is the value of local, real-life activism that makes a difference. Not just theoretical discussions, political campaigning or otherwise being a rebel looking for a cause. What you’re reading in this blog is my effort to put together the ideas into not merely a viable project, but truly a missional lifestyle. Perhaps in not too long this blog can begin to be a place for reporting on struggles engaged and progress made. Here’s to hoping, praying…and doing.

Cameron L. Fadjo on Construct, Program, Design: An Introduction to Scratch From the Perspective of Computing and Cognition

The following was received from NYLUG via e-mail. I’m particularly interested in this meetup because Scratch appears to be a great way to get kids started in programming.


Wednesday, May 18, 2011
6:30 PM – 8:00 PM
P.S. 9 Sarah Anderson
100 West 84th Street, New York, NY 10024
West 84th Street and Columbus Avenue
*** RSVP Closes at 4:30 PM the day of the meeting (sharp!) ***
Please RSVP for EVERY meeting at this time.
Register at http://rsvp.nylug.org/

Scratch is a programming environment that makes it easy to create interactive media, such as games, stories, and simulations – and share those creations online.  With an extensive online community of over 730,000 registered members and over 250,000 unique contributors to the vast online resource of projects to share and explore, Scratch, and its online community, is continuing to grow and thrive as programming and designing become more social.

Simultaneously, Scratch is also increasing the amount of exposure younger children have to programming. How can this increased exposure to Scratch lead to improvements in learning of core computing concepts?

This presentation will provide a general overview of Scratch; present some examples of Scratch projects; explore some of the core computing concepts; and discuss some of his findings from his research with the Institute for Learning Technologies at Teachers College, Columbia University on using Scratch to develop particular Computational Thinking Concept skills among young learners (elementary and middle school students).  He will also share some insights into his newest project related to developing reading and writing skills with computer code with Scratch, called Code Literacy.

More Information:

 * Scratch
   http://scratch.mit.edu/

 * Scratch on Linux (.debs, .rpms, and source code)
   http://info.scratch.mit.edu/Scratch_on_Linux

 * Scratch for Educators
   http://scratched.media.mit.edu/

 * Columbia’s Institute for Learning Technologies
   http://www.ilt.columbia.edu/

 * Cameron Fadjo’s page with his publications
   http://www.columbia.edu/~clf2110/

About Cameron L.  Fadjo:
Cameron L.  Fadjo is a PhD student in Cognitive Studies in Education and a Research Associate with the Institute for Learning Technologies, both at Teachers College, Columbia University.  He holds two master’s degrees, one in Instructional Technology and Media and the other in Educational Psychology: Cognitive, Behavioral, and Developmental Analysis, from Teachers College, Columbia University and a B.M. in Music Synthesis from Berklee College of Music.  He is currently the Project Leader of the iWorld (Imaginary World) project which examines the use of grounded embodied cognition and Imaginary World Construction to teach abstract mathematical and computational concepts and the DM-S3 (Direct Manipulation of Stories, Systems, and Symbols) project which examines how gestural interfaces can be used to improve understanding of novel terminology and complex systems. His research interests include action, perception, and imagery, in particular grounded embodied cognition, gestures and Imaginary Worlds, and their implementation through technology to improve learning, memory, and understanding of abstract concepts and/or complex systems.

Meeting Location:
Please note that this meeting will be held at P.S. 9 Sarah Anderson  which is on West 84th Street and Columbus Avenue, and not at IBM.

Map:
 http://goo.gl/maps/9VJe

Stammtisch:
After the meeting … You may wish to join up with other NYLUGgers  for drinks and pub food.  This month we’ll be over at House of Brews  (302 West 51st St. – 8th Ave), but we are also evaluating other  options for the future and welcome your suggestions.

Please see our home page at http://www.nylug.org for the HTMLized
version of this announcement, our archives, and a lot of other good
stuff.

A Computer for $25: What it Could Mean for Tech Education in Brazil

What One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) promised but never delivered (namely, a laptop for under $100), it appears that David Braben and his Raspberry Pi Foundation is going to accomplish with a USB stick. It’s a computer you can fit in your pocket, and that costs around $25.

The implications for education in Brazil come to mind immediately. The government there already favors free, open source software. There’s a “free software portal” sponsored by the federal government and a remix of Kubuntu has been created for schools, dubbed “Linux Educacional.” One of my brothers-in-law is a high school chemistry teacher in Brazil and told me that there have been courses in using Linux made available for teachers. Since this USB-based computer apparently will ship with Ubuntu and likely run with many different GNU/Linux distros, I can see great possibilities here.

This isn’t to say that OLPC is a bad idea or that this device will fully replace that solution. Although the USB-stick will reportely cost about $25, that doesn’t include peripherals like a monitor, keyboard and mouse. This can be a good option for schools to save some money, though, and put the USB-sticks in the hands of students, leaving the other equipment in the classroom. Perhaps OLPC can focus on grade-school students, while the Raspberry Pi finds its way to high schoolers.

I especially appreciate Braden’s point about current school programs focusing more on how to run software rather than on true computer science. It’s my hope that a central aspect of any youth-focused community development work I do in Brazil will be programming/web development education. Brazil’s emerging grid can benefit greatly from talented, creative young people solving problems and creating great tech solutions, but they need the opportunity to really learn.

See Also:

Game developer David Braben creates a USB stick PC for $25 (Geek.com)
A 15 pound computer to inspire young programmers (BBC)
Tech Mission to Brazil’s Emerging Grid (IgneousQuill.org)
Project Cauã  (IgneousQuill.org)