Cities, home to over half the world’s population, are a source of opportunity for social entrepreneurs: in Brazil, 85% of the population lives in cities. In addition, most energy, products and services are consumed in cities. It is in cities that the future of sustainability will be decided. What happens in cities is what happens on the Planet. This was the message of the final panel of the Forum on Social Entrepreneurship in the New Economy on Sunday, June 17, during Rio+20.
Boaventura de Sousa Santos, a professor from the University of Coimbra, believes that cities must develop a system of production that promotes the development of fair trade and solidarity economies where reciprocity is valued over greed and profit. In addition, we need to see the connection between the causes and effects of our actions. “Dengue is not produced by mosquitoes, but rather by the lack of basic sanitation, urban planning and by inequality. As long as we blame violence in our cities on access to weapons, we won’t go far,” said Boaventura.
The discussion, facilitated by TV Globo reporter Márcio Gomes, covered topics including experiences of organizing civil society in cities as a way to push for the creation of public policy to create more socio-environmentally sustainable spaces. “Social entrepreneurship means active citizens and this is the goal of the Sustainable Cities Program,” stated businessman and social entrepreneur Oded Grajew, of Rede Nossa (Our Network) São Paulo.
The program, which connects several organizations, aims to encourage government and citizen leaders to commit to sustainable development through the implementation of a set of indicators and targets. “We make sure that city officials can’t say they don’t know what they need to do. We give them 12 axes with concrete indicators. Since this is an election year we are working to get the candidates to commit to sustainable development through a plan of 100 indicators for which they will be accountable to the people,” says Grajew.
Working in Networks
In addition to working to involve leaders, cities need to employ networks like the Rede Latino Americana por Cidades Justas e Sustentáveis (Latin American Network for Equitable and Sustainable Cities) which encompasses approximately 60 cities in Latin America. It connects people from civil society, the private sector and academia who are seeking to improve the quality of life in their area. According to Claudia Bustamante from Chile the idea of the Network, of which Rede Nossa São Paulo is a member, is to employ the “citizen technician” approach, making use of statistics and data to accelerate change. “On the other hand, we organize on a grassroots level with campaigns to raise awareness of the issues. This movement began some four years ago with five Colombian cities. Today there are more than 60 cities, including Mendonça, Córdoba and São Paulo,” she noted.
Bustamante explained that the indicators are a tool to promote people’s priorities over official indicators. “We don’t measure investment, but rather the impact of investment. We aren’t interested in how much is invested in education, but rather in the quality of education.”
Examples of grassroots organizing presented given by Eliana Silva from Rede da Maré (the Maré Network), a community organization in a neighborhood within the largest complex of favelas in Rio de Janeiro. Luiz França from the Movimento da Zona Lestes de São Paulo, active in an area with 4.2 million inhabitants, also gave examples.
Ms. Silva explained that Rede da Maré was created 15 years ago to fight for basic rights like sanitation, schools and health care. “We realized, however, that just having the facilities doesn’t improve the quality of life. We now have 16 elementary schools, a sewage system and garbage pick-up but the HDI in Maré is one of the lowest in Rio. We still have very serious environmental problems and it’s hard to find a doctor willing to work with our population because they don’t feel safe coming into our neighborhoods,” she noted.
Luiz França reported that the Movimento da Zona Leste grew out of Rede Nossa São Paulo. When the public got involved in the network and saw the indicators they realized that less public funding was reaching their neighborhoods than the wealthiest areas of the city. “Since then we have accomplished a great deal, such as establishing USP Leste, a public university. How could a young person from our area get into a public university?” França sums up the movement’s struggle with an apt saying: “Politicians are like beans, they have to be [cooked] under pressure.”
The European Example
The Spanish city Vitoria-Gasteiz was selected as the 2012 European Green Capital. It was the first city from Southern Europe to win the award, thanks to policies focused on bike lanes, public transportation, and green spaces. Most residents have access to essential public services within 300 meters of their homes. According to the mayor of the city, Javier Maroto, “In Europe the word sustainability is no longer optional, it is mandatory. We must do more with less and provide more services with fewer resources. This is the way to approach the Planet in light of the economic crisis. It is not possible to make the Planet more sustainable if cities do not take responsibility,” he said.