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Solidarity-based economy provides employment and income to 2 million Brazilians

July 25, 2013


Milene (left) and Jessica help run a cooperative of milk producers in São Paulo: at the enterprise, all decisions are made by the workers themselves.

Mariana Ceratti/World Bank

  • Employment policy experts see solidarity-based economy an opportunity for those in rural areas or who are in poverty.
  • In El Salvador and Mexico, solidarity-based economy also helps stimulate labor market inclusion.
  • The World Bank supports such projects throughout Brazil.

Milene Veroneze, from São Paulo, was only 13 when his father joined a cooperative of milk producers. Today, at 37, she is in charge of acquisitions and payments, and keeps an eye out to make sure her colleagues vaccinate the cattle on schedule. "I learned everything the hard way," says the administrative assistant. She will soon be moving to another city, but not before training Jessica Calça, 20, who watches her instructor's every step.

The cooperative is part of the 30,000 solidarity-based economy companies in existence in Brazil, according to the Ministry of Labor. They employ about 2.3 million people and boast certain fundamental characteristics.

First, the work is performed in associations or cooperatives. Second, there is collective ownership over the means of production, such as the computer Milene uses for work and the machine used for producing yogurt. Self-management is another characteristic: all decisions are made by the members.

Also according to the Ministry of Labor, many of these companies adopt sustainable production techniques. Lastly, members share their earnings, with equal payment and opportunities for men and women.

"As a result of all this, solidarity-based economy emancipates workers and provides opportunities to those who live in rural settings or who are in poverty," says Roberto Marinho, joint-secretary of the National Solidarity-based economy Secretariat, linked to the Ministry.

Next month, the institution will be disclosing new figures about the topic and the profile of those working in the sector.

"In Brazil, solidarity-based economy is part of the national productive inclusion strategy; it is also becoming increasingly important in countries like El Salvador and Mexico. This shows an effort in the region to unite social assistance and job creation policies," says Concepción Steta, social protection specialist at the World Bank.

" Structuring solidarity-based economy support requires a number of conditions. Access to credit, investment and technical assistance must be enabled.  "

Roberto Marinho

Joint Secretary of the National Solidarity-based economy Secretariat

Learning community

The importance of fostering solidarity-based economy and entrepreneurship was one of the topics discussed at the recent meeting of the Learning Community on Employment Policies, organized by the Bank. The community brings together countries from all over Latin America.

They are making common efforts to:

  • Provide more job opportunities over the internet;
  • Include young men and women in the labor market;
  • Improve the connection between  professional training and job offers;
  • Adapt job offer stations to better welcome the poorest individuals, the least educated, the disabled, etc.

However, not all of these countries have programs in place to encourage solidarity-based economy. "Structuring this support requires time and a number of conditions. For example, access to credit, investment and technical assistance must be enabled", explains Marinho. In addition, tax, health and commercial laws need adjustments, so that the companies can manufacture and sell their products according to market requirements.

"Through the Learning Community, the World Bank supports the exchange of experiences between Latin American countries interested in creating solidarity-based economy strategies", says Steta.

The Bank also provides assistance to governments that wish to establish projects to help overcome these difficulties. Among such initiatives is one that helps São Paulo farmers better structure themselves to gain better access to markets (i).

One of the beneficiaries from this work is the Agricultural and Livestock Producers' Cooperative of São Pedro (Coopamsp), where Milene and Jessica work at. What began in 1989 as an association of 28 producers currently has 116 participants and many plans for the future - starting cheese production, for example. "As a small cooperative, we eventually became one big family," states Milene.