Youth Ambassadors 2012

We announced this year’s winners for Youth Ambassadors in São Paulo on Friday last.  This program keeps getting bigger and better. It attracts an ever larger pool of highly-qualified candidates (this year 7500); pulls in more cooperating institutions (now 64 partners in the recruitment and screening process}; and is acting like a magnet pulling in resources from the private sector. 

This year firms like IBM, DOW and Bradesco promised tens of thousands of dollars more in support. In fact, we are quickly approaching the legal ceiling of PA Brazil’s authorized fundraising for a single project, which is $75,000.  In addition, outside the actual project firms are providing things like mentoring programs, free software, internship and/or job opportunities, and scholarships to the winners and alumni.  This is a program that has captured the imagination of aspiring students all over Brazil and all those who support them.

Some people say that success is achieved through resources and they are right, but theirs is not a dynamic perspective. It is clearly true that good ideas and well managed programs attract resources.

The ceremony of the announcement filled the auditorium at the Alumni BNC in São Paulo. But the crowd gathered to hear Ambassador Thomas Shannon announcing the forty-five winners from among around 150 finalists was only the tip of the iceberg.  We live streamed the event to around 500 viewers, but even this doesn’t tell the whole story.  We know that many BNCs were hosting events with the streaming featured.   The State Secretary of Education in São Luís do Maranhão hosted an event in his auditorium which included eighty teachers, students and parents.  But even this is not all.  For weeks leading up to the big event, events were being held in all the states of Brazil to bring together students and talk about the program.  This is a really big show for a really big project, the culmination of a great process but just the start of another.

After the announcement came the media in proud hometowns all over Brazil. Headlines like “Londrina terá representante no Jovens Embaixadores de 2012” (a Londrina girl will represent the Youth Ambassadors) “Estudante cuiabano representa MT” (A student from Cuiaba will represent Mato Grosso.) or  “Estudante de Araguaina é a nova Jovem Embaixadora 2012” (A student from Araguaina is the new Youth Ambassador 2012) set the tone.

Initial press reports are available below.

Yesterday’s Newspaper is Old Tomorrow; Homer is New Forever

A good measurement must be appropriate to the things being measured, stable and easy to understand. Public Diplomacy really doesn’t have such a measure.  Even in much more concrete marketing of goods or services, there is significant disagreement about the extent that advertising drives sales.  There are often rises or drops in sales that have nothing to do with the promotion.  For example, many firms did very well in the late 1990s when the economy was strong.  Many have seen sales drop after the economy went south in 2008.  Is advertising to blame?

They tell us that we need to have a culture of measurement & that should measure all our programs against objective criteria.  I agree.  My problem is with the proxies we must use in PD and the time periods we assess.   By proxies, I mean things we can measure that we think reflect the real thing we want to measure, that is changes in attitudes that lead to changes in behaviors.  At best, we can do opinion research, but such surveys are often poorly designed (what real use is the question about whether or not you approve of the U.S., for example?). Besides, people often do not tell the truth to pollsters or even know themselves what they really think.

But the bigger challenge is time-frame.  We want to know within days if our exchange program or outreach effort was successful.  That is a little worse than planting an acorn and asking a day later about the size of the tree.

I talked to a lot of people during my recent trip to São Paulo.  I did not have a representative sample, since I talking only to those who had been affected by our PD programs.  I also am unable to factor out my own bias.  I asked the questions based not only on what people were telling me but also on my own ideas about what was important.  Nevertheless, I believe that my visit provided insights that, added to my extensive experience in diplomacy, produce a useful narrative.

My narrative starts not with a contact but with a creator.  I went to São Paulo a day early so that I could meet Ambassador Donna Hrinak and watch the taping of her telling the story of Youth Ambassadors.  You can follow this link for more information about the program in general.  I was impressed by how well the program had grown and progressed since it originated in Brazil ten years ago.  This primed me to look for other signs of achievement.

I didn’t have to look far. I didn’t have to look at all.  The experience found me in the person of one of the former Youth Ambassadors, now an intern at DOW Chemical in São Paulo. Wesley told me how the Youth Ambassador program had changed his life and that he viewed his life history divided into before and after the program.  Wesley came from a slum in São Paulo so nasty that taxi drivers refused to enter.  He was poor in the existential sense but he lived hopefully in a hopeless place. 

The Youth Ambassador program was his way out.  But he didn’t leave physically.  He still goes back home to work on helping others improve and volunteers at an orphanage there.  His presence alone is a continual example that challenges can be met and overcome.  Our public diplomacy helped achieve this, but it is not mere social work and not limited to Wesley.  I have heard similar stories over and over from people who will be future leaders of Brazil.  They say they will never forget the generosity of the United States and I don’t think they will.  But Wesley told me something else more poignant. 

He said that before being chosen as a youth ambassador, he thought he was a limited person.  He now understands that he has no limits.  America is like that, he said, and it helps create this in others.  Can we have a better advocate carrying a better message?  You can see Wesley alongside this article, speaking at our youth ambassador event.  And there are scores of others like him.   Thanks Donna.

Then I went over to SESC.  We don’t have anything exactly like SESC in the U.S.  It is a corporatist institution created by Getúlio Vargas that receives mandatory contributions from commercial firms. In return it runs social centers that feature gyms, arts exhibits, plays, swimming pools and even a dental clinic.  I was impressed but with somewhat mixed feelings.  It was a lot like things I had seen built by the communists in Poland or by authoritarians in other parts of Europe, a paternalist network.  But nice; undeniably something that worked.

I met the directors, who were honest, earnest and dedicated.  I started to praise their operation, mentioning that we don’t have similar networks in the U.S.  This they knew, because many of their number had been to the U.S. on our voluntary visitor program.  The VV program is, IMO, a highly leveraged PD tool.  The visitors pay their own way and so are highly motivated – at least they have some skin in the game.   My colleagues in the U.S. help set up a program of study.  In the case of SESC, they studied how charitable organizations and NGOs work in the U.S.

What the SESC people explained to me, I could not have said better myself, although I have on many occasions tried to explain it.  They saw that in the U.S. we indeed did not have public funded organizations like SESC.  Our public-funded institutions were often more literally public funded – and staff. The U.S., they understood, was exceptional in the way that voluntary contributions of time and money ran many of the things that governments need to do in other places.   This goes back at least to the time of Alexis de Tocqueville, I added.  They approved of the way things were done in the U.S.  They understood the subtlety that the U.S. Federal government does not much sponsor culture, but that the America nation does in spades.  Again, imparting this understanding of the U.S. is an important PD objective.  I could have brought down an expert on NGOs or maybe given a lecture on Tocqueville.  As a matter of fact, I have done both those things more than once.  How much better is it for intelligence and involved Brazilians to do the explaining for us?

In the cases I mentioned above, how would we measure?  I suppose the people involved would have expressed satisfaction when they were debriefed.  But the understanding and appreciation developed over time.   I understood from the SESC people that they had shared their experience all around their organization, even published a book about it.  As the experience in America mixed with experiences of their own in running their operation in São Paulo, it became something different, something their own, something sui generis the offspring of Brazil and America shaped by its own environment.  They also have maintained contact with Americans they met on the trip, forming with them an engaged and interactive community.   This is the kind of thing that public diplomacy can foster but not create.  We can create only the conditions for others to prosper.  We did.

I had supper with a couple of people from the arts community. As a talent-free individual myself, I don’t really do art, but I understand that others do and the value it has for the community.  One of my meal-mates we the culture director at a local TV station.  When I mentioned that I had been in Brazil in the 1980s, she explained how an IVLP grant they received during that time had changed her career path and not incidentally her views of the U.S.  Back in her youth, she recounted, she had been influenced by European artists and intellectuals in ways not generally favorable to the U.S.  The master narrative was that Americans were a materialistic bunch who didn’t really have much use for the higher things in life.  Her visit to the U.S. showed her that this was not true. 

She learned that the American system was simply different.  It was much more flexible, less dependent on centralized or bureaucratic planning but as or more effective as other systems in “delivering” arts and culture to people all over the vast country.  In many ways, she said, this system was more appropriate for Brazil, which like the United States is a vast and diverse country.  Since the time of her visit, now a quarter of a century ago, the insights she got on the IVLP tour have been developing and evolving.  Of course, the way she thinks today is not based on what she “learned” in America during her first brief visit, but the visit was instrumental in setting her thoughts in a new direction. This is what she told me.

 Our other meal-mate was headed to New York the next day and from there to Washington to meet contacts at the Kennedy Center.  His ties to the U.S. were greatly enhanced by a voluntary visitor program (the one where the visitors pay for the trip and we help arrange meetings) three years ago.  Among the places he went was Julliard in New York, where he met with Americans eager for exchanges of talent and experience with Brazil.  This led to a robust series of privately funded and run exchanges.  It is not enormous.  We are talking about five people a year, but this is exactly the kind of individual networks that hold society together and help bring communities together, in this case artistic communities in São Paulo and New York.  The American nation is greater than the American government.  In this case, like in others, activities of diplomats and bureaucrats like us helped bring together Americans and Brazilians in sustainable ways that is leading to cross fertilization and enrichment on all sides.

Let me get back to my original question.  How do I – how do we – measure these things?

We have lots of friends in influential places.  They are in constant contact with Americans influential in their fields.  They actively seek contacts with us and with American counterparts; they talk to their fellow Brazilians about the U.S., sponsor programs and even publish books about their experiences or the outgrowths from them months and years later.  This didn’t happen in a few days.  We would have been able to boast about media coverage, but even the most widespread television or newspaper coverage would pale in comparison to what that slow building of friendship achieved.  

I used to think we were in the information business years ago when I was a young officer.  I measured my success mostly by media coverage and “buzz”. Now I understand that we are in the relationship business and relationships take time to grow. To illustrate, I suppose we could say that relationships are the orchards and the day-to-day information is the fruit, or maybe it is the urgent versus the important. We have to do the fast-media. Not paying attention to this can be hazardous.  But, we should go for the high value-long term results whenever possible.

Yesterday’s newspaper is old tomorrow; Homer is new forever.

My top picture shows Brasilia roads, with the green of the recent rains and the shining sky.  Below is Ambassador Donna Hrinak being interviewed about Youth Ambassadors. Down one more in Wesley, one of our most successful YA. Below that is a pool at SESC followed by a Sao Paulo business center. 

My Portuguese

This is what my Portuguese looks and sounds like when I am talking off the cuff. I think it is fluent enough but I cringe at some of the mistakes and pronouciations.  My excuse is that I was surprised and prepared what I was saying when I was saying it.  My English also suffers in interviews like this. It is from Curitiba, where it was a little chilly, as you can see by the sweater.

I invite my Portuguse teachers to comment.  BTW – I am aware that mais grande is not correct, but I was translating the phase, “the American nation is greater than the American govenment” and it seemed to me that maior made it sound “bigger” instead of “greater.” Suggestions welcome.

Windfalls and Long Narrow Orchards

I only recently discovered that the big tree in my yard was a mango.  I know the trees of the temperate zones. The tropics are more often a mystery to me. The presence of mangoes is a dead giveaway, however.

Mangoes are attractive trees and evidently well suited to the Brasilia climate, since they don’t seem to provide them with any particular care. I wonder what will happen to all that fruit.They sell mangoes in the stores, but people could just as easily pick their own on the way home. I have also seen bananas, dates and other sorts of productive trees and herbs. There are also lots of fruits I don’t recognize. For example, I have no idea about that tree is pictured at the bottom. It is almost like a joke, like somebody hung some footballs on the tree. I don’t know whether or not they are edible. The mango tree in my yard would seem to have enough fruit to satisfy my needs plus those of a dozen other people. Of course, I don’t really like mangoes very much.  What I need is a Coke Zero tree or maybe a Hershey tree. 

When the mangoes will be ready or how long the season will last, I don’t know. About mangoes in general, I don’t know much. Maybe it is like applies, zucchini or tomatoes back home.  For a couple months you just have much more than you can possibly use and then nothing again for eight months.

The historian Arnold Toynbee used to talk about how civilizations originated at the sweet spot where there was challenge enough to make hard work necessary but not so much that it didn’t pay off. I bet you could mostly feed yourself from a garden, if you liked tropical fruit and vegetables. It would take some work, but not too much. I planted some watermelons and tomatoes and I will see how that goes. You could probably live the hunter-gatherer lifestyle, well at least the gatherer part, just by walking around. I think about that as I walk back from the store, past all the fruit that just falls on the ground.

The pictures show the mango tree in my yard and the trees on the median. Below are lizards trying to absorb the warmth of the sun through the clouds. There are lots of lizards around. I don’t know what they eat or much about them at all.  Maybe they eat fruit. This is about as big as they get.

Cerrado Landscapes

I get can beyond walking distance from my house now that my car is finally free of its Brazilian bureaucracy captivity, so today I went to the botanical gardens of Brasilia. It is a large area of mostly dirt roads, so I was glad to have a four-wheel drive vehicle with a high clearance. I think the name botanical garden is not really appropriate. When I think of a botanical garden, I think of a cultivated place with lot of labeled plants & trees, like they have at Whitnal Park in Milwaukee. This is more like a forest park. I like this too, but it is a different thing.   

It only cost $R2 to get in.  I am glad to pay such fees if it helps maintain the woods.  I had the whole place almost to myself.  Maybe the rain and mist kept people away, but I liked it.  It is like many fall days back home, although it is spring here.  It reminded me of the misty day I went to the Kettle Moraines. There was a tower to climb in both places too.  Look at my pictures at this link and I think you get the idea. 

Notice in the top picture how the plants in the foreground are burned but recovering.  The picture below is looking in the other direction. you can see Brasilia over the ridge line. The picture just above show some pine trees. No true pine is native to Brazil, but introduced pines grow very well. Many people here object to the pines and consider them invasive. Below shows plantings of native species from the Atlantic forest under a pine plantation. They are making it into a true botanical garden that will feature specimen plants from all over Brazil. It will be a while before it is ready.

Below is the entry to the park.

Weird Insects, Strange Weather

It was like a bag made out of leaves that made a kind of hissing sound when I kicked it. It was full of ants and evidently the sound was the ants moving around. It was not just a bunch of leaves in a pile. As I said it was like a bag made of leaves. The leaves were glued together so the bag didn’t fall apart when I turned it over. I never saw anything like it and I couldn’t find out more on the internet. I guess I was not using the right key words. The picture is above and below. They are some kind of surface dwelling ants that made a paper like nest out of leaves.

There are lots of weird bugs around. They particularly seem to like my sunflower. I watched them for a little while. They were not eating the leaves or really doing much of anything at all, so I left them alone.

I really cannot enjoy the yard as much as I could during the dry season. A few weeks ago, every weekend under the always sunny skies, I could sit in my chair and read my magazines. I would also turn on the sprinkler for the garden. The spray felt nice in the very dry, warm air. Now it is a little cool and it drizzles or rains throughout the day. I cannot expect to sit for an hour w/o my magazine getting damp.

Compensation is that it is so green and everything is so vital and growing. It is also nice to sleep in the cooler weather. The house does not have central air. You don’t really need it, but it sometimes got a little warm in the afternoon sun. If I had to choose, I think I prefer the wet season, but it is less convenient. It is also darker, since it is cloudy so much. And, as I wrote before, it is surprising how everything changed so drastically in the course of just a few days.

Rain Day Every Day

It is like somebody flipped a switch. My first three months in Brasilia, it rained not a drop.  It started to rain a couple weeks ago and now it rains every day and it has been cloudy and gray. The picture above shows the more open sky. It has not been like that very much.

I don’t remember it being so gray. I remember it rained almost every day, but that the sun came out between. Maybe later. We are getting warning about dengue, spread my mosquitoes. The interesting thing about dengue is that it was wiped out in Brazil a generation ago, but it came back. Progress.

The rain has made everything a bright, blinding green. It is a remarkable climate. Bone dry followed by soaking wet. It creates an interesting water management challenge.  Part of the year you have none; the other part you have much more than you need. But there really isn’t a drought, since it is so predictable.

In “the Big Thirst” the author describes water management problems. Water is not like any other resource. It is completely renewable. You really cannot save or destroy water. It is really everywhere a local problem. If I “save” a gallon of water in Brasilia, it does nothing to help some poor guy in Africa who is suffering prolonged drought.  It might not mean anything even locally.

Water problems are really problems of location and/or energy.  I could “waste” water forever in Brasilia w/o creating any problems at all, except that it requires energy and effort to transport the water and purify it. Those are the real costs.  Consider the example of water in the lake or a pool. I can cool off and swim in the lake and “consume” the water w/o actually using any of it.  Even if I decide to drink it, I can only keep it for a couple hours. When water evaporates, it just purifies itself and moves somewhere else.

I have been listening to the audio-book version of “The Big Thirst” but not doing it very diligently. In fact, I have mostly been listening to it while walking to the grocery store, which gives me about an hour worth of listening each week.  During my lethargic march through the book, the season changed. I started when it was dry and brown. When the book talked about a long drought in Australia, I could relate. Now it is more like Scotland, with daily mists and rain. It is even cool enough for me to wear a sweatshirt, which you wouldn’t guess in the tropics. Moving between such vastly different water regimes gives me a really different perspective on the book.

It is natural to think of your reality as THE reality. Living in a desert, and Brasilia is essentially a desert in the dry season, makes you of water shortages. Moving to a soaking environment makes you think of water diversion. Having both in the same place in the course of a few days is odd. 

Things are growing again. I have a mango tree in the yard and a banana. I planted some watermelon. If you have lots of water, do watermelon.    

Coligação of the BNCs

Brazil’s BNCs held their big meeting, their Coligação, at the Casa Thomas Jefferson in Brasilia.  Ambassador Shannon gave his speech at the evening opening program. I got to give mine the next day at the opening of the working sessions.  The evening program included the round of speeches plus a chorus that sang the American & Brazilian national anthems and some selections from Andrew Lloyd Weber hits.  

We stayed for the morning of the working sessions.  My colleagues and I presented the types of programs that could help BNCs.  I announced our new program to help the BNCs develop a program of intensive English training plus cultural aspects for U.S. universities in support of the Ciência sem Fronteiras program and during a brainstorming session we talked about how this might work. Coligação members took into account our ideas and will develop a working plan.  

We took the occasion of the Coligação to bring together our PAOs and some leading local employees to talk about our own plans and aspirations.  Such face-to-face meetings are important to build common visions and align our own understanding of the situations we face. 

Our biggest problem is that we have too many opportunities. This really is a problem.  It is hard to prioritize among the many excellent opportunities. You always regret the road not travelled, the choice not taken.  But it is a better problem to have than the opposite. 

Of course, we have too much office work to do too. I am trying to cut that and streamline processes, so that there are fewer places where thing get stuck and fewer approvals, so that we can get away from our desks.  Our people are smart and well trained to make decisions and we need to trust their judgement and commitment.  I don’t want work, in the sense of the stuff we do in the office, to get in the way of accomplishments we can make only when we are out of the office with our Brazilian partners and contacts.

Office work, like all bureaucratic tasks, accretes.  A little at a time, the rules designed to address particular problems build, like sediment at the bottom of a lake. We can always think of extra steps and necessary precautions.  One of my jobs is to keep on digging away at the accretions.  It is a job that never ends and if you ever stop working the accumulated accretions can paralyze real effort, all the while making everybody work harder.  When you see a really busy office, with everybody constantly doing the urgent tasks, this is what you are often really seeing.

I, the boss, can be among the biggest sources of needless work and I take seriously my duty to be careful.  I like to have more reports, so I know exactly what is going on.   It makes me feel secure to have control over what my colleagues are doing.  In general, however, I can trade control for innovation, but I really cannot have lots of both at the same time.

Our job is to interact with, engage and influence Brazilians.  This is what is important. All the other things we do just support these goals and are not ends in themselves.  I try to keep this foremost in my thoughts and actions, but it is not easy to resist the gravity of the office.

Innovation in Rio Grande do Sul

I have visited technology parks north and south of Brazil.  There is a difference that I would liken to newly transplanted trees and ones that have been growing in the same place for a long time.  I was very impressed with what I saw in Recife & Salvador.  They are developing. 

What I saw in Porto Alegre at is TecnoPuc like a developed mature and productive forest with all the complex interrelationship that implies.   TecnoPuc is (PUC – Rio Grande do Sul in Porto Alegre’s Science and Technology Park, with 5.4 hectares area located on PUCRS’ main campus in Porto Alegre, an area of more than 70 ha, 30,000 students, 1,600 faculty and 4,800 staff. You can read the details at the link.

TecnoPuc is housed on the grounds of what used to be a military base. This turns out to have lots of the things you need for a technology park, since the buildings are set up to allow both concentration and dispersal.  The tall building on the side is rental and incubation space for smaller and start-up firms. More established ones rent whole floors or buildings.

Students & professors from PUC in Rio Grande do Sul play an active role with the firms at TecnoPuc, providing the essential cross fertilization we find in successful technology areas such as Silicon Valley, Massachusetts Route 128 or the Research Triangle in North Carolina.  Lots of people have studied the innovation hotbed idea and the exact ingredients are unknown, but they always include a strong university and a concentration of talent.   The Internet has not yet substituted for the magic of geographical proximity.  There is something about just being close to other innovators that makes the whole greater than the sum of its parts.

I think this interactive ingredient is the hardest to duplicate in a new area.  Authorities try to implant such innovation centers in poor areas; most fail because they don’t attract enough of the right people and ideas, despite wonderful buildings and various tax breaks and incentives.  Sometimes they succeed in attracting the big names of the past decade rather than developing the talent of the next.

I return to my forestry metaphor I started with.  (I know that I go back to the ecology analogies very often, but those are the ones I understand best and I think they apply best.)  I can try to plant the best trees, but there are all sorts of other things at work that I don’t control or even understand.  A forest can fail for reasons I just don’t know exist, or they can succeed also for reasons I don’t understand.  Nevertheless, people will take credit and or try to learn and copy.  

Of course, there is the element of leadership.  This is often obscured in the case of innovation areas, where we often tend to think success just happens “spontaneously.” There is often someone with vision present at the creation, usually a group of them making good and forward looking decision. Let me take my forestry example again.  Initial decisions create problems or benefits for dozens or even hundreds of years long after the decision and decision makers are forgotten. 

Every successful innovation center I have ever seen is in pleasant natural surroundings. Who can say if this is the cause or effect or an interaction of both.  Successful firms can afford to create nice surroundings, which attracts good people and maybe makes them more productive. But it is the success that is the most important in creating more success, not the surrounding. Otherwise the prettiest places would also be the most productive and they are not. 

We are taken in by a form of “survivor bias”. We find the successful places and then project backwards to the reasons, ignoring those with similar characteristics that did not succeed, often not even knowing of their existence. 

The TecnoPuc success provides a good example. When we look back, we can see all the reasons why success was inevitable.  But if you were looking forward from a quarter century ago, it would not look so certain. 

The people I met at TecnoPuc talked about visiting similar innovation centers in the U.S. as a voluntary visitor group.  IMO, this would help both them and those they visited in the U.S.  I encouraged them to be in touch with their Brazilian colleagues at places like CETENE & CESAR, among others.  We would have a much easier time organizing a great program for a more diverse group.  They already know each other and I hope we can broker a good connection between my new Brazilian friends and my fellow innovative Americans.  In my small part in my forestry metaphor maybe I am the squirrel who carries an acorn.  

The pictures show some of the firms at TecnoPuc. You can see HP and Dell. The other picture shows a place where they are studying cures from Tuberculosis that require fewer doses and less time. One of the biggest challenges in public health related to TB is that the course of medicine must be followed to the end. But people feel better after half the course and they sometimes wander off. This not only makes the person sick again, but helps develop “super bugs”, strains of TB that can resist the medicines used against them. This is a nightmare scenario.  The medicines have to get all the germs, so that some cannot escape and adapt. A shorter series would make this more achievable for more people.  

Teach a Man to Fish & Increase the Fish Supply

The difference between philanthropy and charity is in that old saying about teaching a man to fish versus just giving him a fish. But you can apply even more leverage if you can increase the capacity of the trainers or augment the general effectiveness of sustainable fishing. Doing lasting good requires a systemic approach to problems.

When I talked to people at  Parceiros Voluntários, I recognized that they were thinking systemically and I was not really surprised when the organization’s president, Maria Elena Pereira Johannpeter brought up Peter Senge.  We had a common connection.

I read Senge’s book, The Fifth Discipline, back in the 1990s. It was a book that changed my outlook on work; it was one of those books that tells you things you think your already knew, but in a better form. The idea I took from the book was that organizations work as a set of interconnected sub-systems, so decisions made in one place have implications for the other parts. It sounds simple and ecological; a forestry guy like me likes these kinds of ideas, but it is hard to apply in practice, hard to consider the whole system. I still use often a formulation from the book, “sometimes thing go wrong not in spite of but because of our best efforts.” Working harder can be ineffective and sometimes make you lose ground. It is usually better to remove or smooth obstacles than to just push harder against them and it is best to figure out the path that avoids most obstacles in the first place. Simple wisdom that is hard to implement and it is impossible even to attempt w/o looking at the whole system and understanding its complex interactions. I used to think a lot about these things.

Parceiros Voluntários works on a systemic basis. Their goal to apply their effort at the points of maximum leverage, to work bottom up to encourage citizens to volunteer (something not common until recently in Brazil’s often top-down society) & then to help train and deploy those volunteers so that they can be effective – creating capacities and then enhancing them.

Part of their philosophy would be familiar to Alexis de Tocqueville. They favor individuals and groups acting voluntarily within their own communities, solving problems with their own means in their own sphere of action, managing their own development w/o regard to bureaucracies or higher authorities except where absolutely necessary.

I don’t believe it is mere coincidence that an organization like this took root first in Rio Grande do Sul. This state has a tradition of self-reliance and the inhabitants – the Gauchos – emphasize their independence.  But Parceiros Voluntários is expanding beyond RGS and setting up cooperative operations in the states of Amazonas, Mato Grosso, Bahia and Rio de Janeiro.   

Decentralized, voluntary organizations are a more flexible response to complex challenges we face. They can adapt much more readily and w/o the power of coercion, they can disappear when their time is past w/o a great disruption. America has lots of experience with such organizations.  It is one of the things that has made our society great.  It is great that Brazil develops them too. 

BTW – that teach a man to fish has a different ending.  Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and he will sit on the lake and drink beer all day. 

The top picture shows some port facilities on the Guaíba River from the offices of Parceiros Voluntários. The name Porto Alegre implies a port and there is one, but not a seaport. Porto Alegre is far from the sea, but ships can reach the sea via Lagoa dos Patos, a vast, shallow flowage. The port used to be a bigger deal in the old days than it is today. The port of Rio Grande, which is actually one the ocean, makes a better outlet for agricultural products of the region. The picture below is a green roof on the restaurant at the Theatro Sao Pedro.