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Southern Art Hubs Grab Attention for Creative Economy

By David SouthDevelopment Challenges, South-South Solutions

SOUTH-SOUTH CASE STUDY

Regeneration – of poor neighbourhoods, districts, even whole countries after a conflict – is both a challenge and a key to transforming lives. One approach that has a track record is turning to artists and creative people to re-imagine a neighbourhood or country’s culture, and restore pride and vitality to places beaten down by life’s hardships.

The tool to do this is the creative economy. The “interface between creativity, culture, economics and technology in a contemporary world dominated by images, sounds, texts and symbols” (UNCTAD) is seen as away for emerging economies to leapfrog into high-growth areas in the world economy.

Two approaches offer inspiring examples: a Brazilian art gallery owner is single-handedly remaking the Brazilian market for contemporary art. And in Cambodia, a new wave of young artists are creating a stir in the global art scene.

Galeria Leme (http://www.galerialeme.com/home.php?lang=ing) is located in a graffiti-strewn, down-at-heel neighbourhood in Sao Paulo, Brazil.

Brazil has seen impressive economic growth in the past decade. The country is Latin America’s biggest economy and had reached growth of 5.1 percent in 2008 before being hit by the global recession.

The gallery pursues several goals at once: its mission is to draw attention to socially and politically engaging contemporary Brazilian art, but it also aims to increase awareness of the art market in Brazil and help in the revitalization of the gallery’s neighbourhood.

The gallery is a concrete box designed by Paulo Mendes da Rocha (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paulo_Mendes_da_Rocha), an award-winning Brazilian architect. Founded in 2004 by former banker Eduardo Leme, the gallery has fashioned itself into being the leading authority on contemporary art in Brazil. Leme used to work in the financial sector before moving into running a gallery, and has applied his understanding of markets and how to create demand.

This in turn has grabbed international attention, and had the global art world beating a path to this neighbourhood. In short, it creates a buzz that soon feeds on itself and draws in more people to the scene.

It’s a formula that has worked well in many other places, where a successful gallery fosters a scene and draws in audiences, buyers and new businesses. Soon, a creative economy comes alive and that means serious money. Both New York and London have shown how this can work. In New York City, the creative economy employs over 278,000 people (2002).

Sao Paulo is the commercial hub of Brazil’s contemporary art market. But previously, buyers had to search all over the city to find the works they wanted to buy.

“I think it is a really good moment for Brazilian art,” Leme said.”Brazilian art is fantastic. Due to our miscellaneous (sic) of culture and people and all these kind of things. Brazil is almost a continent. You have art made of wood, made of metal, made of plastic films, all the materials. More and more, I am seeing Brazilians moving onto the international markets, the prices are moving up. The number of fellows from museums that are coming down here to see what’s going on, it’s fantastic.

“To run this business you not just to have good stuff: you need to understand to whom you should sell also,” Leme told the magazine Monocle. “I mean also not just Sao Paulo is a rich and big city that you have a lot of collectors. There is a lot of social stuff you have to understand to be in this specific business.

“My challenge is to increase the Brazilian market. I have this kind of ambition. More partners, more people talking about art, if more people talking about art I am going to receive more feedback and I am going to grow the terms. Not just as a business but also as a man I will have more things on my mind, more information. And the financial market, the more money you make the richest you are. Here, it is not just that: my point of view is that the more challenge is the thing, the more goals I make I am going to be richer in this business.”

Another scene has taken off in formerly war-ravaged Cambodia in Southeast Asia. The country was notorious for the horrors of the Killing Fields in the 1970s (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Killing_Fields), where the extremist Khmer Rouge government executed people and Cambodian artists suffered greatly. As a result, the art community was devastated for many years.

Thirty years on, a new generation of artists has emerged from the recent years of peace. This new wave is getting attention across Asia for its innovation.

Artist Pich Sopheap is one of the pioneers. By founding the Cambodian contemporary art association saklapel.org with Linda Saphan, he has focused the Cambodian art scene through group exhibitions and promotion. Another tool he uses to build the scene up has been the Visual Art Open(VAO), an annual event since 2005 featuring work by Cambodian artists.

This has had the effect of building a strong community of artists within the country who can support each other. It also makes it easier for outside art buyers to discover who is working in the country’s art scene.

Sopheap works in a variety of media including oil painting, photography and sculpture. He manipulates bamboo and rattan to shape his sculptures.

“I think for me sculpture with this material is just because it is cheap. It’s easy to use, it is very relevant. The subject matter is in the work already. For me it is discovering new forms that resonant with the atmosphere, with the conditions of this country,” Sopheap told the BBC.

Sopheap’s family fled from the Khmer Rouge in the 1970s. He spent his early life in the United States, where he trained in art. When he returned to Cambodia a few years ago, he found the art scene very small and weak.

“Cambodia is a young country when it comes to modern art. It takes a while for new blood to come back and actually make something that concerns the present time,” believes Sopheap. “And we are very young, in our early 30s. Before that there was almost none that was known. We are making our own way – it is all up to us. We show in different cafes, we show in bars, we show in gift shops. And when we do those kind of exhibitions it is kind of exciting, it is not really a gallery, a cold place, people go by and it exposes to a lot of foreigners.”

A Cambodian-trained artist, Leang Seckon (http://saklapel.org/vao/artists/leang_seckon/), takes these approaches further, using sewing, painting, metalwork and collage in ways that reference Cambodian traditions, from apsara ballet (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Apsara_Dance) to fortune-telling, while subtly commenting on modern culture, society and politics. Seckon now has shows in Britain, Japan and Norway, and has become one of the country’s most successful artistic exports.

“To begin with I was not a professional artist and I didn’t realize I could jump from low to high level so fast. Things have changed so quickly for me. If I do one style of art it makes me feel so bored. But if I mix it up with other techniques like sewing and collage, it makes it more interesting for me. I don’t know if you can call that real Cambodian art but I didn’t copy or learn it from anyone: I created it myself.”

“This is a very important point for me: I can show all my work to the international community. In the countries I go to, I tell them the same thing. Cambodia has new, young artists – we haven’t disappeared: the young ones have been growing up.”

His approach is to stay away from cliched Cambodian art.

“I just think we work really hard,” says Sopheap on the group’s success to date. “I just think we work really hard and get together and organize exhibitions ourselves for the most part. It is just artists working hard and they are hungry and they are fearless and when that energy is happening, people from the outside start to actually pronounce our name correctly and afterward they come to town and just by accident they find this little scene, and they are very interested in it because it is raw.”

Published: December 2009

Resources

  • Global Creative Economy Convergence Summit 2009: The summit is about the successful and emerging creative technologies and initiatives that are driving economic growth locally, nationally and internationally. Website: http://www.gcecs2009.com/
  • Creative Economy Report 2008. An economic and statistical assessment of creative industries world-wide as well as an overview of how developing countries can benefit from trade in creative products and services produced by UNCTAD and the Special Unit for South-South Cooperation in UNDP. Website: http://www.unctad.org/en/docs/ditc20082cer_en.pdf
  • An article about artists in the Caribbean and how they are using online networks to connect and earn income. Website: http://globalvoicesonline.org/2009/07/23/trinidad-and-tobago-online-art-networks/

Development Challenges, South-South Solutions was launched as an e-newsletter in 2006 by UNDP’s South-South Cooperation Unit (now the United Nations Office for South-South Cooperation) based in New York, USA. It led on profiling the rise of the global South as an economic powerhouse and was one of the first regular publications to champion the global South’s innovators, entrepreneurs, and pioneers. It tracked the key trends that are now so profoundly reshaping how development is seen and done. This includes the rapid take-up of mobile phones and information technology in the global South (as profiled in the first issue of magazine Southern Innovator), the move to becoming a majority urban world, a growing global innovator culture, and the plethora of solutions being developed in the global South to tackle its problems and improve living conditions and boost human development. The success of the e-newsletter led to the launch of the magazine Southern Innovator.

Creative Commons License

This work is licensed under a
Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License.

ORCID iD: https://orcid.org/0000-0001-5311-1052.

© David South Consulting 2022

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Cashing in on Music in Brazil

By David SouthDevelopment Challenges, South-South Solutions

SOUTH-SOUTH CASE STUDY

Brazilian musicians have found a way to prosper and exploit the realities of music distribution in the modern age. The biggest problem for most artists – both beginners and those who are more established – is how to earn an income from their work. In the digital age, it is next to impossible to stop people freely copying your work and passing it on.

The impact of digital technology on the global music business has been earth-shattering. It’s estimated 95 percent of music digital downloads are unauthorized, with no payment to artists and producersWhile the legal digital music business grew for the sixth consecutive year in 2008, with a 25 percent increase in global sales to a trade value of US$3.7 billion, this only makes up 20 percent of total music sales (IFPI) (http://www.ifpi.org/). Even legal digital services like Apple’s iTunes have suffered (http://www.apple.com/downloads/).

An economic solution to this conundrum is critical for the growth of creative economies in the South.

The traditional music industry model from the analogue age – where copies of music are tightly controlled and royalties and profits funnel back to recording companies – has come unstuck in the digital age. With digital recordings, it is easy to copy high quality music and distribute it for free through the Internet, by audio music players like the iPod or on discs.

Many are saying a corner has been turned: free distribution is the new future and illegal copying is the new normal. The model for music making has been turned on its head: from high investment and high returns, it is now low investment and low returns. And this model chimes very well with the world most Southern musicians live in. The chances for most of emulating the champagne and jets lifestyle of the Rolling Stones or Beyonce is beyond their reality. But they can build a slower and more sustainable income with the new digital model.

A music phenomenon in Brazil’s poorer neighbourhoods, tecnobrega (brega means cheesy or corny) is a mix of electronic beats from the 1980s, mixed with found snippets of strange sounds or sound bites, combined in a so-called ‘mash-up’ (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mashups). It makes for an easy-to-dance-to mix.

“Tecnobrega is a regional music, the music that people here in (the state of) Para most enjoy,” DJ Edilson told the BBC. “The secrets are the beats which drive people crazy.”

With music becoming easier and cheaper to record to a high standard, and distribution of music less and less a money-making opportunity, musicians have turned to economic models revolving around live performance to make the bulk of their income.

“What is going on is that people, sometimes in very poor areas, are appropriating electronic instruments like computers and synthesizers to create their own music,” said Ronaldo Lemos, a professor at the respected Getulio Vargas Foundation (http://www.fgv..br/ ) and project lead for the Creative Commons Brazil (http://creativecommons.org/international/br/).

“So this is a phenomenon that is going on not only in the tecnobrega scene but with many scenes around the world like Kuduro in Angola, Kwaito in South Africa, Bubblin’ in Suriname.”

The tecnobrega model works like this: People set up makeshift studios in their homes. They use a personal computer and a software programme to mix and blend the songs. Once the songs are ready, they either organize themselves, or more often, perform at a sound system party. There are said to be as many as 4,000 sound system parties per month in Belem (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bel%C3%A9m) and it is a hugely competitive market. The sound system parties can vary from a small crowd to heaving groups of 10 to 15,000 people. 

The money for performing at these parties is good. A musician performing just once can make 2,200 realis (US $919), and can do this 12 times a month. This is a good income compared to the minimum wage in Belem: 700 realis (US $292). It is estimated it generates US $1.5 million a month in Belem.

In Brazil, where many do not have broadband Internet and thus can’t download music, fans buy pirated and cheap compact discs (CDs) in markets. Local musicians make their own CDs and give them free to local street vendors. While they make no money off the CDs that are then sold by the vendors, they do drum up publicity and profile. And they then use this to draw large paying crowds to their live gigs.

In just a few years, tecnobrega has become a multi-million dollar music business in Brazil. Once an artist has gained experience performing live at the parties, they can develop the skills to organize their own events, and boost their income accordingly.

One singer who has successfully exploited the opportunities raised by the tecnobrega phenomenon is Gaby Amarantos (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZKjH__ghQa4 ). She now regularly appears on TV. 

“We have found a new way to work,” she told the BBC. “It is a new format and a new market model because we produce the music ourselves and the cost to make one song is very cheap.”

“What happens is that the musicians skip the intermediaries,” said Ronaldo Lemos.

“So the musicians do not make money from the CDs that are sold by the street vendors, they actually make money by playing live at the so-called sound system parties – the aparelhagem parties as we tecnobrega say here in Brazil – and also by selling CDs after they play live.

“No-one expects to make money from the CDs – they use it as a way to advertise the music and to advertise themselves as artists, and then their expectation is that they get invited to play at the sound system parties and clubs.

“The more their music gets distributed, the more they will make money in return.”

The furious pace of innovation in the tecnobrega scene is all about generating more revenue and more income. New styles emerge to cater to new tastes: cyber tecnobrega, brega melody, electro melody. And this passion for innovation has kept the tecnobrega entrepreneurs ahead of the traditional music business in how it uses digital technologies.

Lemos calls tecnobrega a “globoperipheral music”: it transcends rich and poor divisions and geographical boundaries.

Other examples include Argentina’s Cumbia Villera, or Brazil’s Funk Carioca.

“The number one lesson would be innovation – if you want to survive in the music industry right now you have to innovate,” said Lemos.

Published: March 2009

Resources

  • Good Copy, Bad Copy: A Danish documentary film by director Andreas Johnsen about the global explosion in movie- and music-making because of the digital revolution. Website: http://www.goodcopybadcopy.net/
  • A documentary trailer for a film about tecnobrega in Brazil directed by Gustavo Godinho e Vladimir Cunha. Website:http://www.vimeo.com/1993239

Development Challenges, South-South Solutions was launched as an e-newsletter in 2006 by UNDP’s South-South Cooperation Unit (now the United Nations Office for South-South Cooperation) based in New York, USA. It led on profiling the rise of the global South as an economic powerhouse and was one of the first regular publications to champion the global South’s innovators, entrepreneurs, and pioneers. It tracked the key trends that are now so profoundly reshaping how development is seen and done. This includes the rapid take-up of mobile phones and information technology in the global South (as profiled in the first issue of magazine Southern Innovator), the move to becoming a majority urban world, a growing global innovator culture, and the plethora of solutions being developed in the global South to tackle its problems and improve living conditions and boost human development. The success of the e-newsletter led to the launch of the magazine Southern Innovator. 

Creative Commons License

This work is licensed under a
Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License.

ORCID iD: https://orcid.org/0000-0001-5311-1052.

© David South Consulting 2022

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Housing Innovation in South’s Urban Areas

By David SouthDevelopment Challenges, South-South Solutions

SOUTH-SOUTH CASE STUDY

As urban populations around the South increase, the quality of city housing will be critical to the quality of life and sustainability of improvements to living standards.

Living in crowded and chaotic urban and semi-urban areas does not have to mean suffering poor quality housing. A variety of Southern architects are showing how new perspectives on common problems like cramped spaces, traffic noise, minimal green spaces and tight budgets can be addressed with clever thinking and new concepts.

The bustling and crowded Brazilian city of Sao Paulo has evolved in a chaotic fashion over the years. As Brazilian photographer Reinaldo Coser admitted to design and architecture magazine Dwell (www.dwell.com) , in many places it is “very ugly.”

Sao Paulo suffers from the downside of rapid urban and semi-urban development familiar to cities across the South: traffic gridlock, pollution, noise. It’s a toxic combination of factors that turns even simple tasks like buying groceries into depressingly long, stressful ordeals.

Coser’s family home sits a couple hundred metres from the congested Avenida Brigadeiro Faria Lima (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Avenida_Brigadeiro_Faria_Lima) , the city’s unofficial main street. Yet the dwelling has been cleverly designed to make living in the centre of this modern urban hurly burly a peaceful and calming oasis. Designed by Brazilian architects Studio MK27 (http://www.marciokogan.com.br) – and in keeping with the rich Brazilian modernist tradition pioneered by Oscar Niemeyer in the country’s capital, Brasilia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bras%C3%ADlia) – the home uses clever techniques to build calm into chaos.

The front and back gardens are level with the living room, creating an enormous living space that seamlessly flows from indoor to outdoor space. By using a large overhang over the gardens, even on rainy days the home can be lived in almost without walls.

Furniture in the home draws on Brazilian designers like Sergio Rodrigues (http://www.sergiorodrigues.com.br).

One of several innovative Brazilian firms, Studio MK27 was founded in the 1980s by Marcio Kogan. It has 12 architects from around the world collaborating on projects.

With a metropolitan population of around 20 million, Sao Paulo (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/S%C3%A3o_Paulo) is the most populous city in the Americas, and in the Southern hemisphere.

While it is easy to point out the downsides of rapid and chaotic urban development, Coser, a professional photographer, lives and loves Sao Paulo nonetheless because, like so many cities across the South, it is a vibrant and dynamic place to be.

And by choosing a design for his home that is calming, he has been able to introduce balance into his family’s life while benefiting from the economic opportunities of the city.

“This house has actually changed the rhythm of our lives,” he told Dwell. “We eat at home more. We go to bed earlier. We wake up earlier. We sleep more.”

And how has the calm helped his two daughters? One is able to play without disturbing the neighbours, and the other can quietly study her books, which was difficult when the family lived in the noise and buzz of a small two-bedroom apartment.

And – something often overlooked in development plans cooked up by economists and urban planners – the aesthetics of the house are very appealing. “Our house is so pretty,” says his wife, Sophia. “Sometimes I like to just look at it for a long time.”

This calm home was created out of basic need. The family needed more space with a second daughter on the way, and had become frustrated with the congestion of the city and the lack of green space. Architect Marcio Kogan was consulted for a solution.

“We wanted a place where we could just shut the door and travel,” says Reinaldo.

The house is made from raw concrete and a cheap-but-tough local wood called cumaru (http://tinyurl.com/3y8kh8v) . By using inexpensive and low maintenance materials, the home is able to weather the environmental stresses of a polluted, tropical city with harsh sunshine.

Kogan deployed his previous experience as a filmmaker to make the home feel and look more spacious and open than it is. He calls it “looking at the world through a wide-screen lens.” The design of the home is seen as a “narrative”, leading the occupant from the garden to the living room, up the stairs, past bedrooms to a rooftop deck with panoramic views of the city.

Another innovative solution in Sao Paulo is USINA (http://www.usinactah.org.br) – a finalist for the World Habitat Awards (http://www.worldhabitatawards.org/about/?lang=00) – which brings people together to build high-density urban housing. It has aided more than 5,000 people to build with their own labour multi-storey buildings. These new apartments are not isolated from other services, but come with community facilities, childcare facilities, professional training courses and other employment-generating activities.

It is estimated up to 15 percent of the city’s population live in slums. This community organising approach is in contrast to the existing ad-hoc building of homes in the slums – often with no technical assistance – or public housing projects built by developers looking for quick profits while ignoring quality and services. USINA’s approach has led to Sao Paulo being a pioneer in participatory housing policies.

USINA provides the technical assistance to social movements looking to build housing for the poor. The cost for the buildings is borne by a combination of public funding and the labour of the residents (working 16 hours per week per household). The cost per housing unit tends to be between US $12,000 and US $15,000 (with land usually donated free by public authorities).

Architectural innovation is also underway in Indonesia, another country that has experienced spurts of rapid economic growth and urbanization, and where a growing middle class is demanding a higher quality of life.

The country’s capital, Jakarta (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jakarta) , with a population over 8 million, is a mixed bag of modern skyscrapers, crumbling colonial architecture, suburbs and slums.

In the Jakarta suburb of Bekasi (population more than 2 million), Nugrohu Wisnu was looking for a little more space for his family.

At first, the family encountered the downside of poorly designed housing. They bought a house which was infested with termites and was uncomfortable to live in. Frustrated, they began shopping around for something better. And they turned to Indonesian architects Djuhara + Djuhara (http://djuhara.com/home.html).

“We thought that an all-steel house like the one that Mr. Djuhara had built just down the road would be termite resistant,” Wisnu told Dwell.

Djuhara is a high-profile architect and chair of the Jakarta chapter of the Indonesian Institute of Architects (http://www.iai.or.id) and helped to modernize the city’s planning regulations.

The stereotype of young Indonesian architects is that they only work on luxury hotels. But Djuhara was designing and building suburban homes and this grabbed Wisnu’s attention.

Also against stereotype, Djuhara was actually attracted by a tight budget and the small space for the house. In a crowded city, using every bit of space efficiently is critical. The existing house was torn down and Djuhara set about building a new home. The majority of the building materials were sourced within the immediate area: an easy thing to do in Jakarta since there are many vendors selling building supplies on the streets.

By buying local like this, shipping costs were eliminated from the cost of the house. The home’s cost, US $20,000, is just 2/3 of what a more conventional Indonesian home would cost.

Djuhara revelled in the job: “Ad-hocism is my religion,” he told Dwell.

The split-level design of the home uses the space well. The kitchen opens up into the garden.

“Family breakfasts are great in here,” says Wisnu. “And the open kitchen encourages the kids to head out into the garden and run and play.”

There is also a strong environmental component to the design. Airflow cavities in the ceiling are used in the bedrooms to cool them. The house also uses heavy wooden shutters to keep the house cool during the day: “The shutters are unusual, but they are thick and sturdy,” Wisnu explains.

“They really shade the master bedroom to the extent that it feels mellow and cool. They let us reduce our air-conditioning consumption, even during the height of the day.”

And Djuhara also has another difference from many other architects: he refuses to patent his design.

“My friends have asked me why I don’t patent my low-cost houses,” he explains, “but they completely miss the point. I actually want my designs to be copied. I want Indonesian society to rethink its attitudes towards urban architecture.”

Published: June 2010

Resources

Development Challenges, South-South Solutions was launched as an e-newsletter in 2006 by UNDP’s South-South Cooperation Unit (now the United Nations Office for South-South Cooperation) based in New York, USA. It led on profiling the rise of the global South as an economic powerhouse and was one of the first regular publications to champion the global South’s innovators, entrepreneurs, and pioneers. It tracked the key trends that are now so profoundly reshaping how development is seen and done. This includes the rapid take-up of mobile phones and information technology in the global South (as profiled in the first issue of magazine Southern Innovator), the move to becoming a majority urban world, a growing global innovator culture, and the plethora of solutions being developed in the global South to tackle its problems and improve living conditions and boost human development. The success of the e-newsletter led to the launch of the magazine Southern Innovator. 

Creative Commons License

This work is licensed under a
Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License.

ORCID iD: https://orcid.org/0000-0001-5311-1052.

© David South Consulting 2022

Categories
Archive

Favela Fashion Brings Women Work

By David SouthDevelopment Challenges, South-South Solutions

SOUTH-SOUTH CASE STUDY

A highly successful cooperative of women in Brazil has shown that it is possible for outsiders to make it in the fast-paced world of fashion. Despite being based in one of Rio de Janerio’s slums, or favelas (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Favela), the women have developed a reputation for high-quality merchandise and even put on fashion shows.

Fashion earns big money around the world: The global clothing industry is estimated to be worth more than US $900 billion a year. But fashion also has a reputation for relying on sweat shops, poor pay and poor working conditions. The poor are the most at risk of exploitation in the industry – upwards of 90 percent of sweatshop workers are women (www.feminist.org).

Yet the COOPA-ROCA cooperative (www.coopa-roca.org.br/en/index_en.html) – or Rocinha Seamstress and Craftwork Co-operative Ltd – has pioneered a way to involve poor women in the business, build their skills while creating high-quality products, and be flexible enough to make time for their families’ needs. It particularly helps single mothers.

The cooperative was founded by Maria Teresa Leal in Rocinha – the largest favela in Rio, home to over 180,000 people. After visiting her housekeeper’s home in the favela, Leal was impressed by the sewing skills of the women but found they weren’t making any money from their work. She decided to found the cooperative in 1981 and start making quilts and pillows. By the early 1990s, the cooperative had attracted the attention of Rio’s fashion scene. And in 1994, it jumped into making clothes for the fashion catwalks. Fashion designers in turn taught the women advanced production skills and about fashion trends.

Today, the coop has established a hard-won reputation for quality and sells its clothes to the wealthy elite of Rio. Its success has led to contracts with major clothing stores, including Europe’s C&A.

“Creativity is an important tool for transforming people and raising their consciousness,” Leal told Vital Voice. “My great passion is beauty. Beauty has the capacity to inspire, to touch individuals in a more subtle way. For this reason, I like to make beautiful things with the artisans of COOPA-ROCA.”

Leal realized that most small businesses helping the poor fail despite their best intentions. They often make the same mistakes: they fail to produce high quality goods, they fail to do market research and understand who they are selling to, they fail to develop the skills of their workers, and most importantly, they fail to see that they have to compete in a global economy with lots of other enterprises. How many people have seen crafts and knickknacks for sale that nobody really wants?

Slum dwellers are on the increase across the South. As the world becomes a more urban place – and 70 million people move every year to the world’s cities (UN) – the growing population of poor women and households presents a dilemma: how to provide meaningful work so they do not fall risk to exploitation? Without work opportunities, women can feel pressured to turn to prostitution, or even be trafficked by gangs for work or sex. And women in slums experience greater levels of unemployment than those who live elsewhere (UNHABITAT).

Women now make up the majority of the world’s poor: 70 percent of the world’s poor are women, as are a majority of the 1.5 billion living on less than US $1 a day (UNESCO).

Established in 1981 from a recycling project for local children, COOPA-ROCA started with finding ways to use thrown away scraps of cloth to make clothing. It eventually evolved into a cooperative. It focused on improving traditional Brazilian decorative craftwork skills like drawstring appliqué, crochet, knot work and patchwork.

“COOPA-ROCA works with traditional handicraft techniques that are widely used by women around the world,” explains Leal. “As COOPA-ROCA works with fashion, and fashion is always linked with media, the COOPA-ROCA artisans inspire other women who recognize in themselves the potential to do the kind of work that COOPA-ROCA does.”

For its first five years, COOPA-ROCA concentrated on building the organization and the skills of the artisans. Once a production structure was in place, quality control workshops were set up to increase the quality of the products so they could compete better in the marketplace.

“Many social projects believe that money is the only resource required to begin their work. The COOPA-ROCA case proves that social organizations must use a more entrepreneurial vision to understand the concept of resources.”

The cooperative’s mission statement is to “provide conditions for its members, female residents of Rocinha, to work from home and thereby contribute to their family budget, without having to neglect their childcare and domestic duties.”

By doing this to a high standard, the profile and reputation of traditional crafts has been raised.

The COOPA-ROCA hopes the work shows others how they can increase income in poor communities. The cooperative has 150 members and has partners in the wider fashion and decorative design markets.

The women equally share responsibility for production, administration and publicity. While they work at home, they come to the office to drop off the completed pieces and pick up more fabric.

The success of the cooperative has led to donations of funds to build a new headquarters designed by architect Joao Mauricio Pegorim.

Despite the cooperative’s success, it is still not easy to work with partners. “There are many negative preconceptions about Rocinha and the people who live there, both within and outside of Brazil. COOPA-ROCA is consistently rejected when it applies for loans,” Leal said. “Furthermore, the cooperative’s commercial partners usually do not enter the favela themselves, and I must serve as a bridge between the two worlds.”

But Leal is still ambitious for bigger things: “I envision COOPA-ROCA expanding to include 400 women artisans, producing for commercial partners, selling their own brand in Brazil and abroad, and carrying out fashion and design projects in the new headquarters in Rocinha.”

Published: March 2010

Resources

1) The online service CafePress is a specially designed one-stop shop that lets entrepreneurs upload their designs, and then sell them via their online payment and worldwide shipping service. Website:http://www.cafepress.com/cp/info/sell/

2) Tips on how to start your own t-shirt business. Website: http://www.pioneerthinking.com/dy_tshirt.html And how to do it online: Website:http://www.ehow.com/how_2135779_start-network-online-tshirt-company.html

3) Once inspired to get into the global fashion business, check out this business website for all the latest news, jobs and events. Website:http://us.fashionmag.com/news/index.php

4) iFashion: This web portal run from South Africa has all the latest business news on fashion in Africa and profiles of up-and-coming designers. Website:http://www.ifashion.co.za/index.php?option=com_frontpage&Itemid=1

5) Kiva: Kiva’s mission is to connect people, through lending, for the sake of alleviating poverty. Website:http://www.kiva.org/

6) Betterplace: Is another great way to solicit funds for NGOs or businesses in the developing world. Website: http://www.betterplace.org

7) Viva Favela: The first Internet portal in Brazil. Viva Favela has a team made up of journalists and “community correspondents” – favela residents qualified to act as reporters and photographers. Website:http://www.vivafavela.com.br/publique/cgi/cgilua.exe/sys/start.htm?infoid=40489&sid=74

8) Women in Poverty: A New Global Underclass by Mayra Buvinic (1998). Website: http://www.onlinewomeninpolitics.org/beijing12/womeninpoverty.pdf

Development Challenges, South-South Solutions was launched as an e-newsletter in 2006 by UNDP’s South-South Cooperation Unit (now the United Nations Office for South-South Cooperation) based in New York, USA. It led on profiling the rise of the global South as an economic powerhouse and was one of the first regular publications to champion the global South’s innovators, entrepreneurs, and pioneers. It tracked the key trends that are now so profoundly reshaping how development is seen and done. This includes the rapid take-up of mobile phones and information technology in the global South (as profiled in the first issue of magazine Southern Innovator), the move to becoming a majority urban world, a growing global innovator culture, and the plethora of solutions being developed in the global South to tackle its problems and improve living conditions and boost human development. The success of the e-newsletter led to the launch of the magazine Southern Innovator. 

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