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Brazil’s communities are teaching brands a resilience lesson

Opinion

Published by:

29 June 2020

Author: Lydia Caldana

Image: Youth culture magazine, SambaZine , São Paulo, New York

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With the government failing to meet their expectations, Brazil’s informal settlements are carving their own path through Covid-19 – and brands must pay attention

With more than 13.6m people living in slums (source: Data Favela e Locomotiva), the impact of Covid-19 has only amplified the inequalities that Brazil is facing. Meanwhile, government leaders are engaged in public disagreements, unable to negotiate a coherent national strategy to tackle the pandemic.

Against this backdrop – and in the absence of coherent instructional messaging – adherence to social distancing among Brazilians has decreased drastically, from 62.2% in March 2020 to 42.7% in May (source: Inloco). Furthermore, those who live in poor housing situations are 10 times more at risk of dying due to Covid-19.

‘Slums or peripheries have large numbers of houses in small areas; houses that don't provide dignified living accommodations... Water access is very irregular; many favelas have open-sewers’, explains Paulo Buss, health physician at Fundação Oswaldo Cruz.

There is also an information vacuum, driven by uncertainty at a government level, which is exacerbating the crisis. This is where brands could step in – after all, they are equipped with technology and information to create solutions. An influx of Civic Brands would be welcomed by consumers. A recent study revealed that 80% of Brazilians believe brands are responsible for protecting civilians in the crisis, compared to 94% who believe the responsibility lies with the government.

Some brands are beginning to step up. Take drinks group AB-Imbev, which transformed its breweries into hand sanitiser production centres, as well as Burger King, with its donations to Brazil’s public health system. In an age of informed citizens, platforms like Produzindo Pro Bem are also emerging to help the public track brands who might be #causewashing.

Artist Tiago Lopo in collaboration with Lá da Favelinha raising funds for families impacted by Covid-19 in Aglomerado da Serra, Brazil
‘Amid an information vacuum, brands can step in. After all, they are equipped with technology and information to create solutions’

Most brands, however, have failed to recognise the opportunities. This has resulted in a third scenario, in which vulnerable communities, finding themselves unsupported by the government and underserved by brands, adopt a Resilience Culture mindset by creating DIY solutions. Take female visual art collective Tarantinas. It is using buildings as a canvas for its protests against Brazil's current administration; projecting images that combine information with activism.

Other initiatives are hacking the business models of larger organisations. Entrega.li is a delivery website for micro-businesses across four north-eastern Brazilian cities, levying zero charges to encourage hyper-local shopping. Escambo da Quarentena by Coletivo Eco_Nomia is an online barter community for skills-based activity exchange. Then there’s Lá Da Favelinha, an independent cultural centre self-managed by inhabitants of the Aglomerado da Serra community, producing see-through masks with the hearing-impaired in mind.

Inhabitants of the Aglomerado da Serra community are producing see-through masks with the hearing-impaired in mind
With Brazil’s informal settlements engineering their own concepts on how to cater to underserved communities, brands that wish to enter this space must ensure they do so in an ethical, meaningful way. After all, 94% of Sao Paulo’s informal settlement inhabitants do not feel engaged by brand initiatives (source: Me Ajuda a Ajudar).

The challenge for brands, according to Isabela Souza, director at urban consultancy Observatório de Favelas, is ‘to think how we can propose [solutions] as from the perspective of the slums and peripheries, considering its specificities and dealing effectively with the inequalities.’

With Brazil’s DIY communities exhibiting resilience and grassroots entrepreneurialism amidst a crisis of health, businesses impassioned to show their Civic Brand capabilities should consider supporting these communities, in turn highlighting that their goals go far beyond profit.

Lydia Caldana is a foresight strategist and MA student at The New School, and founder of platform @future.resources

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