Ruth Cardoso

Ruth Cardoso (1930-2008), an anthropologist trained at the University of São Paulo, researched themes focused on social issues. Founder of the Solidarity Community Program, she played an indisputably important role in proposing actions for social transformation in Brazil. To learn more about Ruth Cardoso and Solidarity Community, visit www.centroruthcardoso.org.br

¹ Dr. Ruth’s work at the forefront of the Solidarity Community Program was remarkable and internationally recognized. She devised and implemented the Solidarity Community Council with the aim of promoting civil participation and new forms of dialogue between the State and civil society. With a pioneering structure and innovative approach, the proposal revealed new strategies for reducing the poverty found in the country at the time.

The Solidarity Community Program was structured as follows:

a) A Council composed of four State Ministers (Health, Education, Labour and the Presidential Chief of Staff) and 27 participants from civil society, including business leaders, social entrepreneurs and artists;

b) A government program – called the Active Community program, coordinated by an Executive Secretariat, formally linked to the Presidential Staff.

Since its beginnings, the Solidarity Community Program has looked to foster public dialogue around a political agenda that encompasses priorities, measures and actions of public interest related to the fight against poverty and social exclusion on themes like: agrarian reform, minimum income and education; children and adolescents; alternatives for generating jobs and income; legal structures for the Third Sector.

The initial premises of the program’s action were: focusing, participation and innovation. Strategies that reveal the pioneering nature of the Solidarity Community Program’s work as a social program with a strong impact in the country. This model inspired the Council’s dialogue with the government and between the latter and civil society, leading to implementation of the following actions:

1. Actions focusing on people and areas with the biggest needs;

2. Actions for mobilizing public and private resources through multiple partnerships;

3. Actions experimenting with cost-effective forms of implementing social programs.

The programs making up the Solidarity Community Program were in chronological order:

• 1995 – Solidarity University: the first intervention launched by the Solidarity Community Program. A program training university students to work as volunteers during holidays, in the country’s poorest areas, with the task of providing information and technical assistance on education, health and community development to young people, women and local leaders.

• 1996 – Solidarity Capacity-Building: a professional capacity building program aimed at young people from low-income groups, aged between 14 and 21 years, residents of the outskirts of large urban areas. The objective was to enable them to learn the skills needed by the current labour market, itself continually changing. The system of implementation involved training and financing non-government organizations as the direct executors of the program; these were community organizations, familiar with the young people involved and their surrounding environment.

• 1997 – Solidarity Literacy: a literacy program for adolescents aged between 12 and 18, living in areas with the highest levels of illiteracy in Brazil. A program involving the articulation between universities, public and private companies, the federal government and local governments, as well as the intense mobilization of the community itself. Locally recruited educators were empowered to perform the role of development agents within their communities.

• 1998 – Solidarity Craftwork (ArteSol): the only program not focused primarily on young people, its objective was to revive traditional craftwork as a source for generating work and income for artisans from regions with a low human development indices. A program providing technical training and financial support for selected groups of artisans, mostly composed of women.

• 2000 – Youth Network: the program’s objective was to promote young people’s access to information technologies, especially the connection to the internet, creating Youth Spaces in pre-existing community organizations with training in the use of new technologies in order to use them for leisure, improving skills, searching for job opportunities, or community with other groups of young people.

Three other actions were also promoted under the Solidarity Community Program with the aim of strengthening civil society:

• Promoting Voluntary Work, with the creation of around 150 Volunteer Centres in large cities and towns, looking to create the appropriate infrastructure for voluntary work with vulnerable groups, such as the disabled, young people and the elderly.

• Third Sector Information Network/RITS (www.rits.org.br), an autonomous civil society organization working to disseminate knowledge and promote interaction between public, private and non-profitmaking organizations. It became a reference point among Third Sector organizations.

• Legal Framework for the Third Sector, working to create a more favourable regulatory and legal environment for civil society organizations.

Ruth Cardoso. Archive: AlfasolRuth Cardoso. Archive: Alfasol

In order to make each of these programs and actions a reality, partnerships needed to be created between public authorities and the private sector in order to obtain the necessary financial, human, technological, scientific and intellectual resources. Methods, costs and results were continually monitored in order to provide reliable guidelines for their replication.

Through a process of dialogue and negotiation, the Solidarity Community Program developed an important role in formulating policies and thanks to its strategic campaigning, new laws were issued on: the value of voluntary work, the legal status of civil society organizations, NGO access to public funds, and the simplification of procedures relating to micro-credit.

It is impossible to ignore the legacy left by Ruth Cardoso through the Solidarity Community Program – which today has transformed into REDESOL.

¹ LOBO, Thereza. Comunidade Solidária: estratégia para desenvolvimento social. 7th International CLAD Congress on Reform of the State and Public Administration, Lisbon, Portugal, 8-11 October 2002.

Ruth Cardoso’s thoughts concerning the objectives informing the creation of the Solidary Craftwork (ArteSol) Program:

“Associating income generation with the revival of activities that express the way of living of a community is one of the Solidarity Community Program’s objectives. The production of goods with roots, identified with a locality and incorporating references to a group in their making, comprises our truest heritage. Finding ways of reconciling the economic viability of these trades and the preservation of the technical quality and beauty of the products is the challenge taken up by the Craftwork Support for Income Generation program.”

“The great triumph of the Solidarity Craftwork [ArteSol] Program has been its non-welfarist approach, since we know that welfarism fails to generate long-lasting results. We invest in the revival and valorisation of craftwork as a means to increase income, improve people’s quality of life and consequently increase the self-esteem of the families involved.”

“Craftwork encompasses a vast universe of people. As we find in the majority of communities, it is an activity exercised by a sizeable contingent of women. It is the small earnings made by these women that supplement the domestic budget, sometimes becoming the only source of income. Close observation of family organization in these areas reveals that the attachment of families to the land is closely connected to the role played by women, which becomes an even stronger aggregating factor when they are able to provide a financial contribution.”

“Solidary Craftwork [ArteSol] came into being in response to a crisis situation. In 1998 draught had once again struck the impoverished areas of the Brazilian Northeast. Instead of responding to the threat of hunger just by delivering emergency food packages, the Solidarity Community Program decided to invest in the empowerment of poor women as handicraft producers. Technical and financial support was provided to selected groups of artisans enabling them to form cooperatives to improve the quality of their crafts. Today their products are increasingly being commercialized on the national and global markets.”

Ruth Cardoso. Archive: Centro Ruth Cardoso.

Translation by David Rodgers.

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