Having a vibrant civil society is essential to addressing the social, cultural and environmental challenges of Brazil at this time.

What is the society we want ? If we want a strong civil society in Brazil, how should we cultivate it?

Brazilian Civil Society is experiencing a time of significant transition and uncertainty. 2013 was a year of unprecedented protests, that led many observers to comment that a “Giant had awoken”.  These surprising protests demonstrated a society influenced by new technologies and new ways of organizing, a society that is increasingly manifesting its concerns and claiming its rights.  Meanwhile, as it is recognized internationally as an emerging economy, the country has over the past 10 years experienced significant changes in the financing structure for civil society organizations: International funders are re-prioritizing their support towards areas of greater need, and new domestic funding sources are emerging, which leads to a situation of instability and change in the architecture of the civil society.  Further, the federal government is in the middle of a process of re-defining the legal framework around how it relates to, funds, and contracts civil society organizations in a process that has been largely instigated by pressure from the civil society organizations themselves.

In light of this reality, the “Civil Society 2023” project in 2013 engaged a wide diversity of players from civil society organizations, social movements, government, the private sector and universities in a process of dialogue interviews, workshops and collective writing to develop 4 scenarios for the future of organized civil society in Brazil.

The group decided to label the four scenarios according to well-known children’s games as a way of creating a language that is recognizable across the country, highlighting the archetypal dynamics reflected in the scenarios, and bringing some lightness to an otherwise very serious conversation.

“O Mestre Mandou” / “Master’s Orders” is a scenario in which the civil society is strongly impacted by the market, and the public administration is highly bureaucratic and controlling.  The technocratic state manages to incorporate primarily those civil society agendas that make sense to the market, while organizations opposed to market domination are seen as anti-patriotic.  There is a strong investigation of civil society organizations in the name of combatting corruption.  Those organizations that manage to establish contracts with the government and companies through tenders survive as service providers, while the more combative or controversial organizations fail to sustain themselves, and other more structured and established rights-based NGOs survive through international funding.  There is also a growth in corporate foundations that primarily finance their own projects.

“Passa Anel” / “Pass the Ring” is a scenario in which Brazil on the surface appears to be doing better than it really is.  Concepts related to inclusion and human rights are in the media and in the discourse of the government and parlamentarians, but this is not reflected in their actions.  This “pasteurization” of the discourse makes it increasingly difficult to denounce human rights violations and also to distinguish between different political agendas.  There are participative councils across regions and sectors, but their actual influence on public policy is low.  There are advances in the legislative sphere, but these advances do not yet translate into genuine improvements for the population.  In general, there is a significant deficit in implementation of public policies.  The population struggles to understand the role and causes of civil society organizations, and the information and public debate are dominated by large corporate media.  There is an increase in the number of organizations that seek to solve social problems within a market logic and a social entrepreneurship discourse.

“Amarelinha” / “Hopscotch” is a scenario in which the Brazilian society takes a neoconservative turn.  Political leaders emerge who, in the name of protecting family and property, create setbacks for human rights.  The organizations that defend minority rights are increasingly excluded from partnerships with the State.  Some survive with donations from independent foundations, individuals, or progressive businesses, as well as from international development funds.  The large media companies are dominated by religious groups and dependent on government propaganda, and confessional religious education is considered a priority in public schools.  Human rights organizations create innovative action strategies, based on new information technologies, network models, and social technologies, which reinvigorates their struggle.  The NGOs that have more heavy administrative structures and which depend on continuous support find it more difficult to survive.

“Ciranda”, which is the name of a Brazilian folklore dance in circle, is a scenario in which civil society, the private sector, government and citizens cooperate interdependently and as a network.  The society participates in the definition, monitoring, and evaluation of public policies and the NGOs invest significantly in creating effective and direct communication channels with the population.  The presence of a new generation enables an interesting synergy with members of the “old guard” of NGOs, unifying innovation and horizontal, instantaneous communication with historic grounding and political savvy and position.  The economic sustainability of the organizations is based on different types of financing, with a strong contribution from individual donors. Despite the economy still depending greatly on commodity exports and consumption of industrial goods, the government expands its investments in new types of creative and solidarity-based enterprises.  Broadband internet access enables greater access to information, which leads to a quantitative and qualitative leap in the social participation of the population in defining the political direction of the nation.