2009

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  • Interviews from Brazil
    2009-05-18

 

  • Almir Da Costa Pereira
  • Mr Almir Da Costa Pereira is CEO of Banco do Povo Crédito Solidário, a Brazilian MFI focused on urban microcredits in Sao Paulo, with more than 23 millions reais disbursed in the past.

 

  • Can you tell us background of the Banco do Povo, your institution?

  • BPCS is a mixture of citizenship stemming from principles of sindicalism. It is a registered non-profit, NGO, with the mission to help small entrepreneurs through cheap, small scale loans, who do not have access to other financial sources. Our NGO is a non-regulated financial institution. Our partners in the region of ABC (from Santo André, São Bernardo do Campo and São Caetano do Sul) in the south of Sao Paulo, are syndicates in banking and metalurgic industry, as well as Acisa [Associação Comercial e Industrial de Santo André], Setrans [Sindicato das Empresas de Transportes de Carga do ABC], and municipalities Diadema, Santo André, Ribeirão Pires and Mauá, as well as institutions such as Sebrae and Associação Padre Leo Comissári. Our financiers are statal development banks.
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  • How is it possible that your institution registers lesser incidence of non-performing loans than banking industry?
  • BPCS provides service only to low income entrepreneurs. We provide a technology, thanks to which our staff, represented by credit officers are able to evalue the necessity and the capacity of repayment of the business. We educate the solidarity groups to become more than a financial mechanism, a mechanism of solidarity and co-development, focused on basic values. Through such vision, analysis and constant visits we reach the amazing bad debt of 2,5% in the past months and 0,30% of defaults.
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  • What is the near future of BPCS?
  • We would like to grow 50% in 2011 in terms of portfolio. While we had total of volume of operations in the sum of 589 thowsands of reais in 2010, our plan is to 882 thowsands of reais in 2011. And we look for a broad collaboration with myelen.com.

 

  • Fabio de Freitas
  • Fabio de Freitas is a student of Economic Sciences at "Pontifícia Universidade Católica" in São Paulo. He works as an economics annalyst at São Paulo State Government Planning Company. He has a great experience as volunteer, working with poor, where he discovered the potential of microfinances. He is the author of the blog "GENTES microfinanças" promoting the debate on microfinance in Brazil. He is married to a Polish woman with whom he has a son. Fabio is a photographer too and he likes cooking, literature, and cinema and to discover different places and different people.

 

  • How do you find the development of humanity today?
  • An interesting question to start an interview with… Thanks! As you know I am a student of economics; yet one single science is not enough to understand the complexity of mankind. For this, we need to report ourselves to other forms of knowledge. That's why my library has various books on sociology, mythology, psychology, philosophy, classic literature, and of course economics. I have no intention of becoming an expert in one particular area. This is terrible and annoying because when we do it, it is likely that we want our words to become the only truth. I believe more in the words of Antoine de Saint-Exupery, when he creates in his book, "The Little Prince", a dialogue of a child with a fox to tell us that "we must captivate each other", than in the words of the economist Milton Friedman, who defends prices as a way of bringing people together and making the life easier. Even though there is a bit of truth in his theory, we should be able to decide which one of them is most convenient. We were able to explore the moon, Mars and the secrets of the universe thanks to the prices that provided a complex supply chain to build rockets, telescopes, etc. However, we were and we still are very insensitive when challenged to reduce poverty and hunger and provide the poor with their daily bread, for example. We have numerous theories, technologies and resources available. The question, therefore, is the one of the Cat in "Alice in Wonderland": What is our aim? Where do we want to arrive? What kind of development we want for the future of the humankind? What do we want for our children? It seems to me, and I hope I'm not mistaken, that there already exist manuals on these issues.
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  • What went wrong, was had succeeded, did economic development in Brazil bring results?
  • The Brazilian economy has been marked by external dependence. Since the colonial times the products extracted in our country, such as sugar and gold, were designed for European markets and it actually still occurs, although in a different way, of course. Our industrial structure was created in the early half of the twentieth century only, based on the coffee industry which in that context assured a part of the investments. Some planning actions of developmental character were than promoted to structure the rising economy. Some of them succeeded, others did not. We went through some good moments during the decades of 50s and 60s, thanks to some coordinated actions that resulted in the implementation of the automobile, chemical and energy industries among others. We suffered severe impacts of the oil crisis of the 70s and 80s, marked by hyperinflation which eroded wages and placed the workers in the slums, and went through a long and terrible experience of military dictatorship. It was only in the 90s that the winds became favorable, with the creation of ‘real plan’ that has curbed inflation and breathe new life into the economy. However, the internal and external debts related to the international crises, limited the progress. From the year of 2000 onward, some significant changes took place: we continued with the floating exchange rate regime adopted in 1999 and intensified the research for achieving the inflation target of 4.5%. Though, the new political leaders who composed the Lula government, elected in 2002, decided to lead the country through new paths and put it on another level. They established policies on social and local development. They created, on the existing but bankrupt bases, the Bolsa Familia conditional cash transfer program, which achieved a remarkable success among the poor. They carried out a new foreign policy toward many different countries, not limiting themselves to the northern axis, the USA. They established programs to generate income with the aim of supporting the sectors of the economy that obtained a greater result of multiplying, as the construction industry, for example, that nowadays employs millions of people. Please observe that Brazil still has a housing deficit of more than 7 million of homes. This is a very serious problem, but it has already been treated by the government as a great economic opportunity. The Lula government has also paid all of the Brazilian debts to the IMF and allocated efforts to give support to the strategic industries such as mining, oil and gas, the only areas where it has retained some involvement after the major privatizations of the previous government. These and other actions gave Lula the greatest popularity as a president in the history of our country. Lula concluded his eight years in office with 86% of popularity in all social strata. This resulted in the transfer of the votes for the first woman president, Dilma Rousseff. However, it is not the end; we still have many other social problems to be faced. Our great challenge is to distribute the income that is still very concentrated. The Bolsa Família program is not enough to resolve this issue.
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  • How is the development of Brazilian state programs of the fight against poverty?
  • As previously said, there are actions in this direction that have reduced the poverty considerably. The Bolsa Família Program is linked to other programs such as FOME ZERO that provide and promote the basic diet. Each family that receives the Bolsa Familia, the amount ranging between $ 21 and $ 148, also gains a gas voucher, and participates in health programs and free professional training. Of course, it's not just about giving money. In order to benefit from this Program, each family has to guarantee the attendance of their children to school. It is an extremely effective program because it combines different policies to solve a single problem: the extreme poverty. However much still needs to be done. The Bolsa Família Program, which attends 12 million of households, represents only 0.4% of the country's GDP, whereas the interest expense represents 5.6% of GDP. We need to change this logic of investments and increase the government spending in actions that bring tangible benefits to the country. Taking people out of poverty line is easy; the bigger challenge is to keep these people away from poverty. This requires policy of employment and income. Although progress has been achieved, there is no consistent wage policy that ensures a quality of the average income. The salary in Brazil is of 237.18 euros only. We're talking about 45 million people representing 24% of the whole population. The country spends only 4.3% of GDP on health and only 3.9% of GDP on education.
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  • How is the state of Sao Paulo and its socio-economic situation?
  • The Sao Paulo State can still be considered the economic engine of the country, although it has been changing over the past years since it has become a large service center in Latin America. The industries, before concentrated in Sao Paulo, have searched other states for their factories. However, they maintain their centers of decision in the state. BOVESPA, for example, has absorbed almost all of the Latin American stock exchanges, becoming the second largest stock exchange in the world. São Paulo represents all the bad and the good that exists in our country. In the same place where there are the most beautiful and expensive buildings in the country, there are slums where people have nothing to eat. Another interesting contrast is that this poor part of the population that lives in a precarious housing, with no sanitation, energy and food, often has in their “homes” plasma televisions and mobile phones of the last generation. This is the result of a country that has advanced in some ways but not in others. The concentration of income is a global problem, yet Brazil stands out. Only 10% of Brazil's population, approximately 19 million people, holds 75.4% of all wealth generated in the country. São Paulo city is the biggest example of this phenomenon. 10% of its population, just over one million of people, holds over than 73.4% of the wealth. Therefore don’t look at the skyscrapers and think you are in paradise. Before, you have to lighten the hell that is just below.
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  • What can be done by individuals siting in comfortable chairs in Central Europe to promote human development?
  • The necessity of promoting the human development is almost always related to the countries that face many social contradictions, such as Brazil. Therefore, a natural human inclination is to say: "It is not my business." In part this is true, if we look at things from an individual perspective. However, the cry of those little human beings who are below the skyscraper is not large enough to reach the skies. And maybe they don’t even want it. What they want is to live decently, educate their children and give them good perspectives for the future. For that they need more voices, they need support. It is where it proceeds what I said earlier, that “we need to captivate the other”. What am I going to choose? Get up and help those who need to walk or simply sit back and say the problem is not mine? I believe that there are people in the world that understand that there is no problem that belongs exclusively to one or another. These people certainly can contribute to the human development of those who need help. I’ll give you an example. Thousands of young talents, served by PROUNI (University Program for all promoted by the federal government), cannot find jobs easily because they lack a second language, especially English. They are formed, but they have profound difficulty in accessing a highly competitive job market. Evidently these young people will get there one day, but they could reach their target earlier if they received some support. Why can’t we use technology and shorten this distance by placing volunteers to teach English to these children and youth. Why European children couldn’t teach their language to the Brazilian ones through a virtual learning platform while making friends around the world and building a global citizenship? This could be done by the Ministries of Foreign Affairs and Education of the various countries with the support of multilateral institutions. These are simple questions that bring profound change in people's lives.
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  • Can you tell us shortly on your experience with your religious studies and works you had done?
  • I come from a very poor family. I learned how to read and write when I was fourteen. I lived in slums for a long time, going through some sub-human experiences that do not wish to anyone. When I perceived I had conquered some space, I thought I could devote myself entirely to humanitarian causes, helping people who, like me, suffer the consequences of poverty and inequality. So I decided to join those that carry in their soul the social justice, the Jesuits. It was a short but traumatic experience, both in a good and a bad sense. Three long years of discernment in order to be accepted for a one year experience in a house for young candidates. After four months in this house, a Spanish Jesuit crossed my path and decided that I had no vocation for Jesuit. This turned to be the hardest experience of my life: to accept the decision of someone who believed to speak for God on earth. In fact, he took this decision because he believed that someone coming from a poor family, without any education couldn’t have the qualities of a Jesuit. This was not a Jesuit posture. But today I am grateful for him having crossed my path. I learned a lot about the human nature from this experience, especially because I spent the five following years living with the Jesuits to recover from this trauma. Today I keep the same “Ignatian spirit”, but maintain myself distant from the Jesuits from whom I learned so much and to whom I owe much of my training.
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  • Can you tell us shortly about your contact with Poland? How is your intercultural understanding of Polish people and Central Europe?
  • My first contact with Poland was when I cut my ties with the Jesuits and ‘stole’ one of the nuns. Just kidding! Actually I met my wife, Sylwia, when we worked on one of the Jesuits’ projects. She had come from her experience with the brothers of Taizé in France, for a mission in Brazil as a religious. However, after some time, she decided she did not want to follow her religious life anymore. We were good friends at that time, and we helped each other a lot. She was just about to finish her graduation in education in Brazil, a country in which he fell in love. Therefore, some friends and I decided to give her support until she would be able to decide if she wanted to go back to Poland, her country, or to remain in Brazil. We had a few cafes and some very pleasant conversations at Avenida Paulista. It was there, that happened what Exupéry said "we captivated each other". Well, I went to Poland in 2008 and at the beginning of 2011. Those short trips brought me a strong passion for Eastern Europe.
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  • You had studied in the Jesuit education system. What values have you acquired?
  • I haven’t had that privilege. The Jesuit Education in Brazil is for the rich. However, it is the most diplomatic way to assume the role of Robin Hood and transfer some wealth to the poor. The Jesuits in Brazil have many high-impact social projects, like FÉ E ALEGRIA project, sponsored by Europeans and the colleges. Therefore, their role in the formation of good leaders is undeniable. I, despite not having the opportunity to receive a Jesuit education, have preserved many of its values. As the founder of the Jesuits, Ignatius Loyola used to affirm "it is not to know much that fills and satisfies, but to enjoy all things internally ". For sure, I’ll keep and try to put into practice all the values I received from the Jesuits. The maximum of the Jesuits is to the search for "MAGIS". This is a purpose that gives meaning to life of any person. Be (human) ever more!
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  • What would you wish from the Czech Public?
  • I want to become a friend of Czech citizens and have the possibility to visit this beautiful country in order to learn more about its cultural life and education system, specially the universities and construct a good relationship between us. I have to give special thanks to my wife that helped me with the English language in this interview.

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