Partnering for democracy

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top view of white vote lettering and check mark near yes word on black chalkboard near flag of

I have dedicated a significant part of my time and energy in the last four years to forming partnerships with civic organizations to defend and strengthen democracy in Brazil.

The journey has taught me two crucial lessons.

First, it is critical to understand the roots of the problem that you want to tackle.

Second, you must have in mind that a multi-partnerships approach will be essential to attaining your social change objectives.

The need for this puzzle-like view is that you will not find one organization covering all the dimensions in any complex social issue: from identifying to acting on the underlying roots of the problem.

I will explain the process of getting the data to getting to the action and how each civic organization that I have partnered with fits in the picture. To begin with, it is vital to shed light on my cause and my reasons.

I chose democracy as a cause because I believe that public engagement is necessary to address our global challenges, like pandemics and climate change. Public engagement means an active representation in the policy process. Without ensuring that people feel represented, institutions can’t mobilize the needed political support for any complex and demanding task. To add importance to the issue, President Biden has just announced a Summit for Democracy.

The Economist published a provocative piece titled ‘Madison’s Nightmare‘ in its second edition of 2021. The article closes with a warning and an enlightening note by arguing, ‘The age of democratic naivety died on January 6th. It is time for an age of democratic sophistication.’

At the core of the text, we have Alexis de Tocqueville’s recipe to uphold democracy: do not rely on the Constitution alone for the Herculean task of defending democracy. A country must have a self-reliant and educated population and an elite that recognizes that its first duty is to ‘educate for democracy.’

In the United States, the business elite is currently going through a soul-searching period after years of cosying up to Donald Trump and extremists in the Republican Party. Many companies have suspended political funding for those who voted against the certification of the 2020 presidential election. This is an encouraging development in democratic maturity that most business elites in Europe learned long ago.

In Brazil, we are many steps behind this maturity stage. Since the country had a recent non-democratic period, from 1964 to 1989, we, as the business elite, must get history right first and then make sure we move on to educating for democracy, as de Tocqueville advocated. This task of understanding the role of democracy in Brazil’s development since its re-inception in 1988 is a crucial starting point in our country.

Brazil’s democracy has been under a lot of pressure, and its electoral system has been part of the problem: It seldom promotes the accurate representation of the population.

Before the election, candidates must compete for a very treasured resource: access to their political party’s funds. With company donations being forbidden and personal contributions being nontraditional, Brazil has a public finance scheme covering more than 90% of campaign costs. This scheme also has special provisions. One requires that 30% of the funding goes to women and that an amount proportional to the number of candidates goes to black contenders.

This kind of affirmative action with public funding also creates problems, either with phoney female candidates who cover the quota but channel the funds to the real candidates or with candidates who misrepresent their race as belonging or not belonging to a specific group.

Despite this quota-based scheme’s merits, we are far from real equality in the ballot results. According to the Brazilian Electoral Justice, from the last municipal election in 2016 to the last federal and state one in 2018, 36% changed from white to brown (usually with black ancestry), 30% from brown to white, and 22% from brown to black or the other way around. In 2018, when nearly half of the national and regional assemblies’ candidates described themselves as black or brown, they won just 18% of seats.

During the last election in 2018, I helped a not-for-profit project, Projeto 72hs, that aimed to track party donations in real-time to see how they were balanced against race and gender. And they were not, by far.

As a result of this experience, in 2019, I co-founded Politica Viva, an ONG dedicated to promoting nonpartisan political debate and defending Brazil’s institutions. Our first target audience was opinion-makers and thought leaders. It was a good start but not enough to address the lack- of-representation issue.

Then, influenced by the Economist piece, aware of the moment in Brazil’s history and the pitfall of our electoral system, I set up a mission at the beginning of 2021. How could I help to enhance political participation for a crucial demographic, minority groups of politically engaged young adults, in the periphery of Brazil?

They are the real change, and the first step in my mind was to educate them about the impacts that democracy has brought to Brazil over the last three decades. From sceptics, they could become ambassadors for the cause.

I decided to search for a partner for the endeavour and found Escola Comum. This nonprofit initiative brings together popular knowledge, experts, teachers, activists from different areas, and students themselves to dream of overcoming the structural challenges that prevent us from being a more just and genuinely democratic country.

So, we designed our first high-impact course together, and it was administered online this July for 100 students in public schools throughout Brazil. Those students come from low-income families, with 68% of them being women and 57% black.

The program’s base has to study the last four presidents of Brazil and understand the advancements in each of the following areas: the social environment, the education system, and the economy. Each week, they dive into one president’s mandate with the help of a multidisciplinary team of volunteer university professors.

The culmination of each week was a live debate with people who have witnessed and made history: former Presidents Fernando Henrique Cardoso and Michel Temer, former Chancellor Celso Amorim (under Lula presidency), and former Justice Minister Jose Eduardo Cardoso (under Dilma presidency).

We invited Otaviano Canuto, a Brazilian economist who held top positions at the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, and the Inter-American Development Bank, for the global view about the period.

Now we are starting the next phase of the project: to identify, among those 100 students, who have the desire and potential to run for a public position. This next step will require continuous monitoring and investment in their education and political preparation, for which I am looking for new partners.

Paulo Dalla Nora Macedo
Paulo Dalla Nora Macedo

Paulo Dalla Nora Macedo is an entrepreneur in Brazil, holds an MBA from INSEAD, and has a long dedication to civic engagement. He has co-founded and co-developed three non-profit organizations: the first offers complimentary education for at-risk children (Arte e Vida); the second foster citizen interaction with the Brazilian Congress via a digital platform (Poder do Voto), integrated with a variety of high-profile civil society organizations; the third defends democracy and its institutions while stimulating political engagement (Política Viva). He is also a Global Advisor for the Climate Governance Project at the World Economic Forum.

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