Catherine Rogers, from Alliance partner Creative Leicestershire, continues her blog about a recent British Council funded partnership development visit to Brazil.

Part Three…

During my ten days in Santos and São Paulo, I met so many people who could put ‘innovation’ as their middle name, ranging from artists who run a tech collaboration space, a permaculture expert connecting farmers in Bahia with retailers and a DJ making the music he loves in a favela bringing in children and teachers from both public and private schools in the city.

Searching for a DICE partner, I knew I was interested in bringing a holistic approach to whatever we did. Partly, this is because I don’t do just one job in the UK and I wanted to bring with me all my different hats. Working in partnership is something that drives me and I believe we can achieve more together, even if it takes longer to do it because there is more groundwork to cover.

There are several programmes running at Instituto Procomum, including a series of residencies for international artists to apply with ideas on the reflection of ‘commons’ across the southern hemisphere. What the team wanted was not an exhibition of ideas, but a commitment to search for ideas and a series of reflections.

Six amazing people were selected from 150 applications and for more information about this I encourage you to take a look here.However, the project in which we are looking to partner is called ‘Colaboradora’ and is just finishing a pilot stage. The idea behind Colaboradora is time-banking skills, meaning that those involved put in 10% of their time every month to exchange with another, thereby sharing expertise, skills and innovation. This idea may not be entirely new, but we are looking at how we make this a ‘norm’ with support and facilitation, bringing people on board who are prepared to act and think differently.

For this next stage, we hope to extend the invitation to creative entrepreneurs with the goal of creating a more collaborative creative economy starting with the idea of the time-bank. I am told we ‘invented’ creative economy in the UK, but I wonder how many of us working in it in the UK realise this fact? For a useful definition from one of my new heroes, John Newbigin, here’s a link.

It makes me excited to think that together we could redefine what a creative economy is and make it more of a collaborative economy. With the key drivers for change being a continued shortage of public funds and a demand for new ideas for income generation, organisations working creatively and socially are feeling the strain emotionally and practically, so thinking about creating something different feels like a breath of fresh air.

At our first meeting, the directors at Instituto Procomum and I knew we could work together. Over tapioca pancakes, cheese bread (pao de queijo) and buttery toast with fresh juice and espresso, we each took it in turns to talk about our goals or ‘big hairy audacious goals’, which included:

  • working out how to live from doing what you love
  • creating time and space for experimentation
  • building a sustained international partnership and creating a different economy

We also discussed our personal journeys and the need for us to be able to create the right conditions for innovation to happen on every level – which includes working on our own conditioning and exploring how we think like we do.

Over this trip there have been lots of opportunities to talk about values and much of the joy has been finding out how we share values, such as believing in the power of arts to transform lives. But there is still a journey to go on in order to help people realise their ideas and innovation in working on a project like this. Part of this journey will mean unpicking my own privileges as a white woman who grew up with books at home and had the opportunity to study at university. What these brought even to a ‘pathologically shy’ girl have gone a long way to help me articulate value and acknowledge self-worth.

In Brazil, I am told, ‘universities are for the elite’: if you grow up as a Black Brazilian, going to university isn’t an option and the journey to learn to value yourself is an uphill struggle when life is about learning to survive. At Instituto Procomum, they want people to come and meet them with ideas that have helped them survive and can as well help others not only survive but also value themselves, their community and their innovative abilities – proving you can innovate, wherever you are.