Group photo of some of the Atlantic Fellows and Atlantic Institute staff who attended the Convening. Photographer: Tuca Vieira.
The inspiration behind the Global Leadership Summit was sparked by a discussion by Atlantic Fellows at the Annual Convening in Thailand, July 2022. This led to an online series, Drive Political Activism, hosted with the support of the Atlantic Institute, in October 2022.
Over the course of those events, Atlantic Fellows agreed that electoral politics can mitigate or advance inequities in all their forms. This was in line with the findings from a report on Policy Change commissioned by the Institute and authored by Leaders in Residence, Tracy Jooste and Amara Enyia. This combination of events and activities laid a good foundation for our community to go deeper and engage on the practical implications of policy and political activism in different regions across the world where Fellows carry out their work.
In August 2023, nearly two dozen Atlantic Fellows from seven programs and five program staff visited São Paulo to engage with the Brazilian people to learn more about the state of political activism and democracy in their country and the greater South American region. This was the first Atlantic Fellows thematic convening hosted in this region.
Policy change at all levels is one of the key strategic areas that have been identified by the Atlantic Institute as an area with potential to drive change. Brazil is one of the biggest democracies in the world and one of the most influential countries in South America. With a long history of political vibrancy, it has experienced some complex political shifts that have resulted in significant strides in the reduction of poverty. In more recent years some thinkers have argued these gains were reversed by former President Jair Bolsonaro's right-wing administration.
Citizen engagement and political activism are a key part of effective policy making, and being a home to one of the biggest social movements in the world, Movimento dos Trabalhadores Rurais Sem Terra, MST (Landless Workers’ Movement), Brazil offers infinite lessons to draw from and inform how we think about what becomes possible when people come together, are radically engaged and politically active.
The five day convening brought together both those Fellows who are innovating, strategizing, challenging and transforming the nature of political campaigning and political office with those working outside of formal structures to achieve change.
The convening kicked off with a ritual of encounter, a welcome to place by Fellows who are from São Paulo. They shared a bit about the past and the current state of democracy and offered some provocations for us to grapple with during our time together. This was followed by various Fellows presenting on the state of political activism and democracy from their perspectives on the countries or regions they call home.
We had the great opportunity to visit Procumum Institute in Santos, to learn more about their community lab and their methodology of the “Commons”; a framework to support active citizenry and social change. The day also included an invigorating dialogue on the different ways in which people come to power (i.e. state legislative and grassroots movements).
Furthering our conversations from the first two days of the convening, Day 3 was about how people build power and influence. Pimp My Carroça was the perfect space to find inspiration for how creative and innovative solutions are essential to building a more equitable and inclusive society for a better future. The Fellows were encouraged to engage in a critical introspection of how they understand their role in the political ecosystem. We grappled with the implications of the continuum of shifting positionality and how it relates to both our identities and political ideologies. This led to us thinking about how we communicate our messaging. A session run by Atlantic Fellow Ana Santos engaged us on how to not only think about the head and heart, but also the stomach (socio-economic issues) when communicating our vision to different audiences to build influence and perspectives on issues.
One of the interesting innovations from Pimp my Carroca was a solutions inspired app to connect waste pickers to customers (Cataki). This was a great prompt on thinking of technology and the future of policy and political activism. Developments in technology are impacting issues of inequity in remarkable ways and we need to have a good understanding of how to advance policy in relation to this field. Fellows had an introductory session to grapple with some of the developments taking place in the Artificial Intelligence (AI) sector and how the Institute can support their work in this area. With the launch of the new XR/VR space, led by the Atlantic Institute XR Lead, Alice Wroe, there are great opportunities for Fellows to collaborate and come up with (K)new solutions that can bend the arc of history towards fairer societies.
Being in Brazil offered us the privilege of meeting some of the key activist organizations moving the needle on issues of inequity. Our group spent time with activists at the July 9 occupation, Condo Cultural and MST.
Hearing the stories from the people active in the ongoing struggle for the realization of socio-economic needs rejuvenated my spirit and left me with so much hope. The nature of the journey of any struggle is that there will be gains and losses as society navigates the complexities of bringing about change. What we should never lose sight of is the change that happens within the public. The hearts, minds and spirits of the public are what will sustain the momentum that will bring about the change. The Brazilian people are an inspiration. Their perspectives, warmth, hearts and spirits are a reminder of the infinite possibilities that exist when we roll up our sleeves and work together to build better societies.