Validating Wellbeing in the Brazilian Amazon

Validating Wellbeing in the Brazilian Amazon

SPI validation meeting with quilombola communities. Photo: Vivian Zeidemann

By: Vivian Zeidemann

Deep in the Brazilian Amazon, around 290 quilombolas (Afro-Brazilian communities) and small groups of people living along the river side (hereafter riverine communities) in the Oriximiná municipality, located in the state of Pará, joined a series of meetings with the purpose of validating the results of the previously applied “Social Progress Index” (SPI).

The SPI methodological approach is being applied to measure the potential impacts of public and private sector investments on community and environmental  wellbeing, as a way to assess the implementation of the Sustainable Territories Program (or Programa Territorios Sustentaveis – PTS, in Portuguese). The methodology is implemented by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) mission in Brazil in partnership with the Bioversity-CIAT Alliance, and executed by Avina Foundation. The PTS program is an innovative territorial management strategy possible through the financial support of the private sector, and the participation of public sector actors, along with civil society, which have come together for the common goal of improving the economy, environmental management and well-being of communities in the Oriximiná region (along with two other municipalities).

The PTS program serves as a public-private partnerships model focused on reducing the region’s dependence on mining royalties and promoting sustainable development livelihood practices (among others). As a main long-term objective, the program intends to strengthen the conditions that will enable local communities and government continue to progress following the end of the mining cycle, when the financial contributions by the company are expected to end. The majority of the program’s sponsorship comes from Mineração Rio do Norte (MRN), which operates Brazil’s largest bauxite mine in this region, and is invested in mitigating the boom-and-bust cycle impact on local communities that commonly accompanies non-renewable extractive industries.

What is SPI?

The Social Progress Index (SPI) is a comprehensive measure of well-being in society, which aims to support decision-makers in identifying development priorities to generate plans and projects in high social and environmental vulnerability areas. The index is based on socioeconomic indicators, such as wellness (health, shelter, and sanitation), equality, inclusion, sustainability, and personal freedom and safety.

In the Brazilian Amazon, the application of SPI was customized at the municipality level by the Instituto do Homem e Meio Ambiente da Amazônia (IMAZON) in 2014. Since SPI Amazônia focused on urban areas, the index was previously adapted for riverine communities for a project in Carauari, in Médio Juruá, Amazonas, and further modified to fit the quilombola and riverine communities realities in the Oriximiná region for the Sustainable Territories Program (PTS).

The Social Progress Index (SPI) framework comprises three dimensions, each broken into four components or groups of supporting indicators. The specific indicators here are illustrative of the framework applied at the global level. The unique feature of SPI, however, is in customizing it to represent wellbeing as defined by the population of interest. Source: Avina Foundation.

Validating the SPI results is important as the communities need to confirm whether the information analyzed represents their reality or not. Validation is also carried out to make adjustments, if required, for future applications of the index. Furthermore, it helps communities learn about potentially concerning issues. For example, Rogério de Oliveira Pereira, a member of the Board of Directors for the main quilombola association, the Associação de Remanescentes de Quilombos do Município de Oriximiná (ARQMO), reported, “It was a very innovative process, because for the first time the community sees itself in a survey that they themselves answered”. Some of the information that the communities received included compounded data on social welfare, health, education, and socioeconomic condition, among others.

Besides evaluating whether the PTS program is having the desired results, SPI can be used by the communities to better organize themselves to define priorities for social programs and initiatives. By informing PTS decision making, the results will support the development of Quilombola Life Plans (community-led territorial and environmental planning), and in time, they will help the quilombolas assess whether planned actions are effectively representing their demands and priorities to public agencies and private sector partners.

The first step in the application of SPI in Oriximiná was the elaboration of a questionnaire conducted in June and July of 2019. This initial SPI survey application was carried out in seven quilombola territories and five riverine areas in the region, for a total of 768 interviews with the heads of households of 44 communities.

After all this information was processed, a first SPI validation round was held in October 2019, with leaders of ARQMO and ACOMTAGS (Associação das Comunidades de Pescadores Rurais do Lago Sapucuá, the mother association of riverine communities). Yet, following this SPI validation process it became clear that in addition to the leaders of ARQMO and ACOMTAGS, the presence of community members was essential. Thus, a second SPI validation round was organized and carried out in January 2020. Hence, two-round validation process was very fruitful, with greater outcomes than expected, as the communities validated and then internalized the data for self-reflection. One of these outcomes is that the SPI results will be used as an important source of information for the implementation of activities of the PTS program, in this way, the methodology will be applied every two to three years during a 15 years period, which is the life of the PTS program.

SPI validation meeting with riverine communities. Photo: Vivian Zeidemann.

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