About Bazza the Social Enterprise Veteran
Barry (73) graduated as a Civil Engineer in the UK in 1967. In adventure mode he applied for international volunteer service with the United Nations Association. Sent to Brazil, he spent over two years as the Civil Engineer in a team carrying out community development work up and down the Amazon. During this period he met his wife and has three children, one born in the UK and two born in Brazil.
Over the next several years the family alternated between living in the UK and Brazil. Barry worked in an engineering role on a number of large projects including major road and bridge works, a 20 storey high-rise residential complex and infrastructure for the new town of Milton Keys.
In Brazil he was invited to join Rio Tinto as the engineering manager for a feasibility study into a Bauxite mine in the Amazon region. On conclusion of the study, he accepted a position of Engineering Manager with CRA (Australian Rio Tinto) at Bougainville Copper Ltd. in PNG. He remained with BCL for nine years and was one of the very last ex-pats to leave when revolution flared in the early nineties.
Following Bougainville, Barry spent two years as Construction Project Manager, also with CRA, on the Kelian Gold mine in Kalimantan, Indonesia. Returning to Australia he worked as a private consultant in mine infrastructure to a number of major corporations including Davey John Brown, Sinclair Knight Mertz and Kavaerner Metals. His relationship with Rio Tinto continued and he spent four months in India designing the infrastructure for the feasibility study into the Baranj coal mine in Chandrapur.
He ventured into property development and completed three apartment projects in Brisbane.
Recruited by Telstra to provide project management and contractual guidance in transitioning the rollout of the mobile infrastructure network from in-house build to a competitive tender process he progressed to hold the position of National Manager, Mobile Infrastructure Rollout with an operating budget of $250 million per year.
Leaving Telstra Barry focused on designing a new system for building green living walls on buildings and then applying this technology to social enterprise businesses through the evolution of Sesteem.
Barry has completed a range of post graduate studies including Construction Project Management at the University of NSW and the Advanced Management Program at Melbourne University Graduate School of Management.
Why Sesteem and Social Enterprise?
This is simply a personal note to explain my lifetime motivation for creating Sesteem.
In 1967 I joined the United Nations Association as a volunteer. They chose to send me to Brazil where I joined an organization called FASE. Loosely translated that equates to the ‘Federation of organs for Social and Economic Assistance’. Financed mostly by the US agency Catholic Relief Services with contributions from the Brazilian government, FASE operated social development programs across the whole of Brazil.
In the Northern group, based in Belem on the mouth of the Amazon, we had a formidable team. The area manager was Bertrand, a chain-smoking French Canadian ex-priest who had left the order to marry an also-ex Nun. They were happily married with two kids.
Our team consisted of the following:
- A Sociologist.
- A Cooperative specialist.
- A social worker.
- An Agronomy Technician.
- A secretary.
- And Laurival, the office boy. Fantastic personality. Went on to qualify in sociology.
English Volunteers, all fully qualified:
- A Sociologist.
- An Agronomist.
- A Nurse.
- A Civil Engineer. (yours truly).
- The support of an Australian doctor who was working with another organisation but gave us huge support.
This was a ground breaking concept for the late sixties. The idea was that we could go into any community in the Amazon with the skill-set to solve any social problem that existed and help the people onto a path of grass-roots economic development. We achieved that goal very successfully in many small towns.
I implemented many construction projects including schools, community centres, sanitation programs and healthy water supply, always as part of the whole team developing an overall community development plan. However, there were two major projects where we really excelled that introduced me to Social Enterprise – although I didn’t know that was what it was called at the time!
These were: The Marituba Leper Colony & The Santarem Hammock Factory.
The Marituba Leper Colony
Marituba was a huge leper colony a few kilometers from Belem, the State Capital. With 2,500 inmates it was laid out as a functioning small village. There was a church with a resident priest, a medical centre, a school, houses for families, accommodation rooms for single people, sports fields and all basic facilities. There was strong medical support from the public health system.
The social system was interesting. All inmates were confirmed lepers – and some of them were very serious cases. People could live there on a small government allowance but they were not allowed to leave the colony. They could socialize, marry, live together and have children.
Unfortunately, leprosy is transmitted to offspring through personal contact with parents. Therefore any children were removed from the parents immediately at birth and transferred to a special orphanage called the Eunice Weaver Centre, run by Nuns from a religious order.
This was not as cruel as it may seem. The Centre was well funded and the babies were well cared for. The children were made aware of their true parents and were encouraged to visit the Colony at regular intervals to meet their true Mum and Dad. Eunice Weaver became the ‘go to’ Centre for wealthy Brazilians to adopt a child. There was a strict rule of adoption: the child must always be allowed access to its birth parents. This was very successful and all the children sent to the Centre found good homes.
The Colony of Marituba was administered as a small town with an elected Mayor and a Council governing body. The Mayor of Marituba was the most remarkable man I have ever met. His name was Lucio Callado. Lucio suffered from long-term Leprosy and had been in the Colony for many years. Confined to a wheelchair, both of Lucio’s legs had been amputated at the knees. He had lost all of his fingers on both hands and he smoked with a cigarette holder tucked through a bandage wrapped around his hand. He wrote in the same way. He had only a tiny stump of a nose and both his ears had practically disappeared.
Just by way of explanation, Leprosy attacks the nerve endings of the extremities, removing feeling from those areas. Most bits are lost because of injuries to the extremities that become infected, often gangrenous and have to be cut off. Others just fade away.
Our team was invited to the Colony by the resident priest to see what we could do to improve social and economic conditions for the residents. Several of us went along and we met Lucio and some of his Councilors for the first time. Lucio was dynamically vocal: We need a proper community centre to use as a training facility. We need useful activities to keep people occupied and we would like to generate income.
Our first step was for the sociologists to carry out a survey of what human resources were available among the inmates. The results were surprising: There were people who had skills in just about everything: agriculture, sewing, basket work, sheet metal, baking, bricklaying, carpentry, shoe making and even cigarette manufacture.
Armed with this knowledge we set about planning what was to become (although we didn’t know it) a whole range of Social Enterprise businesses. Overall, the enterprise would be managed as a cooperative with any profits going to a central fund that eventually paid wages and re-invested any surplus into new projects.
It was a basic philosophy of FASE that there had to be a strong self-help contribution from the communities we worked with. We would provide the equipment and expertise and the people would contribute with the labour – until such time as we were able to pay a wage.
Oxfam was very active financially in those days and was keen to work with us. They funded many of our projects across the whole of Northern Brazil. Over a couple of years they made a huge financial contribution to Marituba, north of US$50k – substantial buying power in northern Brazil at that time – all directed to our projects.
We took advantage of every human skill we could find and set up workplaces such as:
- A sewing centre making sheets and nappies for the orphanage and uniforms for a local school.
- A carpentry shop making furniture.
- Using a local sand deposit, a plant making sand/cement building bricks.
- A tin-plate workshop making kerosene lamps from discarded cooking oil tins.
- A screen print shop printing tee-shirts.
- A shoe-shop making sandals.
- A small scale cigarette factory using tobacco grown in the Colony.
- Decorative basket work.
- A huge vegetable garden – Oxfam donated a tractor.
- Bread and cake making – mostly for internal consumption.
- A substantial aquaculture operation in a large natural pond in the colony.
- Rabbit and chicken/egg production.
Almost all production was sold outside the Colony either under contract to local businesses or in the local markets. Lucio was an amazing driving force in all this and every day he would do the rounds of the business centres, pushed in his wheelchair by a minder, exhorting the people to join in, work hard and be part of the team.
Then came the challenge of the requested community centre, which fell to me. This was a bit trickier because it required a much larger capital investment. We were trying to work out how to fund it when an unexpected opportunity arose.
In late 1968 I won an award called the International Distinguished Service Award, issued by Macalaster College in the twin cities of St. Paul/Minneapolis in the United States. Macalaster was a large private university wholly funded by the family that started Readers Digest.
The award was an annual event that recognizes ‘five people who have contributed significantly to international relations’ and the prize was a ticket to St. Paul with a week’s stay at the college to interact with the students and discuss international relations. I flew up in January 69 from 40 C. heat in the Amazon to a wind-chill factor of -20 C in the US. And I did not even own an overcoat! There were four other volunteer prize-winners from different places in the world and we all had a ball sharing ideas and interacting with the students.
Looking at the map, I realized that St.P/Minn is not that far from New York, the home of the most powerful Archbishop in the US. Since most of our operations in Brazil were funded by Catholic Relief Services, I wrote to the hierarchy and requested an interview with the Archbishop to talk about funding for Marituba. To my surprise, my request was granted.
I needed some ammo so I made up a whole photo-dossier of life in the Colony – amputees, kids, the workshops we had set up, the gardens, the lot. I asked Lucio to write a letter to the Archbishop requesting assistance.
Lucio complied. His minder wrapped a bandage around his no-fingered hand and stuck a pen through it. On a simple lined A4 page ripped from a notebook Lucio wrote his letter in the most beautiful, accurate copper-plate writing that I have ever seen. He wrote a simple non-emotional narrative asking for a bit of help for some poor people who were trying to make things better for themselves. I wrote a translation and we included both pages at the front of the dossier.
No photo copiers in the Amazon in those days. Regrettably no copies exist.
I went from Macalister to New York where I was given hospitality in the Episcopal General Seminary, right next door to the Rockefeller Centre – with 400 male trainee Priests. Another tale!
I did meet with Archbishop Terrence Cooke who was very interested in our story. He listened intently to what I talked about and he really studied our dossier. He paid particular attention to the letter from Lucio. We talked for about half an hour and then he said ‘excuse me for a moment’ and left the room.
He came back five minutes later and gave me a cheque for US$30,000 and said simply ‘go and build your community centre’. Which we did!
When I got back, enthusiasm verged on the euphoric. Everybody wanted to join in. The deal was that we would provide all the materials and the Colony residents would provide the labour. We used bricks made by ourselves, our bricklayers put them in place, the carpenters made the doors and windows. A local business donated floor tiles. We had kids mixing mortar. The kitchen provided three meals a day for all the workers – pretty much all from self- produced ingredients. Lucio was the driving force, out there in his wheelchair for hours every day, giving orders and telling everybody to get on with it.
The centre was completed and used for many years. We named it the Lucio Callado Centre and the Archbishop of Belem came out and blessed it at the opening ceremony.
The outcome of all this was that we substantially improved the quality of life for over 2,000 seriously disadvantaged people. And we made the whole Colony pretty much financially independent!……
Social Enterprise at its best!
The Santarem Hammock Factory
In 1968 Santarem was a sleepy little town about 1,000 km up the Amazon, on the mouth of a tributary, the beautiful Tapajos River. Today it is home to a massive international port that accommodates ocean-going vessels from all over the world.
Like every mid-sized town in the Amazon, Santarem had a number of churches, each manned by missionaries of various nationalities. One of these was Padre Joao, an American Jesuit priest originally from a small town in the American mid-west, who ran a small Parish on the outskirts of the town. One day Padre Joao walked into our office in Belem to ask for assistance.
Pe. Joao had been in the Parish for several years and had established a strong ‘sister community’ relationship with the Jesuit community in his home town in America. The American community regularly held fund-raising events and collected money to assist their Brazilian counterparts.
A prominent businessman from the religious community back home owned a substantial textile weaving factory. He was modernizing his factory and he had six commercial weaving looms that he did not need any more. He donated these to the Santarem community, if they wanted them. Pe. Joao definitely wanted them but had no idea how to handle getting them to Brazil.
Pe. Joao had a brilliant plan. He wanted to install the looms in his own Parish to manufacture hammocks.
Hammocks represent the standard sleeping mode for around 80% of the Brazilian population and probably about 95% in the Amazon at that time. Whenever I travelled to the interior I slept in a hammock. There was no hammock manufacturing facility in the North then and every one sold had been imported by road from factories thousands of kilometers to the south.
We accepted the project and I travelled to Santarem to gather information. Pe. Joao had already done some solid groundwork. Remarkably, he had been given the use of a large old warehouse, with good access to a jetty on the river, to house his factory. The site had access to the city power supply.
I wrote a project proposal to Oxfam requesting US$30k. and this was approved. We shipped the looms down from the US and got them installed in working condition. We contracted a local manager with long term experience in the textile industry. Our sociologists helped to form a local governance committee that would define how the business would engage with the community. The social model they came up with was interesting:
- The business would initially employ about 25 people.
- The Textile Manager was the only male employed in the business.
- Only one lady from each family would be given a job.
- All profits would go into a community development fund.
The factory became an instant success. Because there were no freight costs involved they could easily undercut the price on products from the south. Soon they were getting orders from all over Northern Brazil. They were able to operate a second shift, doubling the numbers employed.
The community development fund thrived. They were able to:
- Install a system that provided clean running water to each household.
- Provide a basic hygienic toilet to each household.
- Provide basic electricity reticulation to each household.
- Upgrade the school facilities and enhance the supply of teaching materials.
- Build a medical centre with visiting doctors and nurses.
- Support local activities such as sports teams, mother’s clubs and so on.
Then they looked at expanding their operations. They acquired a big block of land and set up their own cotton plantation. Then they installed machinery to weave their own yarn for making the hammocks. The factory became totally self-sufficient and continued to generate profits for many years after I left.
This project received the Oxfam World-Wide Project of the Year award in 1969.
There was one key point that I became convinced of during my time as a volunteer:
You cannot generate seismic social change at a grass roots level:
You have to be big and you have to be the boss.
Over the ensuing years, returning to the world of working for a living, I became heavily involved in the mining industry, particularly with Rio Tinto. I held fairly senior management positions in large mine studies, construction and operation in Brazil, PNG, Indonesia and India.
All mining projects, whether in the feasibility, construction or operating stage have to consider what happens to the local people at the end of mine life. Therefore there is a great deal of emphasis placed on developing local companies, often in the form of a Social Enterprise, into long term businesses that will continue to provide income to the community well after mine life. Rio Tinto was particularly good at this.
Since I was closely involved with mine infrastructure, I was always able to become involved in the communities and local businesses. The range of projects is far too wide to discuss here. It was good to be able to help to develop local business opportunities for the community because we were able to think big, Rio provided the funding and we were in charge. We made things happen.
So, what conclusion can we draw from all this?
The simple fact is that I have been involved with Social Enterprise projects since I was 22, fifty one years ago. A Social Enterprise Veteran!
I can establish Sesteem now because I am no longer in the mainstream workforce – I have the time and I know how to do it. The Sesteem model is based on what I have learned over the years: We will not focus at grass roots level. We can teach others how to do that.
We will be big. We will be the boss. We will generate seismic social change.
Please come and join us. Together we will change the world!
Social Enterprise Veteran