4. An instrument by Joaquim de Melo

During the 1980s and 1990s, as one of the community leaders and managers of ASMOCONP, Joaquim de Melo (shown in Figure 4) actively participated in the struggles for bringing basic infrastructures and urbanization to the neighborhood.  He also had a very poor childhood, growing up in a housing project called Cidade Nova in the city of Belém (Pará). In 1978, he joined the parish seminary in the hope of becoming priest. However, six years later, he grew dissatisfied with seminary life and it was at this junction that the Archbishop of Fortaleza – Cardinal Aloisio Lorscheider – invited him and other seminary students to move to favelas and help the poor.  Joaquim accepted the invitation and moved to the Rampa do Jangurrusú – the garbage dump of the Fortaleza city. During his five months at the Jangurrusú, he was moved by the appalling living conditions of the garbage pickers. It was then that he decided to become an activist and uphold social causes[1].

Figure 4: Joaquim de Melo

Following his assignment at the Jangurrusú, he was requested by the Archbishop in 1984, to help Conjunto Palmeiras[2].    It was also in this period that Joaquim’s work evolved away from the church, and he left the priesthood in 1989 to devote himself to community projects.

He had gained much respect in the community for the struggles he had undertaken to demand rights for the people of Conjunto Palmeiras.  After nearly two decades of working for the community’s advancement, Joaquim was concerned that the residents began leaving Conjunto Palmeiras in 1997.  He stated, “This was happening to many families back then: the husband wasn’t working, the kids were sick, the house was the family’s only asset and they couldn’t afford all those taxes, so the result was to sell the place and move away, since you cannot sell your husband and kids to keep the house[3].  Furthermore, local businesses and small producers were severely impeded by the lack of access to credit and difficulties in marketing their goods[4].

Thus, in the same year of 1997, ASMOCONP conducted another study on Conjunto Palmeiras residents’ disposable income. The study revealed that the neighborhood’s families spent an average of R$1.2 million per month, most of which outside Conjunto Palmeiras[5].  As Joaquim explained, “We discovered one important thing: we remained poor not only because we had little money, but mostly because we were spending it outside the favela.”[6] To break this cycle and pull the residents out of poverty, Joaquim felt that “an instrument had to be created for the community to both produce and consume locally”[7].  This instrument would be the first ever community bank to be created, the Banco Palmas.

[1] From Ashoka’s website https://www.ashoka.org/fellow/joaquim-de-melo-neto-segundo

[2] Langellier, J.P. 2010. Relocaliser l’économie et générer de la richesse sur place. Le Monde, 26 mai.

[3] João Joaquim de Melo Neto Segundo. Interview, July 7, 2007.

[4] Genauto Carvalho de França Filho et al. 2012. Solidarity finance through Community development banks as a strategy for reshaping local economies : lessons from Banco Palmas, Revista de Administração (São Paulo), vol.47 no.3 São Paulo July/Sept.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Langellier, J.P. 2010. Relocaliser l’économie et générer de la richesse sur place. Le Monde, 26 mai.

[7] Ibid.


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