Commoners in Transition: Janice Figueiredo

Reposted from our new Commons Transition web platform “Commoners in Transition” features exclusive global-P2P oriented interviews with people working on similar subjects, worldwide.

Our News and Articles section features interviews and articles involving Commoners in Transition, or, individuals and teams working together towards increasing the viability of the commons. Here, we present an interview with Janice Figueiredo, who was part of the FLOKSociety project launched in Ecuador. Janice spoke to us about her own experience collaborating with and learning from the indigenous people of the region.


What is your background, and how did you get involved in the project in Ecuador?

I am a Brazilian citizen who has lived abroad for about 20 years, both in the United States and in Europe (Paris, France). I worked at the Inter-American Development Bank (IADB) as IT project manager until 2009, when I decided to radically change my life and started placing my actions, work and studies in areas that, in my understanding, have the potential to genuinely transform the world into a more inclusive and fairer place. I directed my interests to researching the fields of collective intelligence, collaborative movements, P2P dynamics, the commons, the open and sharing society, social business, complementary currencies, sustainable development and poverty reduction, having a particular interest in exploring alternative models to the conventional economic paradigms based in centralization and scarcity.

I spent most of 2012 in Brazil, and got actively involved with several P2P-related projects in Rio de Janeiro, where I currently live. I joined academic research groups on the Collaborative Economy and Peer Production in Brazil, carried out collaborative projects in Rio’s favelas, took part in civil society and social movement initiatives that proposed commons-oriented alternatives for the planet (such as the People’s Summit), and got involved with different projects related to the sharing economy in Brazil.

I have a B. Sc. in Computer Science, a M. Sc. in Strategy and Marketing, and have completed post-graduate courses in the area of Sustainable Development.

In September 2013, Michel Bauwens – who I first met in Brazil in July 2012, on the occasion of the Rio+20 UN meeting – invited me to be part of the research team that would be producing public policy recommendations for a transition to a Social Knowledge Economy in Ecuador. I immediately accepted the invitation!


You visited a lot of urban commons communities in Quito. What is your summary of their experiences and concerns ?

My research area, “Open infra-structures for collective life”, explored how citizens and communities could benefit from as well as take an active part in the building of a Social Knowledge Economy. On the one hand, we investigated how communities could, in an autonomous way, create and maintain mutualized infrastructures needed for their lives, such as housing and food systems. On the other hand, we explored how knowledge systems could be created and governed by communities.

The principles of solidarity and cooperation are deeply rooted in the Ecuadorian culture. Several community needs are achieved through autonomous practices whose origins come from the traditions of the Indigenous quechuas. The most well-known of these initiatives are mingas. These are community works towards common goals that have been extensively used in both urban and rural areas to supply the needs of the communities, such as improvement of roads or communal areas, and energy provision, and also as a means to cooperate among families, such as in the case of the building of a house. La minga de la quiteñidad, a yearly community-led event held in some Quito neighbourhoods, chose to promote recycling in one area (December 2014).

Through mingas the main values of the Andean indigenous culture are expressed: union and solidarity among communities. Mingas are seen as a huge celebrations where work, food, collaboration and accomplishments are shared. Ranti-ranti is another solidarity practice intrinsic to the Ecuadorian culture. It represents the concept of reciprocity and abundance: “I give to you because Nature has given to me”. Trueque is a practice of exchange used at open food markets, where sellers exchange what hasn’t been sold among themselves. Randimpa are open spaces self-organized by communities, where discussions and decisions about the community take place.

We visited several initiatives that follow the principles of self-governance that develop and nurture cooperation within their communities. I will mention two of them: the first, “Comuna Tola Chica” represents a group of 400 people that live and work in a communal manner. The community tries to preserve its cultural roots through the development of local projects, such as the School of Traditional Knowledge, and to stimulate ecological and sustainable local projects like the building of a local communal house made with super-adobe construction. All decisions concerning the Comuna are taken in a collective, participatory way, through assemblies open to all residents. Land ownership is communal and all comuneros have the same rights over the lands.

A second project that illustrates cooperation is “Alianza Solidaria”. This project was launched to tackle the lack of access to quality and affordable housing, and was expanded to the building of an autonomous, cooperative community capable of solving their own problems in a cooperative way.

One of the main concerns I’ve noticed among communities is that these principles of solidarity and cooperation are being lost; there are far fewer mingas now than in the 1970’s.

Several individuals suggested that people have become more individualistic and competitive as a result of being influenced by the values promoted by capitalism; people engage less and less with traditional solidarity practices. Another concern observed is that newer indigenous generations no longer want to learn quechua, dress using their traditional customs or preserve their culture, as the media propagates the idea that what comes from the Western world (Europe and the United States) is better and represents the values of a more developed people.


You also worked with indigenous communities and coordinated a policy paper that was written by indigenous activist scholars themselves. What were the results, and how was the paper received ?

At FLOK meetings conducted during the process, the subject of “Ancestral Knowledge” was the one that raised the greatest interest and the most questions from the communities and academia.

Among the 17 policy papers, the “Ancestral, Traditional and Popular Knowledge” paper was the only one written by a group composed exclusively of local, Ecuadorian people. That paper discusses and proposes policies on how to preserve, manage and implement traditional and ancestral knowledge and practices, respecting the diversity of cultures and nationalities of Ecuador.

Ecuador has a total of 14 nationalities and 18 pueblos, and it was quite a challengeto embrace such a diversity of visions and traditions in a single paper. Initially, we engaged 5 indigenous scholars and activists from different ethnicities, each one deeply involved with the subject within their communities, to collectively write a first version of the paper. Later on, we realized the paper should also contemplate non-indigenous visions, such as those of the Afro-Ecuadorian community.

The current version of the paper is the product of a collective work developed by indigenous, Afro-Ecuadorian, mestizo and white Ecuadorian scholars and activists. This composition of multiple visions, all from local actors, gives a unique strength to the paper and its policy recommendations.

The policy paper presents proposals for the management of ancestral, traditional and popular knowledge in five main domains: 1) ancestral, traditional and popular knowledge must be declared heritage of the communities and peoples; 2) intercultural, bilingual education must be promoted and strengthened; 3) promotion of proper management of knowledge about biodiversity and traditional and ancestral agricultural practices; 4) strengthening of the relationship between the territories and knowledge and 5) strengthening of traditional and ancestral practices of governance.

What is your overall view of the FLOK process and what are your expectations for the future?

FLOK is a pioneer project, as this is the first time in history that a series of policy documents was produced in a collaborative way to propose, at a national level, a transition to a new economic and societal model based on open and shared knowledge, on the commons, on traditional and ancestral practices and on peer-to-peer production. Producing these documents in such a short time (8 months) was a big challenge. The work represents an integrated view, framed within the Ecuadorian legal system, and resulted from an intense collaborative process that involved meetings with Ecuadorian experts from civil society, academia, government and constant exchange with international experts in each area.

I see this first FLOK experience both as a seed that has been planted, as well as a threshold that has been crossed: a first attempt to provide an alternative model to the capitalist system has been proposed, and this work – not only the document, but the entire process that allowed the production of the documents – can be a source of inspiration to any person, city, civil society collective, region, and can be replicated, modified and adapted according to different contexts and needs. A threshold has been crossed in the sense that an integral proposition has been done for an entire society.

Needless to say, it was a very rewarding experience to be part of the project.

For the future, I expect the commons-transition movement to grow and to strengthen. And that different initiatives, with different flavors, will start to sprout. In the past year, many people showed a lot of interest in the FLOK process – not only during the time we were in Ecuador, but afterwards as well. The world needs profound changes; this is no longer an option, but a necessity. The human being is intrinsically generous and solidary – every culture has solidarity practices that became more and more lost with the individualistic and competitive behavior modeled by capitalism. A commons-transition movement is a real possibility to rescue human cooperation and solidarity and a path to reach harmony with Nature.


Images by Kevin Flanagan

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