Brazil’s decaying public sewage system is a significant concern to young and low-income Brazilians, according to Livres, an Atlas Network partner in Rio de Janeiro. Through Atlas Network-supported surveys and nine public events hosted throughout Brazil, Livres discovered the real concerns of the electorate in regard to public policy and is using this knowledge to guide the organization’s priorities in research and legislative engagement. As a result of their work, a new legal framework is already underway in the Congresso Nacional.
Livres made access to a functional sewage system a policy priority, advocating for private investment in the sector while working closely with the Speaker of the House of Representatives on structural changes. In December, a new regulatory framework for water and sewage was approved in Parliament and is waiting for President Jair Bolsonaro’s signature. “These changes in the legal structure will have a tremendous effect for poorer cities,” explained Magno Karl, policy director at Livres. Karl points out that only 50% of Brazilian households have bathrooms connected to sewage systems, but that the percentage is much higher in wealthy areas where privatization is already allowed. “This change will solve—in the 21st century—a problem that most countries solved two centuries ago.”
In a world of scarce resources, Livres’ goal was to identify priorities for government spending. As a result of their work, Livres became better equipped to focus their efforts on fewer topics that the public truly cared about, including wastewater treatment. Other topics included education and a lack of opportunities in the job market.
Karl believes that listening to voters and providing real solutions to tangible public issues is the best way to attract free market policy. “For a long time, classical liberals have been criticized for being too focused on larger, macroeconomic issues, and not enough on the priorities of ‘normal men and women,’” he said. “We position ourselves as representative of a ‘popular liberalism’ field, prioritizing the potential of free markets in delivering prosperity and wealth to the poorest in our society.”