Cooperative Incubators in Brazil

I often wonder why there aren’t more business schools for socialist entrepreneurs? There are some (for example, see here and here), but they are not common, and that definitely limits the growth of the cooperative economy. Classic business-management programs are expensive to set up, expensive to attend, and cater to a very specific type of student. If, in order to expand worker-ownership throughout the economy, broader opportunities for cooperative business education are needed, are there examples of cooperative business schools that are more egalitarian than classic business programs and that could be replicated relatively rapidly?

Well, it turns out, there may be one such example of cooperative business education flourishing just now in Brazil. These business schools are called ITCPs (Incubadoras Tecnológicas de Cooperativas Populares; Technological Incubators of Popular Cooperatives), and in several respects, they are very different from the classic model of a capitalist business school offering MBAs:

First, they are practical. They don’t just educate; they are also directly involved in setting up new worker-owned businesses. They aim to both incubate new worker-cooperatives, and at the same time, give new worker-owners the skills that they will need to succeed.

Second, they are radical cooperative education projects established as extension schools at traditional universities in Brazil, allowing academics who study management, entrepreneurship or cooperatives to get their hands dirty and use their expertise to practically assist in growing the worker-owned model.

And third, the ITCPs explicitly target the poorest communities in Brazil, helping economically disenfranchised Brazilians start their own worker-owned businesses as a concrete strategy for ending poverty and empowering marginalized communities.

The first ITCP was started in 1996, at UFRJ (Universidade Federal do Rio de JaneiroFederal University of Rio de Janeiro), and there are now 42 ITCPs throughout Brazil. Since its founding, the ITCP at UFRJ has incubated 125 new worker-owned businesses. These businesses average 50 to 100 employees, so that would be something like 6,000 to 12,000 new jobs created by just one cooperative incubator.

You can read more about ITCPs in the following article:

Leca, Bernard, Jean-Pascal Gond, and Luciano Barin Cruz. (2014) “Building ‘Critical Performativity Engines’ for deprived communities: The construction of popular cooperative incubators in Brazil.Organization 21(5): 683-712.

Unfortunately, the article is behind a paywall, but there is also a copy on ResearchGate.net which you may be able to access. As you can tell by the title, the authors use the example of the ITCP as a vehicle to discuss their particular school of sociological theory, in this case, critical management studies. The first section is slow going and full of insider jargon, but if you skip to the description of the ITCP at UFRJ on pages 691–697, the jargon mostly drops away, and the authors discuss in some detail how an ITCP actually works.

See also: Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro (English); Universidade de São Paulo (Portuguese); Universidade Federal do Paraná (Portuguese); Fundação Universidade Regional de Blumenau (Portuguese); Universidade Comunitária da Região de Chapecó – Unochapecó (Portuguese); University of Vale do Itajaí (Portuguese).

If you know of any other online sources of information about ITCPs, particularly in English, please share them in the comments!

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