Brazil is the sixth-largest country in the world by population size. Its high percentage of residents living in concentrated urban poverty makes it an attractive target for social entrepreneurs, microfinance peddlers, and impact investors. Data surveillance comes with all of that – it’s a package deal. Data is a commodity, and investors under the guise of philanthropy are installing the infrastructure required to extract it: ICT (individual communication technology) and wearables; programmed nudges linked to digital identity and payment systems; e-government data dashboards; and “community” partners trained to implement “evidence-based solutions” while monitoring populations. You can see the scope of the enterprise in this “Principles For Responsible Investing: Impact Investing Market Map” commissioned by the UNEP Finance Initiative and the UN Global Compact.
It’s not so different from nineteenth-century railroad barons putting up money to construct tracks and ports and towns in anticipation of future mineral and lumber extraction. Manu Karuka’s book “Empire’s Tracks” provides important US context (presentation on that here). It’s not so different from the sixteenth and seventeenth-century Jesuit infrastructure of missions, schools, hospitals, and printing presses, gathering up souls and tithes for the church and taking advantage of unwaged labor for economic aggrandizement.
While the Jesuits were expelled from Brazil in 1754, the Catholic church’s role in impact investing today should not be underestimated, especially with a Jesuit Pope advancing the concept while hosting bio-technology extravaganzas like the May 2021 “Unite to Prevent Conference.” The feature image of gloved fingertips certainly evokes a future void of skin-to-skin contact, one where artificial intelligence, gene therapies, and cognitive neural engineering take us down a treacherous path to a human+ existence. Soon enough there will be smart gloves capturing data behind such exchanges. What IS the measurable impact of human+ connection?
The Vatican has hosted three social impact conferences so far with participation and support from Omidyar Network. Pierre Omidyar was Glenn Greenwald’s former employer at The Intercept. Omidyar Network has funded education and civic technology ventures in Brazil since 2013. Greenwald has been in the country since 2005. The church’s presence in Brazil is seen in investments made in First, an impact investment fund set up in 2015, in part with $7 million from the Oblate International Pastoral Investment Trust .
That trust is based in Baltimore, MD a mile up the road from the headquarters of Baltimore’s Promise, a StriveTogether collective impact cradle to career outfit. Open Society’s only office outside New York City, the Annie E. Casey Foundation, and Catholic Relief Services are found in Baltimore, too. Catholic Relief Services began working in Brazil in 2004 and has 20 projects underway in twelve states. Open Society has had a presence in Brazil since 2001 through Conectas in Sao Paulo, with a focus, ostensibly, on human rights, though I suspect that will meld soon enough into ESG impact investing. The Annie E. Casey Foundation created a KidsCount data architecture for impact measurement. In 2012, the Marist Solidarity Society, Catholic-affiliated, held a workshop to discuss piloting the Kids Count effort in Parana. Supporters for that project included the philanthropic arm of HSBC Brazil; REDIM, a child rights NGO based in Mexico; and the Marist Solidarity Network.
A fascinating and disturbing 2014 paper published in the World Bank Development Blog, asserts that education and training systems imposed by the Jesuits on the Guarani peoples of Brazil during the colonial era can be linked to enhanced labor productivity today as well as increased non-cognitive skills and pro-social behavior. Felipe Valencia Caicedo wrote the paper as a PhD candidate in economic history at Barcelona’s Universitat Pompeu Fabra and now teaches at the University of British Columbia, an institution deeply involved in blockchain, social impact investing, and cognitive neuroscience research.
It is quite something for me to contemplate an economic historian feeling it is a fruitful undertaking to construct a narrative whereby one cultural group is awarded credit for remaking the lives of a perceieved inferior group as a labor commodity. Even more astounding to realize such efforts, which represent geo-spatial data analysis extending across four hundred years, would not only be deemed legitimate but lauded by the World Bank. Before seeing this paper, I hadn’t thought about the role historians would play propping up and legitimizing big-data analytics for human capital finance purposes. What we are looking at moving foward, especially with digital ID and blockchain ledgers, is a scenario where permanent records of society are documented acrosss landscapes and and cultural characteristics become embedded, programmed, into the opportunities made available to tomorrow’s children (or not depending on their valuation).
Coming generations will literally be programmed as cybernetic citizens based on the histories not only of their families, but where of they were born. In the US they call this the “Opportunity Atlas,” and it was developed by Raj Chetty of Harvard. Geospatial risk mapping in Brazil is carried out at the Institute for Applied Economic Research established in 1964 in Brasilia. The website of Rafael Periera, PhD from Oxford University, features projects where layers of data are used to map social disparities. Mapping efforts of the type Pereira working on are vital infrastructure for the feedback loops that will be used to “close the gaps.” It is that measurement of inputs, services, and outputs, measurable change (whether across decades or centuries) that will be recorded on blockchain to inform artificial intelligence for ongoing profiling, recalibration, and targeted resource allocation. It is running an unjust society as a machine.
With this in mind I ask you to cosider a human capital pilot program targeting low income families Boa Vista near the border with Venezuela. Participants were selected based on their participation in the Bolsa Familia program, a conditional cash transfer. This blockchain identity pilot tied to social impact, early learning, home visits was launched in 2019 with participation from Hong-Kong based Shanzhai City. I encourage you to click through and scan this 2019 document, “Big Ideas, Little Learners,” prepared by Omidyar Network. It is market-shaping for technology-mediated early childhood interventions. Hong-Kong -based Shanzhai City conducted a similar program in China, the source of the image below, Each person in the household is assigned an identity and an improvement pathway that is tracked with digital affirmations, photos and video, by outside program managers. If you read the text next to the image of the father, daughter, and phone you will see the child’s access to nutritious food is conditional on the family uploading data about her behavior and test scores. The impact investors literally want documentation of neuronal development. Remember, the “early childhood impact investing machine” runs on the Open Society / Pritzker-funded Heckman Equation. James Heckman lectured on the topic (slides here) in Sao Paulo in 2017 and is linked to ReadyNation through Robert Dugger and the Invest In Kids Working Group.
So what does this program look like in the United States? Pierre Omidyar’s wife Pam works in health IT, developing wearables, and apps like Goal Mama, which was used in a Pay for Success home visit pilot in South Carolina. Low-income pregnant women on Medicaid were monitored as to their consumption of Silicon Valley-devised “good parenting” content and were administered digital nudges to “solve” their impoverished circumstances. The program, backed by Google and administered through the Nurse Family Partnership, is set to scale across the United States.
The company has expanded into products for mental health support targeting young people, medical treatment compliance, vaping cessation, physical activity tracking of children, mindfulness, and structured leadership training. The only way human capital finance programs tied to Internet of Bodies data surveillance will succeed is if they are able to cloak their profane intentions under the blinding lights of faux-benevolence and performative “social justice.” Omidyar excels in this regard, at least for the time being. Match the Boa Vista project up with the Hopelab GoalMama behavior management apps, and you see these “home visit” programs are really about legitimizing data harvest and family surveillance.
Teresa Surita, mayor of Boa Vista, presented at ReadyNation’s Global Business Summit on Early Childhood the year the pilot launched (Omidyar Network also presented). No advocates for children from the United States were allowed to register without being sponsored by at least four vetted businesspeople. I wrote a blog post about it at the time. ReadyNation is the workforce development arm of Council for a Strong America that aims to condition children for acceptance of the police, military, gig labor, organized sports, and evangelical Christianity. In Brazil ReadyNation has been collaborating with the Jose Luiz Egydio Setubal Foundation and the Pensi Institute to set up “evidence-based” early childhood interventions as channels for global “social impact” capital. The Gates Foundation gave over $10 million to Council for a Strong America between 2006 and 2017.
At the top of Valencia Caicedo’s research page is the William Faulkner quote from Requiem for A Nun, “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.” A lesson we need to hold in our hearts. If we are going to come through the other side of this, it will be through knowing and reckoning with past events tied to the Doctrine of Domination, which Steven Newcomb has researched so diligently. Those power structures are the foundation that undergirds this machine that seeks to grind natural life into digital dust. Centuries of imperial intent have been extended over our macro-scale bodies and social and economic systems, and now we are facing the introduction of synthetic biology and nano-particulates, micro-electromechanical systems (MEMS), wave forms of sound and light, and space-based geo-fencing. With these weapons, those setting up the ultimate blockchain POWER GRID will attempt to break us, to bore into the core of our sacred energies down, down, down to the nano-pico even plasma physics levels.
As John Trudell expressed so eloquently, they are mining our minds. The people of Brazil, a nation of enslavement, marronage, forced conversion, and resource extraction wrenched from the most abundant ecosystems in the world, likely understand that dynamic well. If you are not familiar with the concept of marronage, I recommend this article by political prisoner and former Black Panther Russell Maroon Shoatz, “The Real Resistance to Slavery in North America.”