Alentejo is a region in south-eastern Portugal at the Spanish border. It is inhabited by more than 750,000 people. When driving through the region, you can see its typical rural character. Along the roads there are plantations of olive trees, grapes and especially the „Montado”. A characteristic feature in the landscape is a large dam which was built for irrigation of the agricultural areas.
Meanwhile the water reservoir has also become a place of tourist activities. However, the construction of the dam is not without controversy since the large-scale project also raised questions with regard to the region’s future sustainability. The region is facing opportunities and challenges; the biggest of the latter include unemployment and social exclusion.
Social enterprise ADC Moura is located in a small town Moura which currently has about 8,000 inhabitants. Clara Lourenço and Filipe Sousa are local actors of this association involved in quite different projects. Together with their fellow campaigners in ADC Moura, Clara and Filipe aim at inspiring the inhabitants of the greater Moura area to commit themselves and jointly create new forms of social activities and cooperation in the changing social, economic, and cultural environments.
The idea of networking
A crucial approach to the Alentejo region taken by ADC Moura is promotion of networking, particularly between individual actors as well as between associations and small towns. At the same time, they intend to ensure that the distinct identity of each of the collaborating social entities is maintained and that the entities involved can assert their autonomy and independence.
It is therefore vital for the effectiveness and fruitfulness of these cooperation networks that they are facilitated by “intermediary actors” who can help the involved entities to organise their joint activities – this is the role of ADC Moura.
Local and international cross-sectoral networking: South-West Archaeology Digs
For networking it is essential to combine the knowledge and practices of people from different social strata and social fields with different experiences. Creation of a constructive tension between different forms of knowledge and practices is an important prerequisite for the promotion of new activities.
One example of networking activities facilitated by ADC Moura is the South-West Archaeology Excavations project. It is an international archaeological camp operating in the vicinity of Safara.
The works are related to the remains of an Ancient Roman settlement located in the region. ADC Moura has been able to bring together and to increase the capabilities of different actors: Mariana Nabais who heads the archaeological works; universities in the UK, Ireland and Portugal; local farmers who own the land and local authorities who give permission to carry out the excavations.
The Centro Social de Safara is an institution organising day care for the elderly. In cooperation with ADC Moura, Isabel Gaivao, head of the institution, raises funds for the daily activities and sets the direction for other (local) events.
Networking and the Roma community
Near Moura, in Póvoa de São Miguel, there is a large Romani community. Together with other local actors, ADC Moura is involved in activities aimed at integrating the local communities and reducing social inequalities.
A major part of the work revolves around engagement in places where local communities, Romani and other Portuguese, meet, be it in the context of schools, work or leisure . At weekends, the local actors jointly organise events with and for Romani children, especially in the field of sports and digital education, to name a few.
Networking of farmers
Another field of ADC Moura’s operations are networking facilitation services for farmers and other stakeholders in the medicinal and aromatic plants sector.
Researcher’s Notebook: Jamie Scott Baxter
Emerging aromatic and medicinal plants sector in Portugal
Fernando Santos owns the Aromas da Lousa farm. He admits that he would not be able to purchase all the technology required for the plantation or to work out the whole procedure on his own.
Small autarkic farms would not be able to compete with large agricultural corporations. This is why farmers in the Alentejo region, particularly growers of aromatic herbs, have understood that they need to cooperate with other farmers of the segment, in order to gain a better position on the market.
ADC Moura helps to create a cooperation network of local farmers who, interestingly, are often newcomers from big cities. Isabel Fernandes and Jorge Alves grow aromatic herbs in their new home. On the one hand, the small local entrepreneurs are supported by the collaboration on technical and organisational issues as well as by exchanging knowledge and expertise. On the other hand, they remain independent and unique.
Researcher’s Notebook: Anna Umantseva
Social innovations in Alentejo, Portugal
This approach to farming is the main part of their socially innovative project. Nevertheless, developing more high-end products and diverse sources of income is still a challenge to herb farmers.
History and tradition as elements of innovating
When talking with local actors and residents, it became evident that traditions and history are very important in Moura, the surrounding villages and the entire Alentejo region. It became also clear that all of the undertakings in the region, including the networking and other support services rendered by ADC Moura, are in some way or other rooted in the cultural traditions. This is a seeming antagonism with regard to the creation of socially-innovative initiatives.
Facilitating social innovations in rural regions does not involve erasing the past or introduction of completely novel approaches. The local actors rather emphasise the fact that the past could be creatively used in innovations. Like in many other rural European regions, in Moura the residents might have better access to novel solutions when they contain familiar patterns of the local cultural traditions.
In the first half of July, the region hosts the Festas de Moura, an annual festival lasting several days.
The culmination of the festival is a procession in honour of Nossa Senhora do Carmo that passes the entire town. It is preceded by many secular traditions, both centuries-old and new: bullfighting, fireworks, concerts and a selection of local food and beverages.
Challenges of innovating in Moura
One of the biggest challenges faced by ADC Moura is funding of the networking and intermediary activities because neither these activities nor the organisation as such are financially supported. The funding strategies in Europe and Portugal rather rely on projects with international consortia with a respective international orientation or focused on intermediate job creation in a region. Applying for international funds and carrying out projects restricts the capacity of ADC Moura. As a consequence, the association has less time to mark its presence in the Moura region and fewer opportunities to design its best suited to the region as experience would suggest.