Brazilian City Recognized by German Government for its CPP

On June 16th, Recife’s mayor João da Costa Bezerra Filho accepted the EUR 150,000 prize from Liz Mohn, vice-chair of the Bertelsmann Stiftung Executive Board. German Chancellor Angela Merkel gave the laudatory speech during the prize ceremony at the Gütersloh Theater.

The Brazilian city of Recife is the first recipient of the Reinhard Mohn Prize. Home to 1.7 million people, the Brazilian metropolis was chosen to receive the prize for its exemplary Participatory Budget program, which allows the public to play a pivotal role in determining how the city funds are spent.

\”With its citizen participation program, the city of Recife shows how wide-ranging collaboration and partnership can be used to reduce the distance between policymakers and the public,\” said Dr. Gunter Thielen, CEO and chairman of the Bertelsmann Stiftung. \”The program complements the city’s representative democracy by allowing citizens to play a direct role in decision-making processes, together with city administrators. It’s a very good example of how the public can get involved in government, an idea often advocated by Reinhard Mohn.\”

In her speech, Chancellor Merkel stressed the close connection between the prize and its name giver: \”Earlier than others Reinhard Mohn recognized the responsibility that accrues to him as an entrepreneur. And just as he engaged and involved employees in the company, he modelled how we need to engage and involve people more in government, politics and society.\” She said she shares Mohn’s basic conviction that people use the freedom democracy gave them and that they want to assume responsibility. At the same time, however, she said that forms of political participation have become more diverse.

After the chancellor’s appraisal of the winner, Liz Mohn took to the stage of Gütersloh’s City Theater to present first the Reinhard Mohn Prize. She once again emphasised the purpose of the prize, that is to \”bridge the gap between citizens and politics,\” and congratulated the mayor of Recife, saying: \”You show us what it means to live democracy. In Germany, but also in other countries around the world, we can learn from your example.\”

Joao da Costa Filho Bezerro was visibly proud of the fact that his community and his idea had become a role model for other continents obvious made. \”In 2001, I was told I was crazy for having the idea of a citizens’ budget in my home town, Recife. Now I’m receiving an award for it here in Germany…It makes us very happy to be the first winners of the Reinhard Mohn Prize. We are happy to be able to serve as an example to others.\” The participatory budget and the increased participation of citizens, the mayor concluded, have \”permanently changed the life of the people in the city of Recife, which is characterized by such stark contrasts between rich and poor.\”
They have certainly changed the life of seventh grader Keila Pessoa de Oliveira. Confidently taking the microphone at the City Theater, she confessed that she was thinking what she should say throughout the long flight to Germany. What she had to say at the end is best expressed in her own words: \”The people of Recife have and are experiencing new rights. We students now have a voice that is heard. And if, as is so often said, children are the future of a country, then we need that voice. I can only appeal to the students here in Germany and elsewhere in the world to take action, too. But they need your support for this.\”

Since 2001, its citizens have been extensively involved in shaping Recife’s development. More than 100,000 adults and young people participate every year in forums and on the Internet, making suggestions for urban development projects and monitoring them as they are implemented. They also set priorities in a number of policymaking areas. The participatory processes therefore allow the city to be present \”on the ground\” and to share responsibility with the public. To do so, it has built a comprehensive network of paid workers and volunteers, which ensures people are involved throughout the year in making and implementing decisions.

Towards the end of the ceremony, Bertelsmann Stiftung Executive Board member Jörg Dräger made it clear that Recife’s award should be the beginning rather than the end of a process with which the foundation wants to establish more citizen participation in Germany: \”When we launched the first Reinhard Mohn award 18 months ago under the slogan ‘ Vitalizing democracy through participation ,’ we had no idea what impressive role models we would find. They all show how invigorating participation can be for a democratic community.\” For this reason, the foundation will make this issue one of its priorities, he said. \”Over the next four years we will bring the finalists’ innovative approaches and other projects to Germany.\”

The publication of the Reinhard Mohn Price 2011, including case studies from all seven finalists, process descriptions and additional articles, can be ordered in English here:

We would like to thank all those who participated in the selection of the winner for the Reinhard Mohn Prize 2011.


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