Rubens builds powerful networks and coalitions of civil society organizations addressing major issues of environmental protection and sustainable development in Brazil. His work is helping those organizations gain greater voice in national and international deliberations and enabling them to play more productive roles in translating international environmental accords and environment-friendly national policies into effective action at the regional and local levels.
Born in São Paulo, Rubens was eight years old when the military seized power in Brazil on April 1, 1964. Fortunately, during the period of increasingly brutal repression by the military authorities that ensued, his parents instilled in him both a deep commitment to social justice and engagement in the community and an abiding concern for environmental protection.
Rubens completed his university studies in civil engineering in 1977 and worked initially in several major construction projects (dams, highways, and port facilities) in which he witnessed the adverse social and environmental impacts of a “development model” that worsened inequalities and polluted Brazil’s extraordinary natural resources heritage. Alarmed by what he saw, he and a group of fellow engineers created an “Ecological Survival Group,” the first of what has proved to be a series of citizen sector organizations that have been the principal focus of his labors.
In 1983, Rubens left the heavy construction sector and began working with several citizen organizations while simultaneously pursuing further studies in environmental engineering. To support himself, he also took on several assignments with governmental bodies—the São Paulo Secretariat of Health (l984-87), the National Constituent Assembly (1987-90), and the Municipality of Carapicuiba (1990-92)—in each of which he deepened his understanding of political processes with which effective nongovernmental groups with environmental concerns must engage.
During the past decade, although he served for a period (l998-2001) as executive director of the Brazilian Association for Leadership Development, Rubens has devoted the bulk of his energies to the Vitae Civilis Institute and the related set of network- and coalition-building activities that are described above.
Rubens Born perspectives
Vitae Civilis – the Institute for Development, Environment and Peace, in Brazil – was set up in 1989, following the Bruntland Report. Its mission is to support communities to build sustainable societies, as Rubens Born describes.