Key facts about bottom-up social development in the favelas
Brazil has a strong history of civil society participation and associational life (Fleury, 2011; Lavalle et al., 2005; Novy & Leubolt, 2005). The country emerged from a dictatorship in 1985 and since then has developed a strong institutional framework for citizen participation (Avritzer, 2009; Baiocchi, 2008). However, the emergence of organised groups of favela dwellers in the early 1990s is widely considered a new development in the Brazilian public sphere, differing from all previous associations of civil society in Brazil (Ramos, 2006; Vianna, 2006).
Characteristics of these novel movements are:
- Introduction of a new social actor in organised civil society: young, black favela dwellers, who create their own new organisations, including AfroReggae, CUFA, Nós do Morro, Voz da Comunidade amongst others (see Citizenship).
- Identity and territory: these groups are different from traditional social development organisations because they are made and led by people who come from and live in the favelas and whose identity is connected to these territories. The life history and experience of the leaders and activists match the trajectories of people living in the favelas (see Storytelling).
- Hybrid organisations with multiple roles: these groups combine different models and identities, being a mix of NGOs, social movements, cultural entrepreneurs, social business, parents by proxy, teachers, life coaches and connectors to the State and its services (see Contact and dialogue).
- Emphasis on personal lives: bottom-up experiences of social development in the favelas bring individual lives back to the agenda, emphasising self-esteem, emotional support and the development of individual skills and competences (see Psychosocial scaffoldings).
- Pride and exposure: these groups work to make ‘the invisible visible’ by emphasising the culture and identity of their communities of origin. They are proud of their territory and work to present it in a positive light in the public sphere (see Self-esteem and networks).
- Border-crossing and multiple partnerships: these groups engage with multiple partners outside favelas, including the private sector, the State, the media and the arts (see Opening up borders and partnerships).
When engaging in cultural activism with communities, leaders, facilitators and educators should be careful to avoid…
- Criticising a reality they ignore. The power of grassroots organisations comes from their knowledge of context.
- Ignoring how local people account for the reality in which they live. For this, basic research techniques, participatory approaches and social media are helpful.
- Criticising just for the sake of it. Energy must be spent on actionable points rather than empty statements.
- Suggesting an alternative reality without having a plan for an actionable project. Proposals to address needs should work in practice.
- Leaving people behind. Social development actions need the participation of people to not only denounce and plan projects, but also to implement and lead them.
Source: Adapted from Freire, P. (1972). Cultural action for freedom. London: Penguin.