From 2010 through 2016, Catalytic Communities’ mandate was to harness the global Olympic media spotlight on Rio to build nuance and accuracy in reporting on favelas. We wanted to address the lazy, counterproductive and inaccurate narrative that dominated coverage and thus public perceptions of favelas in the past, and to replace it with a more subtle narrative that begins to engage in truthfully comprehending these complex communities. From our previous work we realized that the quantity and quality of policies aimed at favelas would suffer as long as they were seen as unworthy, precarious and temporary settlements. All of which couldn’t be further from the truth.
The summary of our accomplishments in 2016 and our work in the previous years building up to it highlights our efforts and success in shifting this narrative. We are thrilled with all we’ve been able to do, thanks to so many supporters and collaborators around the world.
We are now setting out to build on this momentum and all we’ve learned and accomplished, and are ready to dive into new projects and actions to meet prong three of the four-prong strategy of our organizational life cycle and strategic plan, started with our founding in 2000.
CatComm’s 4-prong strategy,* to support the inclusive, favela-driven intergration of Rio’s favelas into the city’s urban fabric (and set an example for the world), includes:
- Strategic training and networking favela activists with broad networks of support (the focus of our work 2000-2009);
- Broadly communicating the issues and values of the favela based on community perspectives (our focus from 2010-2016);
- Developing and proving the value of favela-controlled development and community-led urban planning (next phase); and
- Advocating on behalf of inclusive, integrative and participatory policies (and by doing so scaling these concepts beyond Rio).
So with no further ado, here’s what we have planned for 2017:
- New ‘Green’ RioOnWatch–Starting in March/April, RioOnWatch will relaunch with a new editorial line focused on realizing the potential of favelas as sustainable communities, publishing community solutions and perspectives, opinions and organizing strategies that embolden and empower this vision. The site will deepen its role as a ‘popular urbanism’ resource, making urban planning concepts accessible to communities to engage in their own strategic development. In summary, the site will offer ideas on proactive green community urbanism rooted in Rio’s favelas. At the same time, RioOnWatch will maintain a connection to its roots and a responsibility to publish a subset of articles committed to ‘watchdog’ activities tracking policies directed towards favelas, the Olympic legacy and human rights.
- Officially, the new Editorial Line includes:
- Documenting favela residents’ views of and for public policy so as to inform municipal decision-making and international development professionals.
- Publishing favela-specific columns and opinion pieces written by residents so as to mainstream favela perspectives on their own communities.
- Highlighting organizing strategies, community solutions and green technologies from favelas in Rio and around the world so as to inform and inspire collaborative and sustainable grassroots development initiatives.
- Popularizing urban planning concepts so citizens can develop their communities more effectively.
- Observing the Olympic legacy and monitoring international and domestic press coverage of favelas so as to maintain and build on the legacy of RioOnWatch as an Olympic watchdog news site and offer lessons for cities contemplating or hosting mega-events.
- Analyzing parallels and showing solidarity for informal communities around the world so as to establish connections, networks of support, and a sense of common experience and purpose across traditionally isolated communities worldwide (and in partnership with groups or sites similar to CatComm/RioOnWatch).
- Continuing to analyze, introduce and inform local policy and social debates on Rio so as to dramatically strengthen the contextual understanding and compassion necessary to engender larger political shifts that would benefit the entire society.
- Officially, the new Editorial Line includes:
- Sustainable Favelas Mapping, Exchange & Film Project–With support from the Heinrich Boll Foundation in Brazil, this project begins with a thorough mapping of all the environmental/sustainability/resilience initiatives we can identify from favelas all over Rio. We will then invite eight of these projects for a week-long exchange that will involve: a day of experience-sharing and solidarity-building; a day of brainstorming and problem-solving; four days where all eight projects will visit one another and see implementation, solutions and challenges on-the-ground; and a final day open to the public with presentations by participants and a ‘fair’ to share solutions from across the city. After the week-long exchange we’ll create a new version of the Favela as a Sustainable Model film focusing on these 8 projects and others from the mapping exercise.
- Mainstreaming Community Journalists–A major lesson from our Favelas in the Media report is the improvement in coverage quality and nuance when reporting is done by community journalists. Starting in 2017 we will have partnerships with community journalism outlets in Rio’s favelas, each one producing a unique monthly article for RioOnWatch discussing the city and community from their perspective that month. These articles will be featured on RioOnWatch not only to provide more visibility for community perspectives and news, but with the intent to demonstrate the qualities inherent in the production of news by favela news outlets and journalists. We will then co-organize a weeklong community journalism festival with Casa Pública in Rio, with nightly debates about favela media production, with speakers including community journalists, international correspondents, media researchers, and others; in the audience will be mainstream Brazilian media outlet representatives. The intention is to spark debate, inform the public, and to inspire these outlets to hire and strengthen community journalists within their ranks.
- Strategic Partnerships for Favela Sustainability–This year we will be exploring a partnership with Criterion Planners to further test and develop a model of ‘sustainable favela certification;’ a partnership with Worcester State University to develop a model university-community partnership with a favela in Rio; and a partnership with D3forChange, supported by the Faster Forward Fund, on a research project whereby CatComm will be the focus of developing evaluation systems for adaptive organizations such as ours entitled “Assessing the Effectiveness of Using Developmental Evaluation to Address Complex Development Challenges: A Case Study of an NGO Working in the Favelas of Rio de Janeiro.”
- RioOnWatch Replication Manual–What are the critical ingredients in the RioOnWatch model? From minute details of how we utilize social media, engage the press, and galvanize large numbers of contributors and translators, to broader philosophical questions of strategy and impact, we are now looking for resources to support the production of a multi-media toolkit that organizers around the world can use to create their own hyperlocal-to-global impact news site.
- Favela Perceptions Survey–Since 2010 CatComm has been undertaking annual research in large English-speaking cities worldwide regarding perceptions of Rio’s favelas. This research will be conducted one last time in 2017, followed by calculations and a report summarizing findings from 2010-2017.
*Note that all four of these areas are always on our agenda at any given time, but the organization’s main focus edges along linearly from 1 through 4.