New Sustainable Favela Network Map Makes Palpable The Sheer Diversity of Community Solutions from Rio de Janeiro’s Favelas

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By Beatriz Carvalho and Theresa Williamson

Rio de Janeiro’s Sustainable Favela Network (SFN) recently launched an update to its Sustainable Favela Network Map. The results were presented during its last meeting of 2021, with 79 network members in attendance from favelas across Greater Rio de Janeiro.

The Sustainable Favela Network brings together favela collectives installing solar panels, building bio-systems to treat sewage, setting up green roofs and community gardens, strengthening community belonging through grassroots museums and initiatives that act to guarantee and protect their communities, collecting their own data on public health as an advocacy tool, and much more.

Embrapa Solos enables solutions for research, development and innovation in agriculture in the communities of Babilônia, Chapéu Mangueira, Rocinha, Santa Marta and the quilombos of the Pedra Branca forest.

United in their belief that favelas are a source of solutions and sustainability, Sustainable Favela Network members are those facing down, every day, the challenges brought about by Rio’s chronic government neglect. The network currently includes 195 leaders from 127 of Rio’s favelas, 70% of whom are Afro-Brazilian and indigenous and 66% are women. The SFN also includes 232 technical allies and volunteers from numerous organizations and movements.

The new map includes a total of 120 initiatives, located in 183 favelas across Greater Rio, some projects working in multiple communities. In 2021, the SFN organized itself according to 11 thematic objectives: climate justice, socio-environmental education, participatory policy-making, local culture and memory, food sovereignty, collective health, solidarity economy, right to sanitation, energy justice, just transport and sustainable housing. All future actions will be connected by these cross-cutting themes. In 2022, the network will be carrying out a large-scale climate justice project that will include numerous collective actions, trainings, media campaigns and the setting up of decentralized solar and green infrastructure systems.

The Importance of Mapping Community Solutions

Asset-Based Community Development (ABCD), which has been growing worldwide over the past thirty years, is a more effective strategy for urban and community development than historical alternatives, whether in the presence of or without government investment. ABCD is employed by the Sustainable Favela Network, and involves focusing development strategies on the talents available in each community and in the potential of people, projects and territories, seeking to identify opportunities and investments for community development.

City of God’s Alfazendo project has been applying Freirian socio-environmental education in the community’s schools for over 20 years.

Based on ABCD principles, the SFN launched the Map’s first edition in 2017. The new map offers robust possibilities for research, including a calculator and filters.

The user can, for example, conduct a precise search for SFN projects led by women, using a 100% volunteer team and focused on a specific Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) or on a specific SFN objective, or projects that were active during the pandemic.

Technical Aspects of Mapping Favelas

The Sustainable Favela Network’s original map was developed on Google Maps due to its intuitive and accessible nature. The new version, however, is being hosted on the ArcGIS Online platform, which allows for greater interactivity and a more refined and complex search. The SFN technical ally responsible for coordinating the mapping process, Guillermo Douglass-Jaimes, professor of Environmental Analysis at Pomona College, in California, adds that the platform escapes traditional online map stereotypes and provides a better user experience:

“We asked ourselves what it would be like to have more sophisticated tools, tools that could help us better understand the network’s relationships. We know that every tool has its limitations. For the Sustainable Favela Network map it was good to show a table with information on each group: what that group does, social media… It was [important to highlight] that there’s more to favelas than violence, like traditional maps [show when classifying them] as ‘risk zones.’ Our map shows the importance of the people who are part of these territories. We tried to use mapping tools to reflect the reality of the communities’ residents, of the network’s members… the map is there to bring people together.”

The new Sustainable Favela Network map

One of the challenges identified by the team in preparing each map was how to deal with the lack of an address recognized by official maps, or by zip code, in some locations. The solution found has been to send the projects’ locations via WhatsApp in order to provide the precise coordinates of each initiative to be used for the map. Among all the data that would be published on the map, these locations were subsequently sent to project leaders for confirmation. That was how the precise geolocation of each initiative mapped was guaranteed.

Sustainable and Resilient Initiatives

The Favela Cine Club promotes the audiovisual arts and makes access to film a reality in Morro da Providência and Morro do Pinto.

Led by Irenaldo Honorio da Silva, the Pica-Pau F.C Soccer Club‘s mission is to educate young people in the basics of citizenship through soccer. In operation for approximately four years, the school is located in Beira Pica-Pau, Cordovil, in Rio’s North Zone. Da Silva recalled his participation in building the map:

“It was extremely important to participate in the Sustainable Favela Network Map, since its dissemination will give us more visibility. That’s where you’ll find projects and, more importantly, what we develop in our communities… My hope is that we can secure more partnerships so that we can better develop our projects, since the vast majority of us don’t have any aid from the authorities.”

Like da Silva, during research for the map and throughout various meetings, SFN participants mentioned the importance of working as a network as a means of facing the veritable absence of the State. According to the map, the four thematic objectives most served by the initiatives mapped are food security (47 projects), socio-environmental education (44 projects), culture and local memory (40 projects) and right to sanitation (38 projects). Regarding the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, the SDGs most often tackled by the projects are: no poverty or SDG 1 (92 projects), zero hunger and sustainable agriculture or SDG 2 (45 projects), good health and well-being or SDG 3 (36 projects), and reduced inequalities or SDG 10 (35 projects).

About the authors: Beatriz Carvalho: Born and raised in Vilar dos Teles, São João de Meriti, Beatriz Carvalho is a journalist, media-activist, feminist, and founder of Mulheres de Frente, and is currently a reporter for the Sustainable Favela Network.

Theresa Williamson: Theresa Williamson is a Rio de Janeiro-based urban planner and director of Catalytic Communities, publisher of RioOnWatch, coordinator of the Sustainable Favela Network, Favela Community Land Trusts and Covid-19 in Favelas Unified Dashboard.