From Lucas, To Lucas

A massive, silver statue of a tightly clenched fist raised to the sky sits atop the Centro Cultural Waly Salomão in the favela of Vigário Geral in Brazil, its bright gleam a stark contrast to the condition the rest of the neighborhood finds itself in. The multi-colored center is home to AfroReggae, an internationally recognized organization praised for their culturally rich approaches to the many issues plaguing the favelas in Brazil.

Rampant drug trafficking and the violence that inevitably goes with it keep the young people of these often ignored neighborhoods trapped in a vicious, often fatal, cycle that AfroReggae has been laboring to help break since 1993.

This ignorance and overt shunning of favelas and those who live in them are not limited to just societal shame and government insensitivity — it’s also a digital problem. Try to find these favelas accurately mapped on the many digital mapping services available online, and you simply won’t.

Considering that results from a 2010 census by the IBGE (Instituto Brasileiro de Geografia e Estatistica) indicate a 23% increase in the favela population surrounding Rio de Janeiro, it’s easy to see how substantial this population actually is, and how damaging their physical and, perhaps more crucially, digital inequality has really been.

AfroReggae’s most recent initiative, Tá no Mapa! (It’s On The Map!) conceived through a partnership between AfroReggae, global advertising agency JWT and consultant/project lead Alexandre Lage, has garnered plenty of social media attention over the last few months.

“We wanted to shed light on the issue of those communities not being seen on digital maps. They’re invisible,” said Mauro Cavalletti, Chief Integration Officer at JWT Group. “We strongly believe this lack of digital identity for these people, nowadays, results in a problem of their own identity, because digital identity is such an important part of someone’s overall identity at this point that we believe this is something that we definitely want to help establish.”

Tá no Mapa! targets the most at-risk demographic with the most potential: favela youth. Having started in Parada de Lucas, AfroReggae has trained youth to use increasingly universal smartphone technology to create the mapping data themselves.

“The project is a digital agency, the first digital agency in a favela,” describes Alexandre Lage, an innovation consultant for AfroReggae.

“The model I created has 4 points,” he tells me, “the classes, the agencies, the incubator and the markets. To start, my company gives some from the favelas classes on technology. Then came the agencies, like JWT, and their expertise. Although, they had this mapping idea for years, they couldn’t figure it out with AfroReggae. I took it up on my own after consulting the directors and thus the incubator began: a hands-on experience after the kids learned technological skills. Then we bring the final products to market.”

By December of last year, it was reported by ABI research that there were 1.4 billion active smartphones in use throughout the world, a staggering figure generating troves of valuable data that can be used by both the public and private sector. This intersection of technology and society is important in places like the favelas where people who don’t have much are still participants in the physical economy but aren’t recognized in the digital space.

“You would guess that because these people have access to the tools they do on their smartphones and consume information, they would be included because it isn’t a question of physical segregation,” Cavalletti points out. “When you look closer, though, it isn’t exactly that. They are consuming information but not producing.”

With the country ranking second among the world’s nations suffering from acute skills shortages according to a 2013 survey by Manpower, the lack of a viable and contributing workforce is more than just a bump in the road to a healthier and more stable Brazilian economy, it is a very real problem.

Even with that considered, one cannot start talking about an educated and capable workforce when a quarter of the country’s population lives near or at the poverty line — the majority of them in favelas.

Ultimately, though, money talks and Brazil stands to benefit greatly from shifting attention to solving these issues. Even considering Brazil’s rapid economic growth in the recent decade, there are still entire classes of untapped economic potential within favelas, which are full of ideas that can produce new marketplaces and lead to self-sustainment, an important outcome desired by everyone involved.

“You know, we’re talking a lot about this new middle class in Brazil, but at the same time there is an entire universe of businesses running in the favelas that are somehow invisible to everyone,” muses Cavalletti.

“These people are definitely a part of the economy — they aren’t isolated…it’s just that the place they live is excluded. They can’t have a more dynamic environment around their homes because they buy from these guys every day, so to think of an economy that works more locally just makes more sense.”

But, historically speaking, with the public sector harming rather than helping the favela’s interests and the private sector being slow to act (if at all), the Tá no Mapa! initiative believes that drastic social change is necessary to better these areas, and that change has to come from the inside.

“I created a phrase: From Lucas, to Lucas,” says Alexandre Lage. “De Lucas, para Lucas. From, to. I don’t want people from other parts of the city to come and spend their money here in restaurants and support them that way. It’s about increasing community organically, by mapping the favelas so that the favelas can understand what they have.” THEEND

Nicholas Echevarria
Born and raised in the state of Brooklyn. Unhealthy obsessions with seeing new things, pop culture, random technological breakthroughs, comics, films and whatever else happens to be on my mind that day. Check out my blog [], won't ya?
Nicholas Echevarria
Nicholas Echevarria
Nicholas Echevarria

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