Map of Social and Environmental Innovations in Rio de Janeiro
What is the project?
We are a collaborative research project between Brazil and the UK, mapping out a research agenda and possible research partners to for social and environmental innovation, and the role of digital tools within that. The project’s objective is to identify and connect social and environmental innovation initiatives in Rio via an interactive digital map. The purpose of the map is to allow and support effective operation and networking between different initiatives and to strengthen social and environmental innovation ecosystems in both locations.
Local leadership and partners
Brazil: The School of Management and Accounting at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, in partnership with the following civil society organisations: “Data_Labe” and “PreLab – Olabi Makerspace”. Both are social and environmental innovation projects.
United Kingdom: Sheffield University
Social innovation in Rio de Janeiro – Brazil
Brazil is a country characterised by some of the highest social inequality in the world. Several groups with multiple vulnerabilities struggle to access basic rights and public services.
In this context, community-based initiatives for social and / or environmental innovation are common in cities like Rio de Janeiro. This is due to the absence of state and market actions that give access and promote basic social rights and meeting local demands. On the other hand, civil society organisations work to guarantee rights and demands through social and environmental innovations, using digital tools to different degrees. In this way, it deals with problems such as basic sanitation, misinformation, lack of data , access to culture, technology, education and health.
Social innovation in the UK – Sheffield
The UK is also characterised by deep, and growing social inequality. The city of Sheffield is located in the industrial heartland of northern England, with a history of steelmaking and cutlery. As a result of automation and the consequent structural change in industrial production, Sheffield’s main economic activity had a rapid decline, accompanied by job losses and social problems. Urban regeneration has been ongoing, and many creative initiatives were started. Local authority budgets have been reduced over the last decade. Today in Sheffield there is an ongoing and increasing demand for support services, including food banks, job clubs, training initiatives, recycling and upcycling spaces and local currencies.
Theories and narratives
While the funding is focused on developing an interactive map for Rio, the research involves interviews with social innovators in both Rio and Sheffield. The research carried out in two such different places allows for mutual knowledge in contexts of the global South and North, re-enforcing knowledge from the South and challenging the common narrative that learning takes place North to South, when in this project, the opposite is also true.
The project, therefore, considers theories, practices and perspectives of the South and the North, while focusing in the first instance on the needs identified in in Brazil and other possible countries in Latin America.
Both the University of Sheffield and the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro are involved as partners in social innovation initiatives, including spaces for creators, innovation laboratories, makerspaces, courses for social entrepreneurs and sponsored community hubs.
Qualitative exploratory cross-sectional research.
Public call for initiatives in the city of Rio de Janeiro, held in September 2019, using a form, as well as manual registration of initiatives already known to the research team. 53 initiatives were registered.
Selection of 20 initiatives for in-depth interviews, using a semi-structured approach. Held in the months of October and November 2019
Workshop with 27 participants to present results and discuss possible collaborations between the 20 interviewed initiatives and the researchers. Held in November 2019.
Profile of the initiatives
Many of the initiatives are located in the more income-rich parts of the city, despite working on causes associated with the more peripheral zones and favelas. Many does not have a head office at all.
Profile of innovators
There were more women than men, with a large number being younger than 35 years old. There was strong identification with the mission of their initiatives, and many are in paid roles in their organisations.
The majority of organisations are set up as an “association”. Several operate without direct assistance from the state or the market. Some are financed by individuals and/or philanthropic entities, mostly international.
Approaches of the initiatives
The social, environmental, and cultural missions of the initiatives are , often interrelated and inseparable. Several are aligned with the UN Sustainable Development Goals. Many (75%) use digital tools, while some focus primarily on a digital intervention.
What respondents understand as: social innovation
as solutions created and developed collectively, focused on social problems; actions based on plurality and territoriality.
What respondents understand as: socio-environmental innovation
as building collective solutions focused on human well-being and environmental sustainability.
What respondents understand as: digital innovation
as new ways of doing things assisted by digital tools (such as social media platforms; smartphone applications)
There was as greater emphasis on social innovation than on the environment, with a particular focus on the reduction of inequalities, the promotion of the rights of minorities, improvement of social conditions for income-poor people and on combating violence, Other foci included constitutionally guaranteed civil rights and environmental sustainability.
Relationship with the university
The university was seen as a supportive environment for training and encouraging social innovation. Strong relationships with teachers played a central role, as well as the exchanges with researchers and through extension projects.
Initiatives reported that they would have liked to make further progress with engagement, which they defined as change in consciousness and mindset. Social Innovators also reported that fundraising was difficult, there were bureacratic hurdles related to government and legislation and they reported political and legal obstacles keeping them from undertaking specific initiatives.
Initiatives were successful in promoting awareness and social change, in strengthening a sense of belonging to a neighbourhood, civic identity and affective ties between residents. Support networks were formed and social innovators reported a sense of personal fulfilment.
The MAISRio project is a joint research project between the University of Sheffield and the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, carried out with civil society partners. The project is funded by the UK’s Global Challenges Research Fund – GCRF.
Brazil is a reference point in areas of participatory practice (considering, for example, Paulo Freire’s work), social innovation, critical theory and co-production. Both UFRJ and the University of Sheffield maintain values and missions as large civic, research-intensive universities. This partnership is also in line with the strategic initiative at the Sheffield Institute for International Development – to diversify knowledge, decolonize the curriculum, and centering theories and perspectives from the South in academic knowledge exchange on sustainable development.
The project involves academic and civil society partners:
Rita Afonso is an Associate Professor at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro – UFRJ, teaching in the School of Management and Accounting. She works on social innovation and has a specific interest in working with young people in the favelas of Rio de Janeiro, using digital technology.
Dorothea Kleine is Professor in the Geography Department and Co-Director of the Sheffield Institute for International Development (SIID), where she leads the Digital Technologies, Data and Development Group. Her research investigates sustainable human development, global justice, and the potential role of digital technologies in making progress towards these aims. Themes such as participation, gender, justice and choice run strongly through her work.
Dr. Crookes is a University Teacher for the Department of Urban Studies and Planning. As a critical geographer/planner he is interested in qualitative methods to explore contemporary issues related to housing, class, gentrification, urban regeneration and associated conflicts over the meaning and use of space.
Ms. Silvana Bahia is Co-Director of Olabi, a social innovation space in Rio de Janeiro focusing on the empowerment of women of colour and other marginalised groups. They are a digital training lab, a makerspace and a social innovation community, working in the field of technology and social innovation. Silvana coordinates and develops the project PretaLab, supporting the agency of black and indigenous women in the world of technologies and social innovation.
Mr Gilberto Vieira is Co-Director of DataLab, a digital activism, social innovation and a data journalism space in Maré, one of the biggest Brazilian favelas in Rio de Janeiro. They focus on using open and crowd-sourced data to highlight human rights issues, visualising them on digital maps as well as working on mechanisms and expressions of cultural production in the favela. DataLab use new technologies and digital tools for citizen science, policy and empowerment Their work is carried out particularly in participatory processes with in-come poor and marginalised groups. This includes women, people of colour, people with disabilities, and the LGBT community.
Lucas has worked in the cultural, creative and artistic fields as a researcher, producer, and manager since 2005. His recent project engagements have been in the fields of architectural and archival heritage, including curating art exhibits in museums and cultural hubs, and digitalising rare books. Has a bachelor’s degree in Communication and Cultural Production from the Federal University of Bahia and attends, since 2019, to the Master Degree course at the Production Engineering Program of the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro and the Cultural Management MBA at Cândido Mendes University.
Gabriel Orsi is a graduate of the Management School and researcher at UFRJ. His work is focused on social innovation, creative economy, innovation in the public sector, and creativity in organisations. He has worked as a researcher in the Social Responsibility Lab at the Economic Institute of UFRJ, where he developed projects and publications with cultural institutions inRio de Janeiro. He is interested in a better understanding the characteristics of social entrepreneurs and the management structures and communication mechanisms through which they express themselves.
Anna is a current PhD researcher at the University of Sheffield, and a former Community Organiser in Sheffield. Anna’s PhD research is carried out in the context of coastal communities in Japan after the 2011 earthquake and tsunami, working directly with affected communities in the region. Her research particularly explores the gap between theory and practice in community-based approaches to post-disaster development. As a former community organiser, Anna has extensive experience in working with local communities across the city of Sheffield and is mapping out social and digital initiatives across Sheffield for the project.
Geovana is an undergraduate student in Business Administration at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro – UFRJ. In her studies she is particularly interested in research on sustainable consumption and social innovation.
Mike is an expert in digital learning, with a particular interest in Virtual and Augmented Reality (AR). He is co-designing the technical side of the Nosso Mapa project, including the interactive map.
Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro
Universidade de Sheffield