Ashoka Fellow
Homem de barba, jaqueta e boné pretos, sorrindo. Plantas verdes no fundo.
Fellow since 2019
This description of Bola's work was prepared when Bola was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 2019.


Marcelo Rocha is building a social architecture and an inclusive ecosystem to shift mental models and remove invisible barriers against favela’s residents in Brazil. He is creating bridges of dialogue to foster collaboration between individuals and organizations from opposite social and economic contexts in order to build a sustainable development for local communities and a more just and equal society for all.

The New Idea

Over the past 20 years Marcelo has been evolving his strategies and methodologies for the local development of communities. He started by creating cultural and entertainment spaces within the favela, with public hip-hop festivals and music workshops where young people could at the same time become politically aware, have a sense of community that took them out of the world of violence and create safe spaces for their full development. This initiative was followed by many other community-run centers of culture that came to emerge in the following years. He also created A Banca, a musical and cultural producer to transmit that culture to other places and different audiences. But then he went further, he realized that the culture, products, and services produced in the peripheries could not be isolated within them. It was necessary to cross the bridges between the center and the periphery and exchange knowledge and resources in order to truly create sustainable development for the local communities and the benefit of all.

Marcelo is building an architecture to remove barriers and change the mindsets of individuals and organizations in order to unlock the potential of collaborative networks between the center and the peripheries. He is doing so by two main strategies. Marcelo is at one hand nurturing a culture of empathy since the youth years, working in elite private schools to connect their students to the young people from the peripheries to exchange experiences and knowledge and foster collaboration between them. Therefore, Marcelo is putting efforts to build a more empathic and collaborative society in the long run. On the other hand, Marcelo is working to shift the flow of investment and funding to organizations from within favelas and vulnerable communities, redirecting resources to strengthen the local development. He’s already been successful in doing so by partnering with Foundations which enabled A Banca to raise and distribute seed funding to 20 initiatives run inside favelas.

For the future, Marcelo is focusing on scale. He wants to replicate the effect he has had on society as a whole – he is scaling the effect to other communities and helping people and organizations that face pieces of the same problem and that are embedded in the same tensions. For that, Marcelo is making new partnerships at the corporate level. He is partnering with companies and co-creating together with their teams and the local communities methodologies adapted to their specific local context. Marcelo aims for long term solutions and focuses on exchanging experiences and social technologies to train people to create and manage their own initiatives. Marcelo also partnered with Fundação Getulio Vargas, a renowned university in Brazil, and Artemisia to support a new generation of peripheral entrepreneurs by strengthening their initiatives and increasing their social impact in an environment where they can be protagonists in the development of solutions to complex problems experienced in their daily lives.

The Problem

Brazil has over 11 million people living in favelas, and a lot more people living in poor peripheral areas in the country. Inequality in Brazil expresses itself geographically, since the poor inhabit favelas, which are mostly in the peripheries of the cities, and the rich live mostly live in closed condominiums in the most valued areas of the cities, the city centers. The favela is marginalized geographically, but also socially. People tend to view the favelas solely as a violent place, filled with violent people, and do not recognize its complexity, the potential of the people who live there. This deeply rooted perspective impacts the life and opportunities of favela residents. The gap between the favelas and the city centers feeds this exclusion dynamics.

Urban and sociological research points out that the isolation of the elite in closed condominiums intensifies social tension, fuels intolerance and limits perception of the diversity in the city. Also, the lack of different perspectives and dialogue leads to the perpetuation of inequalities. Because as the same groups are closed in on themselves, also the opportunities are often restricted to the same group. Therefore, it's necessary to diversify and to make the city a miscellany of social classes in all spheres such as in commerce, habitation and entertainment. According to these studies, the social coexistence with people from different perspectives open new ways of thinking and encourages the peacefully and constructively coexistence which can lead to collaboration and therefore more opportunities.

The social business and entrepreneurship sectors are part of this mechanism of exclusion. More than 90% of the portfolio of social enterprise funds, accelerators and incubators are formed by organizations whose team of entrepreneurs are composed by highly educated people born in privileged social contexts. The so-called "bottom of the pyramid" only appears in social businesses books as consumers, and not as the agents who are able to develop the solutions for their problems. Brazil's periphery residents are still not seen as protagonists and able to participate in the co-creation of the solutions to their social problems.

The Strategy

Marcelo’s work has always been based on developing the quality of life inside favelas. By holding free music events in public spaces and starring renowned national hip-hop names such as the RZO, Racionais MC, and Z'África Brasil groups, as well as local artists, Marcelo created an alternative and a safe space of leisure inside the community. Later, when he created A Banca he started to engage young people in cultural debates and awareness-raising activities on politics, education, and civic engagement. With music and culture, it was possible to strengthen the youth's self-esteem, sense of identity and purpose – taking them out of the world of violence and into the world of arts. Since A Banca foundation in the 2000s, Marcelo and his partners have already promoted numerous events and worked with more than 20 thousand young people from the periphery, previously only subject to the calls of drugs and crime. He also helped launch dozens of musicians, leveraging a possibility of alternative social ascension that helped to put São Paulo in the vanguard of hip-hop music.

Marcelo was one of the leaders in the movement that took Jardim Angela out of the list of the world’s most violent places. His initiative was followed by many other groups and throughout the years' other organizations with the aim of developing the favelas from within started to emerge. This was Marcelo’s first step to create safe spaces which then accelerated the confluence of people and services circulating within the peripheries. But then he realized he needed to take it further and that real change could happen if: 1) people in the periphery was seen as agents of change in their realities; 2) people from the peripheries and the city centers begin to dialogue and develop solutions with empathy for each other. Furthermore, he understood that the gap between the wealthy and the poor, which translates itself geographically as the gap between the center and the periphery of the city, serves as a mechanism to maintain inequality in Brazil. Marcelo has three main strategies to address these gaps.

At the long term and educational level, with the “Urban Culture Experience”, A Banca promotes courses inside elite private schools in Sao Paulo and where young people from the peripheries interact and change experiences and knowledge with the students. They raise awareness about inequalities and how they manifest into day to day life and shows private school kids that there are people who live in a different situation than theirs. But they also show that these people produce culture and have a potential besides showing the negative parts of the peripheries. These youngsters from the private schools also have an immersion experience in the periphery, getting to know the people who live there and participating in local events. In the immersion day teachers, educators and employees from both sides also participate. On the other hand, the students also get to show places of the city center (like museums, bookstores, parks) where young people from the peripheries does not usually go to, whether because they don’t feel welcome or because they really didn’t know the place existed. Marcelo’s goal is to widen the perspective and change the paradigms of the young people, transforming these relations for the future.

For example, the partnership with School Equipe was established 7 years ago and worked with 28 school classes. Over 560 students attended the 2 courses that are conducted each semester, on "City and Culture" and "Youth and Identity". These students participated in 14 exchange programs, where they were received by 120 young people from A Banca and partnering institutions, who conducted the activities, visits and workshops. Besides School Equipe other schools participate in this program. Some results can already be seen, several joint initiatives of young people from the periphery and schools began to emerge over time. They have already autonomously organized traditional parties, social projects, formed bands and continue to exchange experiences among themselves. The goal is to change mentalities and open space to know who is different, to show that there is value in every human being and to open opportunities so that the young people of both regions can learn from each other and create opportunities for each other.

The second strategy is partnering with important organizations to trigger investment for organizations that operates within the favelas in order to foster their solutions and the local economy. Because A Banca has many years of social work within favelas, they easily created a channel of communication with people and organizations that work with social impact and those who have the resources to invest. With this first movement, Marcelo was able to raise and distribute seed funding and mentorship for 20 organizations. This started to trigger a mindset shift into how organizations work with and fund social impact initiatives inside the peripheries.

In 2018 Marcelo co-created ANIP - the Periphery Social Business Accelerator in partnership with FGV, one of Brazil's most important universities, and Artemisia. The accelerator promotes mentorship, remote and in-person meetings, and workshops with entrepreneurs from the Artemisia network. Among the businesses that were already accelerated by ANIP are "Boutique de Krioula", a brand focused on the identity and self-esteem of the black population; Empreende aí, a project that promotes entrepreneurial education in the favelas; Jovens Hackers, a school with programming and robotic maker classes; and Editora Selo Povo, a publisher of authors from the periphery. A Banca also promotes the NIP Forum, the first one to be placed inside the periphery to gather several stakeholders from the social entrepreneurship sector to exchange experiences, discuss social innovation, trends and to foster the ecosystem, showing what is already happening in the peripheries.

Marcelo’s vision is that the periphery becomes the hub that creates and disseminates social innovation, that the people who live there can be agents of their own change. To achieve this, he intends to continue with these initiatives and leverage them, by: creating an investment fund for peripherical social enterprises; replicating his initiatives to other peripheries outside São Paulo, each adapted to their specific context; and partnering with companies and funders to shift the way they think about and act within the communities. Marcelo gathered all the knowledge accumulated during his 20 years of experience, both of movement building within communities and project management, to co-build solutions with other communities and ensuring that they have the resources and funding to do so. In doing so, Marcelo is changing the mindset of the financier, creating more dialogues between the two sides while at the same time fostering local development and placing individuals at the center.

The Person

Marcelo was born and raised in the Jardim Angela, in the outskirts of the south of São Paulo. His father was a metalworker and his mother a maid. At age 10, Marcelo discovered rap music while listening to his mother's radio. To this day Marcelo says that it was music that made him see farther and go outside the two blocks in which he used to stay. The songs he listened to fascinated him especially because of the lyrics that sang about the reality of the periphery. As a teenager, he began to sing rap and formed a band with a group of friends, Som Didrão. In the meantime, he started to work informal jobs - he was a locksmith, a gardener and a bricklayer. In the free time, he would also work at the community-run radio station.

At that time, in 1996, Jardim Angela was considered one of the most violent neighborhoods in the world, according to the UN. Marcelo lost many friends and his band ended up because of that. That got him thinking about ways to improve that scenario and how to engage young people like him to this goal. The spaces of leisure and entertainment were scarce inside the favela and Marcelo thought of how much the music had changed whom he was and given purpose to his life. He then had the idea to create hip hop events for the community. The events were free, and Marcelo had no budget to do them, but he partnered with friends and managed to get a truck to use both as a stage and an energy source; he got in contact with the artists of the community radio station and started to organize hip hop festivals. This initiative evolved and Marcelo started holding big cultural events inside the community with the support of the Municipal Secretariat of Culture.

Marcelo wanted to do more. He created A Banca, a social, cultural and musical producer that has become a hub of cultural debate, political awareness, and educational activities for young people. Later, he started a course offered by Instituto Sou da Paz. There he learned that what he had created was a social technology; he learned theoretical and practical concepts of project management and how to translate into a professional language the initiatives he had been creating. Marcelo was always searching for ways of going to the next level. He got approved to an acceleration program run by Artemísia. He took every opportunity to keep learning and expanding his actions in order to have more social impact in the community. Marcelo got into the Social Good Lab network, and later into the ICE network and understood the value of learning by partnering with people and organizations from outside the community in order to exchange knowledge and evolve. But he also realized that A Banca was the only peripheric organization inside these networks and that there was a gap between the funders and the people and organizations within the favelas. This gap exists because of prejudice, lack of opportunities and spaces for dialogue. Marcelo then started to work on solving the next challenge he encountered and started creating bridges between individuals and organizations from both sides of the economic spectrum for them to collaboratively act upon the social and economic problems we face.