A photo of a black man with short curly hair and a neatly trimmed beard and moustache. He is wearing a striped long-sleeved T-shirt. He has a hoop piercing in his nose, hoop earrings, is wearing prescription glasses and is smiling for the photo. The background, which is a wall in earthy tones and apparently has a plant on it, is out of focus.
Ashoka Fellow since 2019   |   Brazil

João Souza

João co-created and is spreading a comprehensive and inclusive methodology to teach favela and other vulnerable area’s residents education for life. He is reinventing learning for adults in favelas…
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This description of João Souza's work was prepared when João Souza was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 2019.


João co-created and is spreading a comprehensive and inclusive methodology to teach favela and other vulnerable area’s residents education for life. He is reinventing learning for adults in favelas and paving the way for more inclusive entrepreneurship and educational ecosystem for individuals with a history of absence of rights and access to quality formal education.

The New Idea

João is reinvent learning for adults in favelas, by starting with where they are, experientially and emotionally, and leading them step by step to restoring their self-confidence and trust that allow them to work with others and restore their creativity. He works with what they observe to organize and launch activities that improve their, and others’, sense of their self-worth. João has co-created a set of evolving tools that engage favela dwellers in becoming more active in their communities, whether it is engaging in civic activities or launching their own businesses. João's novelty is precisely in adapting language, concepts and teaching methods to an audience with low levels of formal education, making the social and business and social entrepreneurship ecosystem more accessible and inclusive.

Moreover, Joao had an important insight about the value of these methodologies as lifelong learning processes for people that lives inside favelas and vulnerable territories. From feedback João detected that the methodologies were also developing socio-emotional skills and that it was very meaningful to them as it prepares people for the challenges they’ll face at work, in their professional and personal relationships and even with one’s own emotions. João aims to broaden the methodology, expand it to other peripheries with other organizations that are working inside favelas or other vulnerable areas for their development. The idea is not to expand FA.VELA as the pioneer in the area, but to expand the idea of what FA.VELA methodology does: improving skills, creating solutions within the favela and creating inclusive ecosystems for young and adults with a history of denied access to quality formal education, experiences and resources.

João is replicating and increasing the scope of the methodologies he created by partnering with different social organizations and national public bodies, such as SEBRAE, focused on entrepreneurship, and a consortium of universities to rethink education for underprivileged people, addressing the challenges, conditions and experiences they often go through in order to keep studying and have access to higher education. João is bringing all the knowledge gathered and created within FA.VELA - including their successful methodologies and learning strategies - to reshape practices and create an inclusive entrepreneurship and educational ecosystem. The results were so much more effective that he is defining best practices in this area of work, which is ultimately bound up in insights into the functioning of the human mind.

The Problem

Brazil is one of the world’s most unequal countries. The richest 10% concentrates 43% of the country’s revenue. This inequality expresses itself in terms of opportunities, employment, and geographically since the poor inhabit favelas, which are mostly in the peripheries of the cities, and the rich and medium class live in the most valued areas of the cities, the city centers. Favela residents go through a series of challenges in their lives that often discourage them from pursuing their studies or the business they have created. Also, from the lack of knowledge, they often do not know how to improve their initiatives. There is an inequality in the distribution of social and technical skills needed to succeed in the professional and personal life.

The standard entrepreneurial ecosystem in Brazil is still very excluding and the entrepreneurship tools and contents does not consider the context and challenges of low-income people, who create businesses in order to survive, and not to invest excessive profits. However, there is favela-based entrepreneurship. The favela entrepreneur must run a business without the necessary resources and having to face the difficulties imposed by the prejudices and challenges surrounding him/her. Many times, they do not even see themselves as entrepreneurs and neither use the tools and resources that exist in this sector, since they are not translated into comprehensive language to their contexts and repertoire.

Finally, a major challenge for low-income people living in favelas is the lack of an encouragement to education and a biased view of the population living there. There is still a very pejorative view of the peripheries, which prevents people, organizations and investors from seeing the potential of the favela’s residents and their participation in the solutions that can be created for their own communities. This perpetuates a lack of opportunity, incentive, and support given to them as well as the practice of seeking solutions without including those people as active citizens who are inserted in the contexts that are intended to improve.

The Strategy

João co-created a methodology and a set of tools designed with fully inclusive and accessible language, in a gamified process. The design of the methodology focuses on creating a learning journey to empower and strengthen vulnerable and minority groups, giving them the opportunity to access processes, knowledge and tools of personal and professional entrepreneurship. It consists of providing entrepreneurial training for people in situation of social and environmental vulnerability through training activities, workshops and individual assistance; inclusion in cultural, technology and innovation events to promote access to knowledge and experience in entrepreneurship, modeling, creativity and business management.

The goal is to stimulate the protagonism of the person who lives in the periphery, especially women, people of color, and members of the LGBT community, in the generation of solutions to the socioeconomic, cultural and environmental challenges they face. Therefore, Fa.vela's activities are focused on the development and acceleration of creative and resilient businesses. It consists of a complete entrepreneurship course, with individual mentoring to solve specific difficulties, and connect entrepreneurs with a whole network of partners, services and expert volunteers. Not only does João makes business concepts and tools accessible to the low-income entrepreneur, but above all he uses concepts and tools that are unique to the entrepreneurial landscape of slums and outskirts, with their specific challenges. João has created trails of social innovation tailored to the challenges and realities of the slum and outskirts entrepreneurs.

The methodology was already replicated in many municipalities by partnering with social organizations and national public agencies working with vulnerable communities and entrepreneurship. The method for scaling impact is to continue to seek partnerships with key public agencies and other key social organizations that can influence and reach various territories, encouraging the creation of economic and sustainable solutions within the favelas and seeking and sharing opportunities with the entrepreneurs.

The Person

João was born, raised and still lives in Morro das Pedras, one of the largest slums in Belo Horizonte, the capital of the state of Minas Gerais. Raised by his grandmother and his mother, their influence had a huge impact on him. As a teenager, João joined the Scouts group. The Boy Scouts helped him deal with the environment of violence in the favela he lived; he understood that he could be smart rather than being violent, he began to enjoy learning and loved encyclopedias. He also developed a sense of teamwork and leadership. There were many boys in the group who did not have the presence of their father, so he used to give advice and orientation to these boys. The Scouts group also engaged in social causes, collecting food, and performing actions for donations.

When he turned 21, João had to leave the group and started to work to help his mother pay the expenses of home and save money for college. João became friends with a colleague who ears later João recommended him to a higher position in another company. At that moment he realized in firsthand the power of education and good relationships for people to thrive and develop economically. He then decided to invest in his education and in what he really wanted to do. He applied for a master's degree in social innovation in Portugal, sold his car and went to study. There, he had numerous experiences in the social innovation field, but soon realized that there was a problem. He noticed that most people who set out to solve the problems of the poorest were not even speaking to them, were not considering their potentialities and they were often working in disconnection to the communities they wanted to improve. He then set himself to work this in another view, putting the people at the bottom of the pyramid in evidence, creating a methodology for talking to these people in a comprehensive way and investing in a life education to build with people from the periphery.

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