Rodrigo is reconnecting people and organizations around social and environmental challenges within their communities, using technologies and collaborative methods. Spreading the methodology in various spots, Rodrigo is promoting the reconstruction of civic participation from the bottom up to bring about long-lasting and systemic results.
The New Idea
The current Brazilian government is marked by authoritarian decisions withdrawing public policies and civic engagement. At the same time, the population has been dealing with constant corruption scandals, generating an atmosphere of distrust of public institutions; confidence towards the federal and local governments fell below 35% in 2018. This has gone beyond mistrust in government – Brazilians are also increasingly skeptical of the power of citizen participation. According to the 2018 Social Trust Index (Brazilian Institute of Public Opinion and Statistics-IBOPE), at least 50% of Brazilians do not trust social participation institutions, while only 50% of the Brazilian population trusts civil society organizations.
Experiencing this growing challenge firsthand, Rodrigo believes that it is critical to re-invent ways to connect people with a common-good agenda and restore the sense of community. Rodrigo created and started spreading citizen innovation incubators that use technology and a collaborative approach to release the collective power of people who experience social and environmental challenges firsthand, strengthening civic participation from bottom-up.
Rodrigo’s vision of change is to activate several citizen innovation incubators that are able to generate a new governance system of civic participation that does not depend on institutional and formal spaces (strengthening existing formal spaces, and where they do not exist, enabling people to promote change and question local public power). With the dissemination of the incubators, Rodrigo is transforming the methodologies of citizen engagement and local development into public policy, mainly fostering the participation of young people in creating solutions to urgent problems such as urban violence, the effects of climate change, and unemployment.
Rodrigo has begun spreading his initiative in several places. In partnership with British Council, Rodrigo leads an environmental program that will take the results of community projects to the World Conference on Climate Change (COP 26). Rodrigo has also engaged two State Governments in activating a stronger network of local changemakers. São Paulo and Ceará States are initiating the dissemination of his methodology: São Paulo in 115 cities and Ceará in several spots of Fortaleza.
Citizen participation is based on the recognition of the need to decide and to act on collective issues of a certain group of society. For it to occur there must be democratic spaces for collective discussion, construction, and decision: one of the greatest challenges of our time. In Brazil, these spaces have shrunk immensely over the last 5 years. Several national tripartite councils and structures for dialogue on relevant issues have been shut down, such as the National Council for Food and Nutritional Security (CONSEA) in 2019. CONSEA was a relevant space of articulation and policy making. It was through its work that Brazil was able to achieve withdrawal from the Hunger Map in 2013. But after the council was shut down, Brazil went back on the Hunger Map in 2020, even prior to the pandemic.
Parallel to these authoritarian developments, Brazilians have been dealing with constant corruption scandals, generating an atmosphere of distrust and skepticism of public institutions even as social demands are increasingly severe. According to the 2018 Social Trust Index (Brazilian Institute of Public Opinion and Statistics-IBOPE), at least 50% of Brazilians do not trust social participation institutions (such as councils, political parties and CSOs). That lack of trust is evident in the levels of citizen participation. In a country where the vote is mandatory, almost 31 million voters did not take part in the last presidential election – roughly 21% of the electorate – the biggest absenteeism rate of the last 20 years.
Given this complexity, it is necessary to find new forms of citizen participation and collaboration that would be capable of breaking the barriers of authoritarianism and lack of interest in collective solutions. In a culture of little democratic engagement, exacerbated by right-wing groups with anti-democratic goals, as well as apathy and disinterest in the spaces of social participation, it´s key to restore community bonds from local to regional and national levels.
Driven by the fact that citizenship engagement has changed drastically, especially in Brazil, Rodrigo builds conditions to engage people and promotes collective intelligence at the local level to create ideas to solve contemporary problems: citizen innovation incubators. He nurtures a collective sense of belonging, caring, and common good that reconnects people’s commitment and desire to become changemakers using technology and collaborative methodologies created by him.
Inventing engagement methodologies is a central focus of Instituto Procomum, the organization founded by Rodrigo to implement and spread his ideas. These methodologies derived from Rodrigo’s analysis of community participation through intense experiences in civil society and in the public sector. Always very attuned to technologies and their potential for common benefits, he decided to challenge himself in 2017, testing a prototype that would later become Instituto Procomum (IP). Securing a Ford Foundation investment, he selected and supported 13 prototypes of citizen innovation in Santos and activated the local network of civil society organizations, public agencies, private companies, donors, social workers, and community leaders in the territory. The methodology brought together elements of technology to promote self-organization and connection; affection and collaboration; and knowledge creation, valuing traditional and empirical knowledge as well as scientific.
The process starts with an invitation to experience and transform the city and offers seed grants and capacity building. The invitation is made through a public call and is easy to participate; anyone can submit a proposal, without bureaucratic obstacles. The process lasts 10 to 12 months and includes mapping of challenges and initiatives; dialogue with local government, activists, and residents; maturation of new solutions based on the characteristics and assets of the territory; and prototype testing. The final step is marked by a celebration moment where participants are invited to recognize and praise traditional and contemporary knowledge. In 2018, Instituto Procomum’s 1,800 participants delivered 150 community interventions (raging from urban gardens to provide food to community libraries). In 2019, 2,300 people were engaged - 70% of them were women. One of the initiatives supported by IP was a mapping to leverage black women's initiatives in the region that obtained funding from the Ibirapitanga Institute, an important family foundation in Brazil, enabling them to unfold black women’s historical contribution and value in that region.
The results, systematized with the support of British Council, enabled Rodrigo to develop and implement the citizen innovation incubator in Santos into a constant base and to start to spread. Rodrigo’s vision is that by implementing these incubators in multiple spots, especially with people that are often marginalized and excluded from participatory and decision-making spaces, it will activate a new governance system of civic participation that does not depend on institutional and formal spaces. Incubators will strengthen formal participation spaces, and where they do not exist, will support local people to promote change and to question local public power. Through this strategy, Rodrigo rebuilds and amplifies the network of citizen innovators from bottom up that work to protect, recognize, and create solutions by and for the community.
Another key element of the scale up strategy is the need to activate and keep bonds within the territory to propose and sustain legitimate solutions. That is the reason why Rodrigo’s strategy is B2B: preparing other groups and institutions to use and adapt the methodology in several spots through partnerships with other CSOs, companies, social investors and community leaders; and building partnerships with the government to scale the civic movement and strengthen public policies through an intense and qualified civic participation. IP is taking the methodology to Ceará and São Paulo States in partnership with their Governments. In Ceará Rodrigo will adapt and replicate the process with young people in the peripheries of Fortaleza (capital of Ceará). In São Paulo, 115 cities will receive capacity training to develop the incubators. Rodrigo is also setting up a strategy together with SESC, a national social and cultural center place in every Brazilian state, in order to help them structure and set up citizenship innovation laboratories around the country. Rodrigo ultimately proposes a new paradigm for the relationship of the public power with the communities, in the sense of promoting active citizenship and valuing collective knowledge in the construction of community solutions. Acting as the nucleus and nurturer rather than an umbrella organization, Rodrigo is building a new paradigm of citizen participation for the common good in interaction with public authorities.
Ever since he was a child, Rodrigo has been a visionary and creative person who, when looking at any space or tool, thought about how he could create something new. During his teenage years in a working-class neighborhood, Rodrigo began to realize that some things were wrong and began to look for answers to better understand political and social issues. Upon joining the University of Social Communication, with a focus on Journalism, he became part of the student movement and participated in the construction of Intervozes, a CSO whose mission was to fight for the right to communication in Brazil.
As a journalist, he covered the story of peasants walking in protest to the Presidential Palace to advocate for their rights. Seeing that one of them was barefoot on the hot asphalt, Rodrigo was sure that it was with these people that he wanted to walk: promoting transformations from the bottom up and based on the fringes of life. His drive for social justice and professional competence, already connected with new technologies, ended up taking him to work in the campaign of former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva and, later, as executive editor of the Federal Government's news agency.
Realizing the limitations of his work after a few years, he returned to São Paulo and co-founded Casa de Cultura Digital, one of the first creative hubs in Brazil. In this experience, Rodrigo was able to give birth to innovative ideas such as crowdfunding, free technologies, networked cultural production, and digital activism, among other tools and methodologies that focused on social transformation. Before founding the Instituto Procomum, Rodrigo led the São Paulo Secretariat of Culture. But it was precisely in this experience that he once again realized the limitations that lay inside the government and became sure of the importance of promoting citizen participation and the creation of solutions from civil society that, in dialogue with the government, can generate systemic transformations.