This profile was prepared when Emmanuel Falcão was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 2008.
The New Idea
Intellectuals in Brazil have long dreamed of offering rural extension or service learning experiences for university students in poor, rural communities, but there have been no successful programs. Emmanuel has created the first successful service learning programs in rural communities operating under university auspices by working in a different manner with each of his target audiences—students, communities, and universities. Emmanuel created a structure and method for university students to learn from hands-on, in-depth service experience in poor, rural communities. By immersing students in the life of the community, where students from relatively privileged backgrounds often understand for the first time how others in their country live, the students’ life-changing experiences transform the way they think about their roles in society. Emmanuel also breaks down resistance from rural communities by building relationships and trust over time and by encouraging students to learn from the communities while implementing their projects. Emmanuel generates real benefits for the community—a law student helping an indigenous community with land rights or a medical student promoting better nutritional habits. In addition, community members are certified to teach occasional university courses (for example, on traditional organic agriculture techniques), validating the worth of the unique knowledge and cultural heritage of these communities in their own eyes, as well as making it available to others. Finally, Emmanuel focuses on the university, by first proving through the success and popularity of his model that service learning can be a valuable part of higher education. He has persuaded university administrators that they can create new programs to implement the philosophy that has long been embodied in Brazilian law but ignored in practice, of offering service learning as part of the university curriculum. These service learning experiences operate under the umbrella of the university but with considerable autonomy, which has made it possible to receive support from COs and government ministries. With students clamoring for service learning, additional funding available, and a structure that makes service learning a semi- autonomous institute within universities, Deans and Presidents have become supporters of this decades-old dream that seemed nearly impossible to realize.