Josilene Brandão da Costa

Ashoka Fellow
São Luis, Maranhão, Brazil
Fellow Since 2004


This profile was prepared when Josilene Brandão da Costa was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 2004.
The New Idea
Jo is working to slow the impact of dislocation and poverty of Brazil’s quilombos. As a displaced quilombola herself, Jo approaches the problem with a unique understanding of quilombo culture and the kinds of social solutions necessary to improve their condition. She is campaigning to change perceptions of the quilombos among the public and the government, and propose innovative strategies for pulling this culture out of poverty while preserving its unique culture. While other groups, including Afro-Brazilians and landless farmers seek land redistribution through the donation of individual plots of land to individual cultivators, the quilombo’s traditional collective property ownership requires a more tailored approach to land reform. Jo is using the country’s indigenous groups, whose traditions also view land as communal property, as a legal and political reference for politicians and lawmakers to effectively tackle the issues of quilombo underdevelopment. Most importantly, her efforts aim to create conditions within quilombos so that residents are able to remain in their communities rather than migrate and continue down the unsustainable spiral of dislocation and desperation.
Jo combines her macro-level work in land reform and other public policy endeavors with a series of deeply local efforts to engage quilombolas in their own cultural and economic renaissance. She has created brinquedotecas, or play spaces, which catalyze a range of social change processes and community organizing efforts to combat a host of problems from illiteracy to a lack of health care. These brinquedotecas, which depend on the security of basic land rights, help to strengthen quilombo identity and spur the descendents of runaway slaves to raise the quality of life in their communities. Jo’s work also involves recovering a distinctive quilombola identity and channeling this cultural distinction into viable economic improvement. She bolsters pride in quilombo traditions by creating product lines based on the community’s heritage, cultural knowledge, and natural resources. In this way, quilombo knowledge and artisanry not only regain their eroded cultural value, but become economic assets for much needed income generation.
The Problem
The Strategy
The Person

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