Fellow Since 1999
Instituto Papel Solidário / Instituto Curumim
This profile was prepared when Leila Novak was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 1999.
The New Idea
Cities everywhere are troubled by the existence of scavengers who, for whatever reason, subsist on society's refuse. Many good solutions have been proposed to change this complex problem of deprivation amid plenty; some have worked, but few have successfully built understanding and partnership between scavengers and those whose garbage is the scavengers' stock and trade. While there may be no shortage of pity for scavengers, there is little respect.Leila Novak uses concern in the surrounding community to make two fundamental, interrelated social changes. First, she gets the community to support the idea of giving children scavenging at the dump a practical and financially more attractive alternative. When the community agrees to Leila's plan she takes the second step, engaging the community's support for transforming adult scavengers into recyclers who use low-tech transportation solutions (e.g., a wagon train of shopping carts) to bring recycled materials to a site to be weighed and stored before they are consolidated and then sold to upstream re-processors. Leila's approach is particularly well suited to municipalities of fewer than one hundred thousand inhabitants that are relatively concentrated, such as suburban ring towns or towns in more remote, hilly areas. Her pilot projects in three municipalities are spreading to eleven more in her state, and she intends to introduce her methods to similarly sized municipalities in other states.