This profile was prepared when Leonora Mol was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 2009.
The New Idea
In 2003, Leonora created Ateliê de Idéias (the Ideas Workshop) to address problems facing low-income urban communities in Brazil, including the lack of adequate housing, low levels of civic participation, and insufficient income-generating opportunities. Through the Idea Workshop’s Bem Morar (Living Well) program, she administers housing loans that enable the construction and renovation of affordable housing in a low-income residential area in Vitoria. In order to facilitate the generation of related social, economic, and environmental gains, she has coupled those loans with a strong governance model, taking advantage of local assets and incorporating “solidarity economy” approaches. Leonora strengthened and expanded her initiative in 2006 by creating Banco Bem (Bank Well), the first community bank in Brazil to issue housing loans. Today, she also supports related entrepreneurial undertakings, offers courses and technical assistance in civil construction, and promotes the use of clean technologies. Leonora’s initiative has brought about a number of positive results in the community. For instance, Bem Morar’s renovation and construction costs are roughly 25 percent lower than those incurred by public institutions in comparable affordable housing ventures. Moreover, Bem Morar’s reliance on environmentally-friendly construction technologies significantly reduces water and electricity bills. The Bem Morar project has also helped create new jobs in the area, and bring about community-generated income. Leonora is addressing housing needs in innovative ways that improve the quality of life of local residents in important, palpable ways. Today, families are empowered by her training programs and are able to move freely in neighborhoods where drug trafficking had once been rampant. Currently, Leonora is developing a new program with government support to turn her initiative into a model for public housing projects.