Luciana Martinelli's work with young social entrepreneurs in Brazil demonstrates that the only limitations to young people's active roles in social work are opportunity and support.
The New Idea
Luciana Martinelli has a way to engage young people in the social sector that goes beyond simply mobilizing them as volunteers. Effectively promoting young people as social change agents means that they need the same services as others in the non-profit sector. Recognizing their ability to articulate answers to problems and take responsibility for their work, Luciana is providing technical and financial support to promising young social entrepreneurs and their ideas. Moreover, Luciana disseminates the results of their work and trains managers of youth-run civil society organizations.The organization she founded, the Pro-Action Institute for Youth Citizenship, is working in both Rio and São Paulo.
Young people are confronted every day by problems such as illiteracy and the effects of the breakdown of the family, but have not been encouraged to voice their own solutions to these problems. In a recent poll conducted by the Kannitz Institute, Brazilian teenagers wanted to get involved in some type of volunteer work. However, there are few organized services to match willing teens with ready work. Those that exist are conceived and run by adults.Role models in the social sector are scarce; popular culture glorifies sports stars and promotes physical beauty and material success beyond the grasp of most teens. Furthermore, at an age when young people are defining their identity and gathering a sense of the world, most educational institutions remain rigid and hierarchical, discouraging young people from thinking of themselves as people who can make a difference to society.
Luciana has launched a series of activities to demonstrate the importance of each element of her vision. She has focused on opportunities that offer the promise of early, visible success, in order to win support from a variety of sources.Luciana enters into contracts with schools for what she calls the "Wake Up" program. At present she has contracts with four schools in Rio de Janeiro and four in São Paulo. The contract obliges the school to supply Luciana and the young people with meeting space as well incidental supplies. In each school Luciana works with teachers and students to identify and organize projects beneficial to society.
In Rio, where the project involves over six hundred students at four private schools, Luciana ran an intermural competition. The winning school received a citation and local press coverage. The goal of Luciana's intervention is to institutionalize the practice of young people identifing and managing social projects on an on-going basis, with awards given to showcase the work. Her work is supported by the C&A Institute, the Rio Voluntarios Institute, the Rio de Janeiro Municipal Social Development Department, and the Pro UniRio Foundation.
Luciana is not limiting Wake Up to schools. She is pulling in other professionals and training them similarly to encourage and involve young people. This work is supported by the Volunteers Program, Comunidade Solidaria, and the Oberbrecht Foundation.The second dimension of Luciana's work is to launch promising youth-initiated efforts. She began with technical support to four projects, two of which came through Wake Up, and two others from interested outsiders who approached Luciana after learning of her work. While Wake Up is aimed at young people aged fifteen to eighteen, Luciana's focused support to individual projects typically goes to a slightly older group, aged eighteen to twenty-two.
The third dimension to Luciana's work is disseminating results and strengthening management in youth-led organizations. Luciana spreads word of these accomplishments in her meetings with student groups and educators, and she maintains and updates news on the organization's website. She recently trained youth leaders of the Hip Hop Movement, which is a widely known organization in Brazil that promotes Afro-Brazilian culture and social action.
Luciana began working on health and education projects in the slum of Real Parque in São Paulo when she was fifteen years old. She then volunteered with PRAIDS, Green Cross, SOS Mata Altantica, Garulhos Association, and two public schools.Before going to university, Luciana launched her first project: an English course in the poor neighborhood of Buraco Quente. While English was the "topic" of interest to the residents, Luciana used it as a way to discuss issues such as drugs, sexuality, Aids and related problems. The project was taken up by volunteers and spread to neighboring communities.
In 1996, while at university, Luciana organized the Learn, Act and Transform Project. Its aim was to stimulate discussion about social issues in Brazil and to involve university students in volunteer projects. Transform's work continues, and Luciana is the head of its board of directors.
In 1997, while still a university student, Luciana started as an administrative assistant at the Institute for the Support of Children and Teenagers with Kidney Disease. She developed a telemarketing system to raise money and was eventually put in charge of human resources for this seventy-three-person organization.