Tetê (Maria Teresa) Leal
Fellow Since 1999
This profile was prepared when Tetê (Maria Teresa) Leal was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 1999.
The New Idea
Maria Teresa, known as Tetê, has found a new way to alleviate one of the oldest problems afflicting Brazil's urban poor. Unemployment is the bane of life for migrants who have settled in shantytowns, or favelas; but development programs have failed to help the poor find reliable income. Tetê realizes that, despite good intentions, small enterprise programs fail on several fronts: they fail to produce high quality goods, they fail to understand and develop markets, they fail to make best use of their workers' skill, and they fail to see themselves as viable, competitive manufacturers competing in a global economy. Rather than organize poor women to produce poor goods, Tetê is raising both the standard of the product and the living standard of the people. This philosophy guides her cooperative, which makes expensive high-fashion clothing and sells it to Rio de Janeiro's elite. The same philosophy will guide other small businesses that follow Tetê's lead and benefit from her efforts to promote and certify small, high-quality enterprises owned and run by the urban poor. With her co-op as a model, Tetê is now defining an industrial standard that will mark good merchandise produced with the best practices in community development, environmental protection, and fair labor.