slums

Belated Postcards from India and Brazil

Everyone knows what it's like… you've got stack of postcards, a head full of great experiences and even with all your best intentions, you just get too caught up in what you're doing to write it all down and pop them in the mail.

Well writing posts can be the same way, so here's a belated summary of the last six months in India and Brazil.

Exceptional Lives - Pilgrimages about People

I've often said that one of the greatest joys of my work is the exceptional people that I get to meet and to develop friendships with. Whether or not it's Salim Mohamed and Sammy Gitau in Kenya, Murali Ramisetti in India, or Theresa Williamson in Brazil, I have been blessed to know so many people who are busy painting their visions of a better world into reality. So I've often wondered, "What it would be like to just go on a pilgrimage to find and learn from such people?"

Kibera Nights

Patrick in KiberaBy Patrick Donohue, August 2005

"In Nairobi, stay away from the shanty towns, especially at night."

The door closes, Kibera opens, and East Africa's largest shantytown swallows us into the night. It's dark near Edwin's place, a sight sapping blackness that is darker with the knowledge of the trenches and trips that lie ahead, a misstep can send you rolling down make shift steps to soak in the flowing runoff, Kibera's sewage system. Edwin can see well enough in the dark and navigates the pitfalls without hesitation; I make a joke about mzungu eyes and then switch on my torch. I notice as we walk that the only other people using torches are the mzee, the old men or women. We walk through small alleys and walkways, passing row after row of mud houses with radios blaring, stray light seeping through cracks around the doors and below the roofs. I can't shake the feeling that I'm walking across somebody's front porch but I soon realize that's exactly what we're doing.

Side Effects - A Day in the Community

"I'd love to hear your impressions," Theresa said to me as we boarded the bus outside of Rocinha, "about what you think of the communities here vs. where you lived in Kenya." Here was Rio de Janiero, Brazil and in Kenya was Kibera, a million-person shantytown in Nairobi, where I had just spent the previous three months living and working. Theresa and I were catching a bus to the outskirts of Rio for a visit with local community leaders and to spend a "Day in the Community", a regular event that brings together children and neighbors from six of Rio's favelas, Brazil's illegal communities. Theresa and I found a seat as the bus lurched forward and I sat there wondering about her request. What preconceptions had living in an African slum given me about a South American one?

Learning to Swim - Back in Brazil

I've been very happy with how far my Portuguese has come, especially after having been gone from Brazil for so long, yet my ability to communicate here is like being able to swim in a gentle sea, enquanto tudo tá tranquilo, tudo bom! ("While everything is calm, no problem!") But while sitting in on CatComm's open forum, a meeting for feedback from community partners and constituents, I experienced a very different world of linguistic aquatics; visualize the crashing waves at Ipanema, Brazil's most famous of beaches, where the people are beautiful but the weak stay out of the water.

Last night, a dozen of us met inside the Casa do Gestor Catalisador, CatComm's home and technology hub in Rio, located on the edge of the downtown, in a historic district by the bay and the center of the old slave trade. Around us on the Casa walls, on mounted wood or printed t-shirts, hung windows into the world of the favelas, the works of Brazilian photographer Maurício Hora, a man with an incredible capacity to capture the spirit of place on film. Maurício sat to my left, Theresa to my right, the rest were spread out in a circle around the room, community leaders and artists, passionate Brazilians all; not quite what my beach and bar Portuguese had prepared me for.

Base of the Samosa - What's in a name?

There's nothing like a room full of blank stares to tell you that you have just used the wrong word, nobody there knows what you're talking about and you need to adapt, but what do you do when that word is at the heart of what you do? When that glazed-eye-inducing offender is printed all over your business cards?

Erik, Kabi, Edwin and I are in a meeting hall in Kibera, a shanty town in Nairobi, Kenya which, with an estimated one million people, is one of Africa's, if not the world's, largest slums. We're running the second of four community engagement workshops in which we are preparing local community groups, entrepreneurs and social enterprises, on how to best approach and prepare for a partnership with multinational companies; in this case, how to partner with our main corporate sponsor, SC Johnson. This is what we do, we bring people from diverse backgrounds and with diverse resources together, "a creative collision of world views", to create new market opportunities for multinationals and locally grown businesses for poor communities via a process of "mutual value creation". Buzz phrase laden work, yes, but it's actually all been going quite well so far, except that now our community partners are stuck on our name. Behind us, on a brown flip chart taped to the wall, is drawn a large three sided figure, a triangle really, with the words "Base of the Pyramid" written on top, or BoP for short. That's us.

BoP Protocol Pilot in Kenya - Photos


Well,

we've been on the ground in Kenya for over a month now, field testing the Base of the Pyramid Protocol, a process to engage local communities in creating new business opportunities. More about the Protocol and the Pilot respectively can be seen at

http://www.bop-protocol.org/
http://www.BRINQ.com/kenya/

Textures of Kenya - Mitumba

There's a texture to life that we miss in our discussions of poverty, our arm chair strategies in the U.S. on microfinance, disruptive innovation, and entrepreneurship. The BoP Protocol Pilot team has been been in Kenya for almost a month now, visiting a number of homes and organizations throughout western Kenya, from rural farms to urban slums.

Kenya and local heroes (CFK)

Well,

it's been a busy three weeks in Kenya, with the Base of the Pyramid Protocol Pilot team bouncing around western Kenya. If anyone doubted poorer communities had local geniuses or heroes, you should come spend some time in the parts of Kenya few outsiders ever see… we can't seem to turn a corner without bumping into amazing people. So much is being done locally, yet so many challenges still exist.

Finding Blue in a Sea of Gray - Ute Craemer and the Associação Monte Azul

Changing lives and making toys in the Monte Azul ("Blue Hill") favela in São Paulo, Brazil.

In English, to feel "blue" signifies being depressed or sad, but in Portuguese "azul" (blue) signifies the opposite emotions of well-being and happiness. At first glance then, a sea of gray-brown shanty houses and slums seems like the least appropriate place to be named with this color of hope, but the Monte Azul (“Blue Hill”) favela in São Paulo carries the name regardless, and since 1975 the Associação Monte Azul has been proving that the name fits.

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