Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Cross Cultural Exchange with Favela Experience


I first met Elliot when he came to visit and wanted to see what the favela was all about. He asked me about our tourism business and opportunities. I expressed to him that any business that employs or helps the favela is welcome. I wanted to help people who do not want to exploit the favela. As long as the favela benefits, Im ok with people wanting to have businesses here. I have a very solid reputation here in the community and dont want to be seen as somebody helping outsiders take advantage in a negative way.


I receive monthly about 2-3 emails of people, usually foreigners looking to find places to stay. Most of them are taking part in some volunteer activity here in Rocinha. I run the tourism and the Dj School Spin Rocinha and my time is limited as these two things keep me very busy. When I met Elliot and heard about his ideas of homestays and helping to find people places to stay inside of Rocinha, I thought we could work together well. I told him that I will send all the people I receive in my emails, to him and he can devote his time to this project. So, Favela Experience was started.


Where are you from? I'm from the US--I was born and raised in Los Angeles, California, and I most recently graduated college in Charlottesville, Virginia.


Can you tell us a little about your background, schooling, etc.? I had a privileged and fortunate upbringing, and I first became truly interested in travel and foreign cultures in high school. I was one of those kids who actually paid attention in Spanish class, and I ended up going on some month-long summer exchange programs in Spain and Argentina to improve my Spanish. I was accepted to the University of Virginia for my undergraduate studies, but I decided I wasn't ready for college, so I deferred admission for a year to take a "gap year." In that time, I volunteered with a non-profit in Chile where I taught English and computers to "at-risk" youth at a community center in Santiago. That experience was formative for me, but I became frustrated by the inefficiency and localized nature of a traditional, grassroots non-profit reliant on donations and grants. So, I arrived to college knowing I wanted to have a large social impact in my life but that I also wanted to make a good living for myself and future family. I quickly got involved with a student organization that provides free business consulting to international non-profits and for-profits with social missions. Through that experience I became interested in the concept of social entrepreneurship, using business approaches to solving social and environmental problems. At the same time, I was learning Portuguese in school and studied abroad for six months in Sao Paulo. During that time, I took trips around the whole country and fell in love with Brazil, particularly Rio, and I knew I had to come back. Still, after returning to the US and entering the undergraduate business program at my university in my third year, I imagined I'd join my peers to work at a top consulting firm or investment bank when I graduated, but hopefully in Brazil.


How did you find Rocinha? I became disillusioned with the corporate recruiting process at my school, but I knew that the summer (June-August) internship before students' final year of college is so important in the US. I had received offers from a consulting firm and a venture capital firm that invests in for-profit social enterprises around the world and was going to place me at one of its portfolio companies near Sao Paulo. Though it wasn't Rio, I followed my heart and went to Sao Jose dos Campos where I learned a lot working at a technology startup developing an online learning platform for Brazilian public schools. Of course, I still managed to take the five-hour bus ride practically every weekend from Sao Jose dos Campos to Rio where I'd spend time with my friend from college who was in the city. One day he told me he'd been emailing Zezinho, whom he found out about through CouchSurfing. He said Zezinho lived in and gave tours of Rocinha, the largest favela in Latin America, and that he was going to meet him in the favela. I ended up going with my friend to hang out with Zezinho at his apartment in Rocinha. We talked a lot about Favela Adventures and Spin Rocinha, and I was very impressed and interested in Zezinho's story. I kept in touch with Zezinho, and I knew there was lots of potential in favela tourism, especially with the coming World Cup and Olympics in Rio.


Why Rocinha? That first moment I looked up at Rocinha, I was fascinated by this colorful city within a city. There's a certain unparalleled energy in Rocinha that I've never felt before. You sense it in the buzz of the people in the alleys, the samba, funk, and forro blaring from the windows, the smell of churrasco grilling at every corner, and the wind of the mototaxis zipping by you on the street. You truly have to come to Rocinha to experience it! On the other hand, the government’s neglect of and society’s discrimination against favelas makes life challenging for Rocinha residents. While this is true of favelas in general, Rocinha’s size, fame, and position between Rio’s most exclusive neighborhoods means there’s lots of opportunity here. In particular, this is true for initiatives that leverage Rocinha’s unique culture to improve the lives of residents.


Can you explain why you decided on starting a business here? In talking to Zezinho, it was clear that visitors wanted to go beyond tours of favelas and actually stay in favelas to more deeply experience them, but it was very hard to find housing. Having personally spent a year in different homestays (private bedrooms in family homes) around Latin America, I knew homestays are the best way for foreigners to immerse themselves in a new culture and build relationships with local people. Simultaneously, most favela tourism, other than organizations like Favela Adventures, contributes little to the economic development of favelas, and at worst, perpetuates stereotypes and outright exploits communities. So, with Zezinho’s support, I decided to try to provide authentic homestays and apartment rentals for visitors, which generate livelihoods for favela host families.


Explain a little about your objective with "Favela Experience?" Favela Experience is a social enterprise that is transforming travel to make it more authentic and meaningful for travelers and more beneficial for developing communities. We want our guests from around the world to experience the wealth of favela culture—to share home cooked meals with hosts, watch football matches together, and even go to a baile funk together. From this, we think we can double the incomes of favela host families, so they can invest in their health, housing, and education. Ultimately, we hope to facilitate cross-cultural understanding while providing opportunities for marginalized people.


What do you see in the future for "Favela Experience?" We’re building up our base of listings and launching a crowdfunding campaign at the end of the year to coincide with the drawing for the World Cup as well as the Holiday season. Our crowdfunding campaign will pre-sell discounted stays for the World Cup and allow anyone who can’t come to still contribute to our cause. Please help us spread the word about our campaign! To get campaign updates and discounts, please:


Facebook: Favela Experience


Twitter @FavelaExp