Learning from Brazil - Part 1


This will be the first reflection of my (BL) time here in São Paulo, Brazil. We were invited to join with a Habitat for Humanity delegation from South Africa to join in the conversation hosted by the Brazilian Ministry of Cities to discuss the New Urban Agenda – towards Habitat lll, which will be hosted in Quito later in the year.   There is much to discuss in regards to the three days spent unpacking the Sustainable Development Goals and specifically SDG 11 – the Sustainable City. I will do this in greater detail in subsequent blogs.


Firstly, for my own sake, I want to reflect on what was learnt yesterday. I had the opportunity to venture out of São Paulo (which, incidentally is a glorious city) to the city of Santos, on the coast. A walk, metro, bus, walk blind faith adventure where I just had to continually assume I was going in the right direction. I went to go and listen and learn from the guys at the Elos Institute (http://institutoelos.org), an organization that specializes in community engagement, community building and in fact all good things community related. I had the privilege of listening to Rodrigo Alonso, a supremely impressive individual who has been leading this initiative and developing the philosophy for more than 20 years.


If you want to know more about it, then check out the site. I want to use this platform however to get down what stuck with me. The Filosofia Elos (Elos Philosophy) is a developed and mature response to community engagement born out of years of experience.  A decision was made a number of years ago that they would stop being combative in trying to solve problems; ‘we changed from fighting to inviting’. The emphasis became a focus on positive engagement. They have developed a 30 day program for anyone who wants to know more – Guerreiros Sem Armas (Warriors without weapons). This saying came from an indigenous people in Brazil who believed something very powerful:


‘When you stop creating the enemy, there’s no need for weapons’


This phrase, this ethos shook me. It’s supremely powerful because it speaks about shifting the language we use when we engage in community development. They use a methodology they apply to a 7 day program of community engagement which can be broken down into 7 principles: Gaze | Affection | Dream | Care | Miracle | Celebrate | Re-evolution.


Gaze: This is appreciative seeing. The ‘warriors’ are encouraged to go and spend 30 minutes walking around the community they are working in to find 10 things that are beautiful, or good, or a resource, anything with value. Invariably the collection of this ‘data’ forces a powerful question; ‘who is poor, who is rich?’


Affection: Building genuine relationships. Every human being wants to be appreciated. If you found something beautiful, go find the person behind the beauty. Talk with them, find the common values, and treat them like a human being.


Dream: Allow the best world to arise. The best world is different to the better world. When we dream the language of eradication, reduction, problem reflection is removed. When we dream we go straight to the place of wonder. We dream individually but then there also needs to be a collective dream, and the collation of dreams.


Care: Collective co-design. This is the stage of co-design where everyone comes together and designs the dream. If there are different groups then the best bits are collected from each group and a new plan is made which encompasses all.


Miracle: Moving together, giving our best. This is where everyone comes together and builds the dream, where people are encouraged to use only materials that they know are accessible in their community. Building community is more important than building something. They use the project to build community.


Celebration: Sharing happiness and nurturing life.

Re-evolution: A new cycle emerges expanding dreams and realizations. When community members go through this process – with others – of dreaming, building etc. it helps to remove the belief that says ‘it’s not possible’.


Powerful stuff. Wonderful principles. As I was in Santos it felt appropriate to use an image with its most famous son, Pelé. My reaction to hearing all of this richness was one of wonder, surprise and delight, a bit like David Bowie’s facial expression.