By Henry Montalto, Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – The triumph and tribulation NGOs face throughout the world are, at the very least, mind-boggling. They range from harsh criticism from conservative politicians to complaints by the progressive elite that they never do enough.
The challenges are seemingly endless in times that have become increasingly futile. However, in spite of these difficulties, there is also great reward. For those who think outside the box, a unique style of entrepreneurship and philanthropy can be worth its weight in gold and silver.
This is the story of a thirty-year-old dreamer turned favela business incubator. Adam Newman, from a calm and quiet small town in Colorado, is the president and co-founder of both Favela Inc, a non-profit organization, and Favela Experience, a profitable ecotourism business dedicated to showing the culture of the Rio hillside favela Vidigal.
Having visited over a hundred favelas across Rio and Brazil, he decided that Vidigal would be the pilot location for Favela Inc, his social impact NGO to improve the lives of those living in places neglected by society.
Having worked within 10 favelas around Rio and five years with his for-profit (Favela Experience), Adam saw something alarming, “I saw amazing people with incredible visions trying to make their community better, trying to create a sustainable organization and failing over and over again.”
He goes on to say “Seeing government, large corporations and organizations helping for a short term but failing to provide the actual skills and education for these residents to run an effective business and be successful, was very upsetting.”
How much lost potential do we see because of this? Well, the answer is: far too much. For this reason, Adam and his partners Rodrigo and Paulo decided that, besides generating revenue and visibility through tourism, why shouldn’t they help create something more?
They decided to create a non-profit entity (Favela Inc) that trains, educates, and equips those in business with the skills they need for success and independence, allowing them to go beyond the confines of government assistance, to be self-sufficient and grow to levels never seen within a Favela.
Who do they help, what are their stories, and is there success? “Our non-profit is a social impact incubator, we go into the community and try to identify the entrepreneurs, community leaders, innovators who are already positively impacting our community and we ask how we can make them better.”
Basically, Adam’s group is doing the opposite of what most NGOs and organizations do. Rather than looking for what’s broken, not functioning or missing in the community, it looks for positives, for things that are working and can be improved.
They are looking at the substantial assets of favelas and how they can improve them. In Vidigal, their pilot ecosystem of empowerment seems to be working and even flourishing.
After a year, their Beta incubation process has five different organizations, a mix of entrepreneurs, community leaders, and non-profit founders who are all doing very well throughout the community.
Isis Maria, a 22-year-old resident of Vidigal with a simple dream that seemed unimaginable for a young woman in a favela, has done something extraordinary: After a year’s training with Favela Inc, she now has a class of over 30 young students ranging from age eight to sixteen, with dozens of drums.
It all started with two plastic drums from a toy store and just three or four kids in the afternoon, meeting once or twice a week. Now Isis Maria has the ability to plan events, secure finances, and plan for the future of her non-profit.
Today her Batucavidi Percussion class is full of kids, and Isis has dreams and aspirations bigger than the moon. From performing percussion for major events in Vidigal with hundreds of people, to speaking at public events around Rio de Janeiro.
Favela Inc focused on a light at a very dark time. When most failures arise because we focus on this darkness, Adam, Rodrigo, Paulo, and Allen, along with countless volunteers, created this unique and special NGO to help improve the lives in this community.
Seven years in Vidigal, a favela community with very mixed demographics. A gringo Americano and an NGO that seems to be breaking boundaries on so many levels. Five businesses brought up from nothing. A successful story in times of many failures, this is the little NGO that could, would and should keep going full steam ahead.