My name is Lina Doherty, and I am a rising junior at Georgetown University. This past summer, I was a Communications & Development Intern at IMPL. PROJECT, working remotely from my hometown: São Paulo, Brazil.

At the heart of IMPL. PROJECT’s approach, lies the belief in participative solutions, which involves engaging local communities firstly when collecting data about their daily lives and problems, and secondly, making sure to actively consult local actors when designing and implementing programming that will help solve systemic issues in the long run.

In my first weeks working at IMPL. PROJECT, I was struck by the tailored, community-driven programming. I decided I needed more personal experience with this model, at the local level in São Paulo.

After a little bit of research, emailing, and meetings with staff, I started volunteer work at Gerando Falcões, a social justice organization that dedicates its efforts to eliminating poverty in Brazil, focusing on social development and capacity building projects in Brazilian slums – also known as favelas.

My work at Gerando Falcões included visiting Favela dos Sonhos (Favela of Dreams), previously called Favela Boca do Sapo (Frog’s Mouth Favela), and witnessing firsthand the impact that participative solutions have on fostering sustainable development, as well as empowering community members.

A notable example of participative solutions in the Favela dos Sonhos, was one where Gerando Falcões worked with favela inhabitants and found that the lack of electrical infrastructure in their community was one specific systemic cause of a wide range of social development issues.

Because the Brazilian government fails to extend many services to the favelas, including electricity, favelas end up getting dark much earlier in the night than the rest of the metropolitan area. Having no light increases security risks for the community members, as well as prevents people from leaving their homes at night for work, or school. For example, women who either work or take care of their children during the day, did not feel safe enough to leave their houses at night since everything was dark.

After discovering this systemic cause of vulnerability, Gerando Falcões then partnered with another NGO called Litro de Luz, or Liter of Light, to install an innovative lighting system made out of plastic bottles, solar panels, batteries, and LED lamps in the favela streets. After this lighting system was implemented, there was a shift in community activity during the night. Favela members felt protected enough to leave their homes at night, resuming their studies after putting their kids to sleep, or simply meeting up with friends for a drink after work, completely shifting the community dynamics.

The lighting system brought safety and dignity to the favelas, and instilled a new sense of empowerment for community members.

Furthermore, Favela dos Sonhos went through a revitalization project, concentrating on transforming neglected urban areas into new vibrant community spaces. Through multiple dialogues with residents, Gerando Falcões found that one of the community’s needs was a space designed for recreational and social activities. A tactical urbanism project was then initiated, resulting in the favela inhabitants helping to paint and landscape the area. I saw firsthand a renewed sense of pride and unity of the community, when members talked about what they had brainstormed, planned, and executed.

Participative solutions go beyond addressing immediate issues. They also challenge power dynamics that perpetuate inequality, and create a shift in how locals from vulnerable communities understand their capability and agency to shape their own futures.

Both Gerando Falcões and IMPL. PROJECT provided me with pathways to deepen my understanding of the power and necessity of participative solutions. This summer has really taught me that the most effective and sustainable solutions are those that are born from the communities they aim to serve.