Casa Weekly

Friday, February 15, 2008

CASA: Mission Accomplished!

Big news, folks!

During our latest Board meeting the Catalytic Communities (CatComm) Board of Directors decided our five-year experiment of launching and running the "Casa" community technology hub for leaders in downtown Rio has accomplished its mission! The Casa community technology hub accomplished its mission and a cycle in our organizational history is now coming to an end.

We are very satisfied to be able to proclaim that the Casa's mission -- to create networks in order to strengthen community-based social programs and support digital inclusion of community leaders, has been successful and that a large number of community leaders from Rio de Janeiro and beyond, found in the Casa the possibility to articulate themselves as a network and strengthen their local projects using digital tools.
Over the past 5 years, the Casa has served 1050 community leaders from 215 neighborhoods across the city of Rio de Janeiro. An additional 400 journalists, university professors and students, NGO activists and others have also shared in the space. And people from 23 of Brazil's 26 states have attended events, not to mention 22 nations.

We met our historical mission also thanks to improvements in access to technology in Rio deJaneiro. Today, Internet access is much more inexpensive and widespread. Given the fact that this evolution has occurred in relation to Internet access and also given the comfort of local leaders today with digital tools, Catalytic Communities realizes it is the right moment to cease activities at the Casa.
It is the right moment to celebrate the Casa's success and move on to focus our resources and efforts on our core and initial program: the building of a virtual, global network with everything technology today offers in order to empower community programs via an unlimited worldwide network.

With this, in 2009 CatComm will launch a new version of our website, where, in addition to searching for local projects from the four corners of the globe to serve as inspiration... community organizers will be able to participate in the likes of a "virtual Casa" – an online space for sharing experiences, capacity-building, fundraising opportunities, and dialogue with other leaders and volunteers the world over.

Don't forget to keep your email up-to-date in the CatComm mailing list so that we can inform you of the latest news! And, until then, continue posting and making use of our award-winning Community Solutions Database (

Read more about the week of closing ceremonies we're organizing for the Casa (coming soon!).
See our page with stories and victories from the Casa (coming soon!).

Check out our photo archive of all photos during the Casa's history (coming soon!).

Friday, December 14, 2007

Radical Changes in Store

Radical Changes in Store as We Transition to 100% Sustainability and Community Control in 2008 and Beyond...

Dear Friends,

Here is an exerpt from our latest e-newsletter:

So much to share since our last e-newsletter a year ago! Catalytic Communities has shifted gears in a major way this past year. I don't get the chance to fill you in often, so I hope you'll have a close look at this newsletter to learn what we've been up to and where we're headed next!

Last Fall our online Community Solutions Database won us one of 25 2006 Tech Awards, out of a pool of over 950 initiatives around the world "using technology to benefit humanity."

Similarly, our Casa community networking hub was recognized by UN Habitat's World Urban Forum as one of 12 "actionable ideas" in the area of slum upgrading.

Our community networks are expanding at an increasing pace, and this Fall we launched our first ever "Call for Projects," doubling the number of nations represented in our Community Solutions Database and bringing in new projects in a variety of areas. To help with the posting and translation of these projects, we've also counted on the critical help of several new volunteers.

In 2008 we will be reaching out across Latin America planting the seeds of network expansion by word-of- mouth through initial face-to-face encounters.

That said, we have decided we are not doing good enough! Catalytic Communities is now undergoing a historic, radical, and unique transition process that will make good on our dedication to community empowerment and peer networks.

Our Board of Directors has recently approved the separation of Catalytic Communities (CatComm - USA) from Comunidades Catalisadoras (ComCat - Brazil). CatComm will be uniquely responsible for developing our multilingual website along a Web 2.0 (highly interactive online community) model. We're lucky to have gained Michael Maranda, experienced in community organizing and online communities and previously of CTCNet Chicago, as our new Strategic Director to undertake the remaking of the site to make it more robust, interactive and extensible and keeping at the core mission. By mid-2009 CatComm's site will be a highly interactive online community of local organizers from around the world, all supporting each other through a site requiring minimal staff involvement and developed by a network of volunteer website developers, translators, and community organizers.

Equally exciting, ComCat (Brazil) will take over full responsibility for our Casa community networking hub. With this, we are now transferring leadership and ownership of the Brazil organization to the community leaders who have used the Casa since it was first opened almost 5 years ago. Community organizers in Rio are meeting weekly as they determine the leadership structure, calendar of events, and fundraising approach to grow the Casa in 2008. By 2009 the Casa will be 100% directed, managed and funded through the efforts of volunteer community leaders in Rio.

What all of this means is that by mid-2009 CatComm will be 100% self-sustaining! We have a small endowment that will cover maintenance costs from that date forward. But until then, we are still counting on your support. And Rio's community organizers may also seek your support in the future to grow the Casa's efforts locally there. To make your 2007 year-end contribution please click here or choose among the "year end giving" options to the left. I want to personally thank you for your encouragement of our work in the past and to ask you to support CatComm as we move forward with this bold transition plan. Please write a check or make an online donation today, and throughout 2008, to support us in the home stretch of our goal in achieving financial sustainability and leaving CatComm with the right footing to grow on its own for many years to come...

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Poetic Afternoons @ the Casa

“Poetry, Stories and Encounters” is a monthly meeting being held at CatComm's Casa in Rio. The idea for this event came up during one of the “Open Space” meetings held monthly at the Casa. The idea ties CatComm into Rio's Port Zone Cultural Corridor as one of the area's cultural activities. Among many suggestions that came up at the time, it has been made reality. Initially the participants were writers from the city's low-income communities, but today anyone who has a relationship with literature is welcome.

There have already been four encounters. The first was on August 23, the second and third were held on September 6 and 7 and the most recent on October 18.

Objectives of these encounters:
To bring together and connect poets, story tellers, and writers to share their writings through readings and appraisal of the work. In the future the group plans to take this work to the street and who knows? ... perhaps one day publishing a collection. The direction it will take depends on the group's participants.

Talent is certainly not missing.

The organization of the meetings is the undertaking of Waldir Candido, actor and theatre director.

Join us!

Date of the next Encounter: November 8, 2007, 3:00 pm, in CatComm's Casa.
(see how to get here)

Visit the group's blog (in Portuguese):

Note: Thank you to CatComm translator Meg Kidd for translating this blog entry from our Portuguese blog (

Monday, August 13, 2007

UBUZIMA: gender and race

The CatComm Gallery Presents: Ubuzima - Body and Soul, Braids Collective

During August and September 2007, CatComm's Casa is hosting a photography exhibition depicting the work of Ubuzima, a group that joins, shares, and creates opportunities for people and groups dedicated to art and work involving the Afro-Brazilian population. The name Ubuzima means "the union of body and soul," and is a Collective of African Art and Braids, formed by six you women from Porto Alegre, Brazil, now living in Rio de Janeiro.

The exhibition "Ubuzima – Body and Soul" presents part of the work of this group through photographs by community photographer Marcelus Pequeno. The exhibition's very lively launch was held on August 10th, counting the presence of a group of Canadian youth participating in a cultural exchange with Ubuzima. Check out two of the videos from the launch celebration:

VIDEO 1 (Google Video)
VIDEO 2 (YouTube)

The party was lively and music ranging from Hip-Hop to samba was played. Now, in the weeks following the launch the exhibition is hosting several activities, including a Braiding Workshop, film screening, and parade.

Want to participate? Visit the Casa Calendar to learn more!

For more details about this project, visit our Community Solutions Database online, or simply click here.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Experimenting With Open Space

Since April CatComm has introduced monthly Open Space meetings at our Casa community technology hub in Rio. We were first introduced to Open Space by Michael Herman at an community conference in Chicago in 2005. Since then we've been thinking up ways to incorporate this free, creative and constructive methodology in our work.

Approximately 25 community leaders have participated in the three Open Space meetings thus far, each one taking place on the third Wednesday of the month. Each meeting starts with participants quickly introducing themselves sitting in a large circle. The methodology is explained by CatComm staff. Large sheets of paper are distributed to each participant, and all are invited to suggest a topic that's on their minds or that's of interest to them. Anything from personal concerns to organizational issues they are struggling with, societal challenges, and so on. Because of the short nature of these meetings (we have 3 hours set aside for what might normally last a day or two), each suggested topic gets a 30-minute period assigned to it by its presenter. The posters are taped to the wall, with their suggested times, and participants sign up for those topics that interest them. Each person then participates in 3 30-minute topics. At the end, each group's presenter summarives his/her group's meeting.

The topics that have surfaced during the three preliminary Open Space meetings include:

  • Violence against the elderly;
  • Violence in general;
  • New activites at the Casa: how to make the Casa into a cultural center?;
  • How to impose limits for one's kids;
  • How to involve kids' families in activites run by community programs;
  • How to organize a particular community group called "Nosso Espaço," or "Our Space;"
  • Poor maintenance of public schools;
  • School councils - do they work? What's the alternative?;
  • Trying 16-year-olds as adults.

To read, in Portuguese, some of the direct quotes from the discussions that ensued, visit our Portuguese blog at

One exciting new project has come out of the first Open Space meetings: a community poet, Waldir Gallo, suggested launching monthly poetry readings at the Casa, inviting community poets to present. This project, "Café Com Verso," will be launched in late July or August.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Community Advisory Board Launched!

I want to preceed this post by apologizing to readers for not posting as often as promised... Please don't take this to mean little is happening, for the very opposite is true! So much is going on at CatComm we are having a hard time keeping on top of it! As a result, we are rethinking and restructuring staff roles to accommodate this exciting growth!

One of the exciting new additions to Catalytic Communities, both as an activity in itself and as part of this rethinking, is our Community Advisory Board. Here's a translation of Neuza's post on our Portuguese blog at
We are very happy to announce the launch, on March 2, 2007, of our new Community Advisory Board! This Board was created per suggestion of CatComm's Board of Directors with the objective of bringing community leaders active at CatComm's Casa in Rio the opportunity to propose ideas and make decisions to improve CatComm's actions in support of community projects in Rio and to engage increasing numbers of active community leaders in CatComm's Casa and website. The Advisory Board is formed of community leaders who've shown concern for CatComm's actions and effectiveness over the years, on various occasions proposing ideas to improve our actions.

Ten community leaders were invited to form the initial Advisory Board. Care was taken to ensure diversity in gender, age, geographic region and thematic focus:

  1. Celso Vergne - Alfazendo, Estimativa, and Terrévida;
  2. Cristina Quadro - Feito Por Nós;
  3. Deley da Cunha ("Deley de Acari") - Fifth Element;
  4. Jana Guinod - Estimativa;
  5. Leidimar Machado - Adolescente Um Passo à Frente, Caixa de Surpresa;
  6. Leilah de Souza Neto - Patchwork Quilt do grupo Mulheres de Pedra;
  7. Márcio Hermínio ("Graffitti") - Cinema Com Batuque;
  8. Monica Xavier ("Combattente");
  9. Pedro Paulo Portela - Projeto Telheiro Cultural;
  10. Reinaldo Santana - Projeto Entrou Por Uma Porta.

Actions Taken:

The Community Advisory Board meets the first Wednesday of each month. During the two meetings following its creation, in April and May, decisions were made and actions taken. Among them were:

(1) The Advisors developed a questionnaire that will be emailed, at the beginning of June, to all community leaders who've used the Casa over the years, with the intention of learning what has brought leaders to the Casa historically, why some have ceased coming, and why others have remained so faithful.

(2) The Advisors made a decision that CatComm should return to its previous policy of allowing community leaders to use computers in its telecenter for an unlimited time, abandoning the 3-hour rule. They reached this conclusion because they decided it is not viable for many leaders to leave their communities to come all the way downtown to the Casa being limited to 3 hours on the machines. A campaign will be run simultaneously: "Free Connection: Cede Your Turn."

In its next meetings the Advisory Board will focus on results from the questionnaire and developinng a communications strategy to bring increasing number of community leaders to the Casa. There have also been ideas about how new meeting styles and debates could attract and support community projects.

Basic Governing Principles

Community Advisors' positions last two years, with the possibility of renewal for two more. The criterion for advisors to maintain their position is active participation in at least 8 of the 12 annual meetings. At the present time, the Community Advisory Board is not a legal entity. The decision to change this will be made down the road by the organization's Board of Directors, depending on how this initial Board evolves and its results. However, the Community Advisory Board has been given autonomy to bring up, discuss, and make decisions during its monthly meetings. These decisions are to be respected by CatComm staff. When differences of opinion exist, the issue will be taken to the Board of Directors. CatComm's staff participates in all meetings, but with time its participation will be reduced and its presence will mainly serve the purpose of supporting the Advisory Board in any ways deemed necessary and accompany the process and results.


Tuesday, March 20, 2007

UNC in Asa Branca Year 3

Today marked the third year we've received visitors from the University of North Carolina's school of business (Kenan-Flagler Business School) during their quick Spring Break trip across South America. Finishing their trip in Rio, the group of 15-20 students often speak of their visit with Catalytic Communities as "one of the highlights of the entire trip" which includes visiting with some of the largest businesses in the hemisphere.

This was the first year that UNC students visited CatComm's Casa in Rio. Some 2/3 of the group spent two hours at the Casa touring the space, seeing a presentation of Catalytic Communities, and looking at slides taken over several years in Asa Branca, the favela in the city's quickly expanding West Zone where the Pan-American Games will take place later this year and which we then went to visit. The entire group of students and professor joined in for the Asa Branca segment of the visit.

As a city planner I always find this visit fascinating. Firstly because of the changes I've observed in Asa Branca over the 6 years I've been going there (normally 3 times a year). But also because of the development surrounding the community, and the impacts this has there. And finally, because we drive back through Barra da Tijuca, a newer section of Rio that shows what development looks like when led by developers rather than planners. Skyscrapers without shops. Traffic yet no pedestrians. Barra is the section of Rio that has devised a way to live with plenty, without having to coexist with those without.

Asa Branca is a 20-year-old neighborhood with roughly 8000 residents. This is very small by Rio standards. As such, the community has been able to develop effectively and keep drug traffickers out. Only recently has the President of the Neighborhood Association, Carlos Alberto ("Bezerra") stepped down. He did so, he explains, because as the community grows it is "harder and harder to get anything done collectively." He says that residents no longer work together to solve common problems, as was once the norm when the community was smaller -- and tighter. This was reiterated by a resident I ran into in the neighborhood's younger section, a part of Asa Branca that is only 5 years old where, just a few years ago, I was amazed at the common bathroom and kitchen spaces they'd developed to meet their collective needs while they worked on one another's homes.

As a result, Bezerra has decided to dedicate himself to creating a community library on a parcel of his own land that he can oversee and develop. He is also planning to run for the local school district council. As you peer away from Asa Branca you see the buildings approaching. With the Pan-American games have come millions of dollars in investment in this part of the city.

Residents of Asa Branca benefit from construction jobs nearby. Another reason this community is so different from others in areas distant from new and manual jobs.

At the end of their visit the UNC students gave Bezerra and his born-leader son Ciro gifts thanking them for the visit. Bezerra warned his son not to forget the people who believed in him when the group nominated little Ciro as Brazil's future president.