Join CatComm's Community Catalysts like us? Believe in us? value us? Please join.

“We are not trying to idealize them, but as an organization we focus on the attributes of favelas, and we’ve been working to highlight the urbanistic qualities that these communities have: they are pedestrian-oriented and child-friendly... there is a high level of solidarity... We are taking an asset-based approach to their development. As long as these communities are seen as having no value, or as places that shouldn’t exist, or as temporary places, we’re not going to get policies that are really productive, and we haven’t, from the government.” — Theresa Williamson, Guernica (June 2016)
Rocinha at Night - Kay Verhe

The Power of Monthly Giving

Monthly giving is by far the most sustainable and efficient way to support Catalytic Communities' tireless and ongoing work in Rio de Janeiro's favelas and on behalf of a future of asset-based community development and just urbanization worldwide.

Recurring donations are ideal for donors. They guarantee you provide the support you intend to while having an unnoticeable impact on your pocketbook. And they ensure we have the steady stream of support that we need to guide our efforts and support critical year-round programs.

When you join CatComm’s Community Catalysts, you will join a special, dedicated group of people that each and every month are guaranteeing key strategic support to Rio's favela communities in ways that generate asset-based community change locally and globally. There are also a number of perks, too.*

Your monthly contribution allows us to dedicate our time exclusively to the rapid response we've become known for in supporting Rio's favela communities, 24x7x365, over seventeen years now. Thanks to our Community Catalysts we can conduct flexible, ongoing and comprehensive visioning, planning and program implementation in real-time response to strategic opportunities and urgent needs that arise in Rio’s favelas.

Our initial goal is to reach $5000 in monthly contributions. When we do we'll raffle a free trip for two to Rio (you'll have chances again when we reach $7500 and $10,000, our ultimate goal, too!). We've now surpassed $2350 and are working every day to bring new supporters on board. Please join us now. And view our progress bar here.

If you prefer to join by setting up a direct deposit from your bank to ours, please let us know here. Or for checks, mail monthly to Catalytic Communities, PO Box 42010, Washington, DC 20015.

Children in Providência - Luiz Baltar

*Special Perks for Community Catalysts

In the past, CatComm held annual crowdfunding campaigns where we harnessed the power of our network to recruit tens of thousands of dollars in contributions, and in the end held our Rio Raffle--raffling a trip for two to Rio to see our work in person, a trip valued at $4000 with travel, room and board for two people, from anywhere on Earth. The Rio Raffle, and other perks yet to come, will from now on be folded into the Community Catalysts program. In this way we'll express our special gratitude to these monthly angels, who are through their recurring support freeing up months of staff time to focus on our mission and ensuring the planning time we need to engage those funds most effectively.

From now on, we'll be raffling treats amongst monthly donors throughout the year. In the past, generous and talented supporters have donated art works, event tickets, and the mileage and accommodations for our Rio Raffle. Starting now, these and other opportunities will serve to recognize and thank our Community Catalysts, current volunteers and collaborators.

And from now on, rather than sending you general appeals, we'll email you with important updates of interest to you, sharing our progress and how your contribution is making an impact. You'll be able to choose any of the following:

  • INSPIRATION. Personal updates from CatComm staff, relaying small and large victories, testimonials and stories directly from favela organizers.
  • DEEP ENGAGEMENT. CatComm is charting a forward path in its vision, bringing a potentially endless stream of opportunities for action, program, research and policy development. As we consider new approaches and collaborations, you can choose to participate, provide input and engage directly in new opportunities that arise.
  • KNOWLEDGE. Research reports, essays, articles, chapters and entire books produced by members of the CatComm team and collaborators will be sent to you, when possible even prior to official publication.
  • COMMUNITY ACTION. As we publish more and more lessons from favelas with community-building and community organizing strategies, we'll make sure these come to your inbox to support your own efforts at community-building where you live.
  • NETWORKING. You'll be invited to CatComm-related events in your town--whether a happy hour among members of our network, a lecture by ED Theresa Williamson, or events we hear about through the extensive CatComm network.
“We had a revealing talk by Theresa of Catalytic Communities and some of the Columbia urban planning students in the group were deeply impressed by her work and vision. I think Theresa is reshaping the role of urban planners in the contemporary city and projecting the profession into the future.” — Jose Luis Vallejo, Professor of Architecture, Planning and Preservation, Columbia University (March 2017)
Asa Branca, LEED Gold-level favela - Sam Faigen

About Catalytic Communities

Based in Rio de Janeiro and with a US 501 [c][3] tax-exempt status, Catalytic Communities is an empowerment, communications, think tank, and advocacy NGO working since 2000 on behalf of Rio’s favelas at the intersection of sustainable community development, human rights, local-global networks, communications, and urban planning. CatComm supports and empowers residents of informal settlements, evolving strategically to support their needs as they arise.

CatComm functions as a news source, agenda setter, movement builder, and research collaborative, all in support of favela development. The organization champions an asset-based approach based on favela qualities and working to incubate a fair, rights-based and participatory model of favela integration to inspire alternative solutions to the challenges posed by informal housing worldwide. We conscientiously incubate programs to support Rio de Janeiro’s informal settlements knowing such communities will constitute nearly a third of the world’s population by 2050, and documenting what we do to serve as an example for other cities across the globe.

Learn more about Rio's favelas with this short doc CatComm supported on Vox:

"The core issues facing Rio de Janeiro—persistent inequality, gentrification, increased risk of climate-induced problems, an out-of-touch political class—are in many ways an intensified microcosm of the issues already facing or likely soon-to-be facing almost every major city in the world. To learn about how Catalytic Communities approaches these issues is to learn about innovative and nuanced strategies for empowering communities and for overcoming these pressing issues." — Eli Nemzer, former CatComm intern, Northwestern alum (July 2017)
Rosilene and Rosinaldo await eviction - Lianne Milton

CatComm's Latest Programs

Since learning Rio de Janeiro would host the 2016 Olympic Games, back in 2009, we at Catalytic Communities realized we’d need to focus our attention on supporting favelas through the difficult changes they would experience during those subsequent years.

Starting with our award-winning bilingual watchdog favela news site RioOnWatch, which focused on documenting community perspectives on the transformations taking place in Rio starting in 2010, we witnessed the demand for favela news on both a local and global level, and the opportunity to use the Olympic spotlight to change the damaging, inaccurate narrative that has kept favela communities marginalized for a century. The site's focus during those pre-Olympic years was on documenting both human rights abuses and heroic community organizing efforts across Rio's favelas.

We also set out to provide a number of tools to hasten improvements in coverage beyond RioOnWatch. These included: our RioONWire favela news wire; World Cup press resources; Olympic Resources for Journalists including story recommendations, community contact lists and maps; regular analysis of the Best and Worst reporting on favelas; and alternative press conferences, reality tours, and one-on-one support for journalists covering Rio. Over time this multi-faceted communications strategy resulted in thousands of reports in dozens of countries supported or facilitated by the CatComm team. Quite a few of these also quoted the organization as an expert on Rio, urban planning and favelas. As 2016 came to a close, we finalized, published and launched our 8-year longitudinal analysis of how media coverage did and did not in fact change during those critical years in a report tilted “Favelas in the Media: How the Global Narrative on Favelas Changed in Rio’s Mega-Event Years.” This report has been cited by Vice, the Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas, among others.

"The residents of Vila Autódromo are opening their hearts and beginning to interact with the outside visitors brought by CatComm. Through these visits, Vila Autódromo came into contact with mainstream international media, because mainstream local media does not publish the negative and illegal actions of those in power. The mainstream local media only promotes the interests of itself and its allies, which are big business and government." — Jane Nascimento, Director of the Vila Autódromo Association of Residents and Fishermen (Oct 2012)

Watch CatComm's Theresa Williamson tour Santa Marta favela with Matt Lauer:

"Williamson wanted reporters to avoid blanket descriptions of generic favelas and treat them as unique and specific places... to steer them away from dramatized descriptions of drug trafficking and shanties, which didn’t apply to the vast majority of favela residents. She wanted to make sure the media didn’t ignore the havoc that Olympics projects had wreaked on poor communities. Critically, she wanted reporters to understand that favelas were rooted in a history of slavery, state neglect, and stigma. And she aimed to highlight their often-ignored assets, such as self-organization and solidarity." — The Guardian (December 2016)
Vihls sculpture of evicted man in Providência


In 2017, we have built on this momentum, launching RioOnWatch's new editorial line focused on realizing the potential of favelas as sustainable communities and publishing 400 articles, thanks to dozens of solidarity reporters and community journalists, in English and Portuguese. The site is increasingly publishing articles promoting proactive green community urbanism rooted in Rio’s favelas. At the same time, RioOnWatch stays connected to its roots and maintains a responsibility to publish a subset of articles committed to ‘watchdog’ activities tracking policies directed towards favelas, the Olympic legacy and human rights. We reach 200,000 people monthly directly through our publications and social media.

Additionally, with support from the Heinrich Boll Foundation in Brazil, CatComm is currently developing the Sustainable Favela Network. We've identified over 100 favela sustainability and resilience initiatives across Rio which are now being mapped and analyzed to detect opportunities to leverage this network for fast-paced grassroots development in a period characterized by a vacuum of productive policies.

Also recently, CatComm launched a more nuanced report, ‘Favelas in the Media: A Comparison of Eight Global Outlets,’ based on a closer look at the data behind our broad 2016 study. Also related to the Olympic legacy, Executive Director Theresa Williamson published a book chapter, "Not Everyone Has a Price: How the Small Favela of Vila Autódromo’s Fight Opened a Path to Olympic Resistance," in Andrew Zimbalist's latest book Rio 2016. She was also interviewed by NPR about the Vila Autódromo story.

This Fall, ED Theresa Williamson's first deeper foray into writing about the value of informality is out, as a chapter in Yale School of Architecture's Perspecta 50. Theresa will email the article, entitled 'Rio's Favelas: The Power of Informal Urbanism,' to all new Community Catalysts as they join this Fall. Other current projects include developing a first-of-its-kind international university-favela partnership with Worcester State University, and participation in the current Rio municipal Strategic Planning process.

"A recently released study by Rio-based NGO by Catalytic Communities found that coverage of the city's favelas in eight major global news sources increased drastically during Rio's Olympic cycle, from 45 total articles mentioning favelas in 2009, when Rio was named the host city, to 315 in the year leading up to the Olympics. Favelas were increasingly the main subject of those articles. Furthermore, by 2016 favela residents were directly quoted in 16 times as many articles as they had been in 2009. The coverage also became more nuanced, with less emphasis on violence and drugs and more on favelas having a strong sense of community and its residents being active agents of change." — Vice Sports (December 2016)
Vila Kennedy's Geiza Moura transforms a waste site

In 2018, CatComm will be:

  1. Relaunching RioOnWatch with a new full news interface and further developing RioOnWatch's new solutions-oriented news platform.
  2. Helping establish the Favela Media Lab to monitor Brazilian media outlets' coverage of favelas, based in Complexo do Alemão.
  3. Conducting research with partners from the Caño Martín Peña in Puerto Rico on the potential of Community Land Trusts to meet the land titling needs of favelas without risking gentrification.
  4. Launching the Sustainable Favela Network through week-long and day-long exchanges and a film project.
  5. Providing monthly trainings in community mobilization for dozens of organizers from across the region.
  6. Developing a ‘sustainable favela certification’ tool for communities to self-assess their sustainability assets and challenges in order to determine future development projects and strategies that address challenges while building on existing assets.
  7. Producing a RioOnWatch Replication Manual toolkit that organizers around the world can use to create their own hyperlocal-to-global strategic news ecosystem based on the RioOnWatch model.
"Every project that CatComm creates, develops or realizes whether here in Vale Encantado or not, strengthens me more and more to continue fighting for the moral and ethical principles of the humiliated citizens forgotten by the public sector. CatComm is the catalyst of social struggles and collective victories that are not recognized by the government. I'd like to thank CatComm for the opportunity that they give Rio's communities and to show the world the importance of the communities within a city." — Otávio Alves Barros, President of the Vale Encantado eco-cooperative (2011)
"RioONWatch offers a potential alternative and unique model for reporting on sports and sport-related issues by privileging the voices of community members and engaging in participatory and collaborative journalistic practices." — Sport Journalism for Peace Research Group at the University of British Columbia (April 2016)

Please Join Us

Over seventeen years, CatComm has developed an efficient outfit punching way above its weight. For about $100,000 each year we have expanded our work through a broad and committed network thanks to thousands of talented volunteers, solidarity reporters, research collaborators and partners.

From 2000-2010 we were all about networking our favela partners with each other to share their own knowledge and be savvy with technology. Then we spent six years focused on communicating to a growing audience that favelas have been unheard, misunderstood, neglected and repressed for much of their history. As a result, we helped stall, stop and improve outcomes in eviction and other situations for tens of thousands of city residents. The work we did during those years was highly compatible with a large volunteer network and greater financial resources were not required.

But it is now time for Stage III. The plan now is to develop tools, techniques and models. These include investing in training, mapping, exchanges, policy development and developing green infrastructure, among other projects. In other words, this phase will require more financial resources. If we're going to be successful building on all we've done to date and reaching CatComm's full potential, then we're going to have to invest in strategically crafted pilot projects that show that favelas can become fully sustainable, that community-centered development is the best development strategy, and that Rio's favelas are not an insurmountable problem but rather teeming with under-tapped potential—the potential to transform themselves, and ultimately, all of our communities.

Please join us.

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Catalytic Communities

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