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Catalytic Communities University Tour 2019 Presented by Theresa Williamson, Ph.d.

About the Tour

Since 2010, Catalytic Communities (CatComm) Founder and Executive Director, Theresa Williamson, Ph.D, has given lectures at universities across the United States and Canada on a range of topics related to favelas and issues of sustainable urban development in Rio de Janeiro. This is one of the ways that we disseminate information, support research efforts and build awareness of important issues affecting Rio’s favelas.

Williamson is available for two main visit options: a two hour seminar or lecture, or a full-day campus visit. The full-day visit is planned by her university hosts and can include a public lecture plus speaking in classes (in English or Portuguese), seminars, conferences, or with study abroad programs, student groups and researchers--whatever fits into a day. There is also an option to show our award-winning 2012 film, Favela as a Sustainable Model, or the 2018 follow-up Weaving the Sustainable Favela Network, or discuss our media strategy as implemented through RioOnWatch, Williamson's own trajectory, or CatComm organizing strategies. All honoraria are paid to Catalytic Communities, a 501[c][3] nonprofit, to further efforts on behalf of Rio de Janeiro’s favelas. These talks are in fact critical to the work we do in Rio.

Few are in Williamson’s position to offer a community perspective--rarely available at a distance--on the current transformations unfolding in Rio. Her presentations incorporate the very latest in breaking news and community responses. They are informed by the experience of favela residents and up-to-date research. Audience members are left with a full understanding of the context which is shaping Rio de Janeiro today and the organizations and institutions involved.

2019 Lecture Series

A dynamic presentation that can be tailored to audiences from a variety of fields. Past talks spoke to students and faculty from departments of Urban Studies or Planning, Journalism and Communications, Environmental Studies, Anthropology, Portuguese, Latin American and Brazilian Studies, Public Policy, International Development, Social Justice, Criminology, Social Entrepreneurship and Nonprofit Management.

Past Talk Titles

  • The Potential of Community Land Trusts in Rio’s Favelas
  • Rethinking the Future of Housing Worldwide: Favelas as a Sustainable Model?
  • Aberration or ‘Favela Chique?’ Problematizing the Aesthetics of ‘Slums’
  • Telling the Story: Mega-Events and Urban Change in the 'Divided City' of Rio de Janeiro
  • Whose Narrative? What Happens When Rio's Favelas Speak for Themselves?
  • Rio's True Olympic Legacy: What Have We Learned? What's Next?
  • Post-Olympic Rio de Janeiro: What's Next for Rio's Favelas?
  • RioOnWatch: How Hyperlocal-to-Global News-making Is Changing the World
  • Realizing Favelas As a Sustainable Model and Example of Insurgent City Planning: Rethinking Our Assumptions in Sustainable Development
  • Community Organizing and Keys to Resistance in Pre-Olympic Rio de Janeiro
  • Inspired by Favelas: Catalytic Communities, Case Study in Adaptive Organizing

Note that talks can be customized and even developed from scratch in response to your faculty and students' course and research topics, based on Theresa's years of work with hundreds of favela communities across Rio.

For more details on the lecture topics, click here.

More 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 with the intention of supporting 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 be exported as a solution 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:

What Has Catalytic Communities Been Working On Lately?

RioOnWatch. Our favela news website focuses increasingly on solutions reporting, a growing line within our reporting which is proving even more essential in this age, not only with its over-emphasis on negative news but now almost predicated on fake news. Inspiring stories of how communities solve problems in Rio de Janeiro and around the world, what effective urban and public policy looks like from around the world, and our other reporting helps bring desperately needed perspective and solutions to Rio's favelas and around the world.

Favela Community Land Trusts. This program consists of collaborating with favela residents, technical allies and government agencies to develop a legislative proposal and a pilot CLT in an interested community. A Favela CLT is an arrangement whereby when a favela receives land title, that title is separated between land and property, thus the community owns and manages the land collectively while residents individually own their properties and can sell or inherit them freely. It is a much stronger tenure security instrument than typical individual land titles, that pulverize the community fabric previously built by residents and encourage speculation. Favela CLTs also create an institution that now works collectively for perpetuity to ensure the best possible development of the community for its residents.

Sustainable Favela Network. This is a network comprised of over 120 initiatives working to build environmental sustainability and social resilience in favelas in Rio de Janeiro’s Metropolitan Region. Through this program, we have produced an award-winning short film showcasing sustainable qualities of favelas, collected and analyzed data on the projects included in the network, promoted a series of exchanges between initiatives, and organized a network-wide day of capacity-building. In the coming year, we will promote strategic trainings, further on-site knowledge transfer exchanges, investment in specific community sustainability programs and models, and the development of a Sustainable Favela Indicator.

More About Theresa Williamson

Catalytic Communities' founder and Executive Director Theresa Williamson has become an outspoken and respected advocate on behalf of Rio de Janeiro’s favelas. With a small agile team, and large network of collaborators at CatComm, she works to promote a more creative, inclusive and empowering integration between the city’s informal and formal communities, where favelas are recognized for their heritage status and residents served as equal citizens. Williamson is also editor-in-chief of RioOnWatch, a watchdog news site and favela news service. Since 2010, the site has tracked the intense impacts of the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Olympic Games on Rio’s favelas, providing a global platform for often-ignored community perspectives and valuable insights for other cities around the world.

She won the 2012 National Association of Housing and Redevelopment Officials’ John D. Lange International Award for her contribution to the international housing debate and has had four opinion pieces published in The New York Times. Recently, she has been interviewed on NPRquoted in The Ageand featured on Humans of New York, following many other appearances in reports from media outlets around the world. Watch Theresa’s participation on NBC’s Today Show during the 2016 Olympic Games:

In May 2004, Williamson received her PhD from the Department of City and Regional Planning at the University of Pennsylvania. Her dissertation won the 2005 Gill-Chin Lim Award for Best Dissertation on International Planning. Williamson received her undergraduate degree in Biological Anthropology from Swarthmore College. Raised in Rio de Janeiro and the Washington, D.C. area, she is a dual Brazilian and British citizen and lives with her daughter in Rio de Janeiro.

Authored by Theresa

The Fight for Rio's Future — Americas Quarterly (March 21, 2018)

Community Land Trusts in Rio’s Favelas:Could Community Land Trusts in Informal Settlements Help Solve the World’s Affordable Housing Crisis? — Land Lines (July 31, 2018)

Not Every One Has a Price: How the Small Favela of Vila Autódromo's Fight Opened a Path to Olympic Resistance, in Rio 2016: Olympic Myths, Hard Realities (2017)

Rio’s Favelas: The Power of Informal Urbanism, in Perspecta 50: Urban Divides (2017)

Rio’s real vs. unmet Olympic legacies: what they tell us about the future of cities? — OpenDemocracy (August 2016)

Monopoly City Vs. Singular City: Competing Urban Visions, in Occupy All Streets: Olympic Urbanism and Contested Futures in Rio de Janeiro (2016)

Will the Olympics’ Failures Spark A New Urban Paradigm for Rio? — Metropolis (August 2016)

Holding the Olympics in Rio Was Always a Bad Idea — The New York Times (May 2016)

A new threat to favelas: gentrification — The Architectural Review (May 2015)

It’s Just the Beginning; Change Will Come to Brazil The New York Times (June 2013)

In the Name of the Future, Rio Is Destroying Its Past — The New York Times (August 2012)

Brazil Is Missing an Opportunity to Invest in the Favelas — The New York Times (April 2012)

Past Talk Hosts

To date, Dr. Williamson has been hosted by a range of departments at the following universities: American, Augustana, Berea, Brown, California Polytechnic, Carroll, Claremont McKenna, Columbia, Georgetown, Georgia State, Goucher, Kalamazoo, Marquette, McGill, MIT, NYU, Pacific, Pitzer, Pomona, Pratt, Ramapo, Roger Williams, Rutgers, Smith, Stanford, St. Joseph’s, Swarthmore, Syracuse, UCLA, University College London, U. Colorado-Boulder , U. Delaware, U. Maryland, U. Pennsylvania, U. Richmond, U. Wisconsin-Madison, Vanderbilt, Vassar, Villanova, Wellesley, West Chester, Western Michigan, Worcester State, and Yale.

She has also spoken in international forums such as the United Nations, the Ecocity World Summit (Abu Dhabi and Melbourne), and the Conference on World Affairs.

Talk Testimonials

“Theresa Williamson gave a wonderfully comprehensive and insightful talk to our faculty and students about the history of favelas in Rio and the major misconceptions about these neighborhoods. We hope to have her back for another talk and collaborations in the coming year.” Dr. Marshall C. Eakin, Professor of History, Vanderbilt University

“We had a revealing talk by Theresa 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

“It was a terrific talk. That’s my opinion, as both an academic and an activist. And the feedback from everyone else I talked to has been nothing but superlatives. Everyone thought it was informative, the analysis was complex and nuanced, and it gave us great insights into the political and organizing scenes in Rio and Brazil. I’m very pleased and would definitely recommend her talk to others.” — Dr. Thomas Angotti, CUNY/Hunter College, organizer of the New York Planner’s Network event

"Theresa spoke to a large audience of over 50 Johns Hopkins graduate and undergraduate students, as well as faculty, on the current predicaments facing Rio’s favelas in the midst of multiple political and economic crises in Brazil. She connected past, present, and future struggles in Rio, highlighting effective and inspiring examples of community organizing and resistance. Several students who attended the talk are now motivated to get involved." — Dr. Alessandro Angelini, Professor of Anthropology, Johns Hopkins University

"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, Northwestern University alum

Quotes By and About Theresa and CatComm

“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 in the sense that 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 Magazine

"Williamson wanted reporters to avoid blanket descriptions of generic favelas and treat them as unique and specific places. She hoped 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

“When the word [slum] is used a lot, the subject is linked to a concept, which focused mainly on violence, making violence inherent in the favela for the reader. ‘Lazy’ stories use this type of language. They are those that approach the favela as a place that is already born violent. This is worrisome because it is not based on truth. It tends to be the case that the journalist did not even visit the favela.” — Theresa Williamson, The Knight Center

“People in the favelas now more than ever have an identity and understand their value.” — Theresa Williamson, The Huffington Post

"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

Check out all our past Media Mentions here.

How to Host a Talk

If your campus is interested in hosting Dr. Williamson in 2017-2018 please contact u-tour@catcomm.org with your enquiry. You should include:

  • The name of the institution and department you are inquiring from
  • Possible and ideal dates for the visit
  • Whether you would like one lecture or a full-day campus visit
  • The title/s of the lectures you are interested in hosting
  • If there will be any requests for tailoring lectures and themes
  • If you would like to schedule a call with Dr. Williamson herself to discuss the possibilities

We will then reply with information for the standard honorarium we suggest to meet your needs. Generally honoraria fall between $2000 and $2500 plus travel from Washington, DC and lodging when necessary. However, exceptions can be made.

All honoraria are paid to Catalytic Communities, a 501[c][3] nonprofit organization, to further efforts on behalf of Rio de Janeiro’s favelas.

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