Catalytic Communities Online Lectures 2021 Presented by Theresa Williamson, Ph.d.

About the Talks

Since 2010, Catalytic Communities (CatComm) Founder and Executive Director, Theresa Williamson, Ph.D, has given lectures at universities across the world 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. Honoraria from these talks are also key to guaranteeing CatComm's efforts on the ground—100% of proceeds are fed into our activities in support of Rio's favela organizers.

Williamson is available for three online options: a one-hour lecture + Q&A, a two-hour workshop, or a six-hour package. The six-hour package is planned by her university hosts and can include a mix of classroom talks (in English or Portuguese), workshop, chat with study abroad programs, student groups and researchers—whatever fits the schedule. There is also an option to show our award-winning 2012 film, Favela as a Sustainable Model, or the 2018, 2019 and 2020 follow-ups, 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 multiple real-time perspectives, from community organizers, academics and advocates, on the current transformations unfolding in Rio. Her presentations incorporate the very latest in breaking news and community responses. Audience members are left with a thorough understanding of the context which is shaping Rio de Janeiro today and the organizations and institutions involved.

2021 Lecture Series

An insightful 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

  • How Covid-19 Lifts the Mask on Rio’s Favelas: Neglect as Public Policy, Favela Responses and What’s to Come
  • 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?
  • Post-Olympic Rio de Janeiro: What's Next for Rio's Favelas?
  • RioOnWatch: How Hyperlocal-to-Global News 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.

Watch Dr. Williamson's keynote speech at the University of Melbourne's "SDGs, Urban Planning for Equity and Climate Resilience in our Cities" Symposium in September 2020:

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, research and advocacy NGO working since 2000 together with Rio’s favelas at the intersection of sustainable community development, human rights, local-global networks, communications, and urban planning. CatComm supports organizers in informal settlements, evolving strategically to support their needs as they arise. We believe that achieving the Sustainable Development Goals requires a strong community orientation rooted in social justice and seeking sustainable cities benefiting from the qualities of informality.

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 award-winning favela news website turned 10 in 2020. Launched to provide on-the-ground perspectives from favelas in the lead up to the 2016 Rio Olympics, the site today focuses on solutions reporting, denouncing human rights violations, analyzing policies, and broadly building understanding and nuance with regard to favela perspectives. In 2020 the site focused on favela perspectives on the pandemic. In 2021 we will be publishing weekly articles by favela reporters, scientists and activists, on anti-racist themes and energy justice.

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 multiple network-wide days of capacity-building. In 2020 the SFN was extremely active, hosting over 13 public events and a mayoral debate online and over 100 Zoom meetings to continuously lend support across the network as members responded to the pandemic on the ground.

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 Brazil. A Favela CLT is an arrangement whereby when a favela receives land title, that title is separated between land and homes, thus the community owns and manages the land collectively while residents individually own their homes and can sell or inherit them freely. It is a 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 works collectively to ensure the best possible development of the community for its residents.

Covid-19 in Favelas Unified Dashboard. In response to the 2020 coronavirus pandemic, during online meetings of RioOnWatch community journalists, Sustainable Favela Network community organizers, and Favela CLT pilot communities, it became clear that public officials in Rio de Janeiro were undercounting Covid-19 cases in favelas and intentionally neglecting these vulnerable communities. In response, CatComm brought together 20 favela-based collectives and public health organizations to crowdsource data from the favelas and, in partnership with Esri, launched the dashboard that has become the primary and most robust source of data on the reaches of the pandemic into Rio's communities.

More About Theresa Williamson

Theresa Williamson, Ph.D. is a city planner and founding executive director of Catalytic Communities, an NGO that has worked to support Rio de Janeiro’s favelas through asset-based community development since 2000. CatComm produces RioOnWatch, an award-winning local-to-global favela news platform, and facilitates Rio’s Sustainable Favela Network and Favela Community Land Trust program. Most recently, CatComm has developed and launched the Covid-19 in Favelas Unified Dashboard. Theresa is an advocate for the recognition of the favelas’ heritage status and their residents’ right to be treated as equal citizens. She received the 2018 American Society of Rio prize for her contributions to the city and the 2012 NAHRO Award for her contributions to the international housing debate. Theresa has many publications including multiple book chapters and four op-eds in The New York Times. She has been cited in hundreds of publications and television. Previously she received the 2005 Gill-Chin Lim Award for Best Dissertation on International Planning and CatComm received the 2006 Tech Museum Award for technology benefiting humanity. Dr. Williamson earned her B.A. in Biological Anthropology from Swarthmore College and PhD in City and Regional Planning from the University of Pennsylvania.

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 in Rio de Janeiro.

Authored by Theresa

Rio’s Real vs. Unmet Olympic Legacies: What They Tell Us About the Future of Cities, in Transformative Planning: Radical Alternatives to Neoliberal Urbanism, edited by Tom Angotti (Montreal: Black Rose Books, 2020).

Community Land Trusts in Informal Settlements: Adapting Features of Puerto Rico’s Caño Martín Peña CLT to Address Land Insecurity in the Favelas of Rio de Janeiro, in On Common Ground: International Perspectives on the Community Land Trust, edited by John Emmeus Davis, Line Algoed and María E. Hernández-Torrales (Madison, Wisconsin: Terra Nostra Press, 2020).

Favela vs. Asphalt: Suggesting a New Lens on Rio de Janeiro's Favelas and Formal City, in Comparative Approaches To Informal Housing Around The Globe (London: UCL Press, 2020).

The Favela Community Land Trust: A Sustainable Housing Model for the Global South, in Critical Care: Architecture and Urbanism for a Broken Planet (Cambridge: MIT Press, 2019).

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, Melbourne and Vancouver), Norman Foster Foundation—Madrid, the Denver Biennial of the Americas, Mansueto Symposium on Cities 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 2021 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 talk
  • Whether you would like a 1-hour lecture, a 2-hour workshop or a 6-hour package
  • 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 online honoraria fall between $500 and $2000, depending on the commitment of time and preparation needed. 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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Catalytic Communities