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Catalytic Communities University Tour 2017-18 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 film, Favela as a Sustainable Model, or discuss our media strategy as implemented on 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.

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.

2017-2018 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

  • Rethinking the Future of Housing Worldwide: Favelas as a Sustainable Model?
  • Telling the Story: Mega-Events and Urban Change in the 'Divided City' of Rio de Janeiro
  • Rio's True Olympic Legacy: What Have We Learned? What's Next?
  • Post-Olympic Rio de Janeiro: What's Next for Rio's Favelas?
  • Aberration or ‘Favela Chique?’ Problematizing the Aesthetics of ‘Slums’
  • Whose Narrative? What Happens When Rio's Favelas Speak for Themselves?
  • 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 our 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?

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; regularly analyzing the Best and Worst reporting on favelas; hosting 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. And it has led to a new more detailed comparative report just launched called "Favelas in the Media: A Comparison of Eight Global Outlets."

In 2017, we have built on this momentum, launching RioOnWatch's new editorial line focused on realizing the potential of favelas as sustainable communities. The site is increasingly publishing articles prompting 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. The site will relaunch with a new design later this year.

Additionally, with support from the Heinrich Boll Foundation in Brazil, CatComm is currently developing the Sustainable Favela Network, mapping favela sustainability and resilience initiatives across Rio and preparing an exchange and film project. 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.

In 2018, CatComm will be further developing RioOnWatch's new solutions-oriented news platform; helping establish the Favela Media Lab to monitor Brazilian media outlets' coverage of favelas, based in Complexo do Alemão; 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; launching the Sustainable Favela Network through week-long and day-long exchanges and a film project; conducting monthly trainings in community mobilization for dozens of organizers from across the region; exploring a partnership with Criterion Planners to further test and develop a model of ‘sustainable favela certification;’ and 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.

More About Theresa Williamson

Catalytic Communities' founder and Executive Director Theresa Williamson has become an outspoken and respected advocate and informant on behalf of Rio de Janeiro’s favelas in the face of fast-paced urban transformations. 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

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? (08/16) — OpenDemocracy

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? (08/16) — Metropolis

Holding the Olympics in Rio Was Always a Bad Idea (05/16) — The New York Times

A new threat to favelas: gentrification (05/15) — The Architectural Review

It’s Just the Beginning; Change Will Come to Brazil (06/13) — The New York Times

In the Name of the Future, Rio Is Destroying Its Past (08/12) — The New York Times

Brazil Is Missing an Opportunity to Invest in the Favelas (04/12) — The New York Times

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, 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

"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 $1750 and $2250 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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