The Empowerment of a Community through Social Innovation

03/26/2015 | By Beatrice Melo

This post originally appeared on

When we were approached to organize a Startup Weekend Change Makers in Fortaleza, Brazil, we were determined to make it happen. We had already organized a Startup Weekend, but the purpose of this event was little different. In addition to technology developers, designers and entrepreneurs, we would bring together social entrepreneurs and community leaders. This time in order to connect the potential for solving local problems within the community through social business.

The first decision of the organizing committee was that at least half of the tickets to attend to the event would be free for the community's youth. As the Startup Weekend has a technological connotation, we contacted some institutions and projects that already had expertise in this area, such as: Palmas Lab, E-Jovem and Rede Cuca. In addition to the donated tickets, we offered discounts for most college participants, interested in developing social business. Additionally, the day prior to the event, Professor Cleudson Santos, sponsored the entry of 6 students, between 11 and 14 years of schools Helenilce Martins and Tais Maria to participate.

During the week before the Startup Weekend Change Makers, we prepared two Bootcamps - events for awareness and engagement of the participants through workshops - using the space of the responsible for the event. The first one was open to the public at FB Ideias and the second for the selected young people at the Instituto Felipe Martins de Melo.


We had a very exciting morning, full of learning, experience sharing and reflection. Together we mapped the problems within the community and taught practical ways to use the business model Canvas. We also empowered talents, created some campaigns and discovered the importance of validating ideas.

This meeting was so appreciated by the young people that they asked us more workshops before the event. We conducted the third Bootcamp at the Instituto Banco Palmas, where we presented the business model Canvas to those who have not attended the previous workshops. We also provided a game for memorizing a glossary with technical and English words used at the Startups environment.

On Friday, March 20, began our first Change Makers session. The feeling was that - in fact - it had already started a few days ago as a result of all the hard work preparing materials and workshops. We felt thankful to the sponsorship and implementation of SEBRAE together with other supporters, the production was flawlessly executed. The tent and the screen built on the street helped to create an atmosphere that something new was coming in Conjunto Palmeiras. The doors were open to everyone who would like to participate.


Early in the event, we heard from Preto Zezé, National President of CUFA (Central Única das Favelas), that we have broken the first barrier of prejudice. The beginning of the event, in of itself, created a Counter-Cultural movement, where the City Center went to the Periphery and not the other way around - as is usually observed.


This weekend in Fortaleza, we saw the beginnings of an important event of cultural change, a break of paradigms and a social development. During 54 hours the community’s youth gave ideas for solving local problems, researched the market, built a business model, created a prototype and presented the final solution to the judges. A weekend of hard work, where we experienced cultural exchanges, realized great achievements, made new and lasting friendships, taught, learned and experienced different realities and ... became international!

We contacted the organizers of Startup Weekend Social Innovation at the Impact Hub Berlin and we encouraged them to exchange videos with us. Our idea was to send lots of positive energy to the event participants that were still developing their projects. To my surprise, once again, when we recorded our video nobody wanted to wish "good luck" in Portuguese or English, but in German!


Despite the 4-hour time difference between Brazil and Germany, they answered us saying that they would send us a quick "hello" due to the approaching time for the final pitching.

We were very happy to see all invited mentors actively participating in the development of each project and seeing first hand that the exchange of experiences is always greater than we can imagine.


This Startup Weekend Change Makers Fortaleza was set up with the intention of enabling the creation of ideas to improve the conditions in Conjunto Palmeiras. However, the participants were the most knowledgeable of community problems and had the most innovative solutions to address them. They only needed to be encouraged and made to feel they could make it happen.

The perception of their strength was made clearer during the weekend and confirmed with the emotions we all felt at every speech made by the winners.

The community developed 11 projects during the weekend and we had 5 professionals to choose the best 4 ideas that could be applied for solving Conjunto Palmeiras problems. The criteria analyzed were: Business Model, Validation, Performance, Design and Social Impact.

Although the competition was part of the Startup Weekend model, the order was not important. Everyone felt - because they all were - winners.

The participants thanked the mentors and organizers for believing in them and for bringing to the periphery an event that meant to benefit the community. They told us their stories and shared a reality that some of us only heard about.


José Erberson Lino, 18, student of Palmas Lab, spoke of the difficulties of being a youth in Conjunto Palmeiras. The challenge of getting around the city center, accessing education, managing hours that he would come home by bus and the feeling of sometimes having no money to be able to go to school or even buy a snack. How, along with a team he had during the weekend, he created a way to solve the problem of locomotion to have access to education. Through the project Vai Dar Certo (It Will Work), the community’s youth that wanted to get in good universities, could have access to classes inside the community with those who were already graduated in college and still were living in the neighborhood.

Another highlight of the weekend was the AvaliSaude (Health Evaluation) business, which aimed to collect the input and reviews of patients using the public health system to map the service problems and use this information to regulate the system. Felipe Araujo, 22, student of Analysis and Systems Development at Estacio, presented this solution and commented that the creator actually was Hector Calixto, 17, student of Palmas Lab, which his mother was an agent of local health and had to daily face problems related to the lack of quality in public health services at the Conjunto Palmeiras.

Anna Victoria, 11, student of the school Helenilce Martins, thrilled everyone while explaining the idea of Traço Kids, which children could make drawings and because of the appreciation of its marketed art, would not get involved with drugs. Her greatest desire was to impact children in the community who did not have the same opportunities as her.


And the first place of our Startup Wekeend Change Makers was O que tem no meu bairro? (What's in my neighborhood?). For the sake of enhancement of Conjunto Palmeiras and strengthening its own economy, the website developed showed where one could buy what was needed without leaving the neighborhood. The most interesting thing was that only the owner of the idea, Derlyane Lima, 19, E-Jovem student, was a resident of the set, the other members were united to help her solve the situation - and were determined that even if they had not won, they would still continue the project.

After so many testimonies, the roles were reversed. Instead of mentors, we were once again learning from the youth of the community and instead of event organizers, we were a mess. It was mix of emotions impossible to describe.

As you might imagine, such an event does not happen alone! So, for those who like numbers ... we had: 75 participants, 12 mentors, 5 judges, 6 event organizers, 6 different nationalities, 20 ideas created, 9 ideas selected, 11 ideas done, 4 winners, 1 honorable mention ... in 54 hours!

And every last minute, every approach made, every word spoken, we realized how much a weekend could change someone's life and motivate youth to improve an entire community.

We realized how assisting with knowledge, showing new tools and giving a lot of love in this construction, multiplies the desire to make a difference.

And sensitizes.

And thrills.

But as important as planting a seed on the periphery, is somehow give continuity to this all: maybe through the development of social projects and business, either with other workshops or meetings bringing together young people and inspiring more and more, so they are not forgotten again!

And there are those who doubt whether it is worth to volunteer.

It is inexplicable that feeling, just look and see the change happening.

If it was enriching for them - imagine for us to have see the changes happening in front of us!


Be the Change, be a Change Maker!

A thousand thanks to everyone involved in this Startup Weekend Change Makers Fortaleza! In particular to Gabriela Aires, Asier Ansorena, Glauber Uchoa, Sol Dúran, Marcos Medeiros, for organizing together this dream – making it come true. The facilitator, Leo Uchoa, and mentors: Eduardo Freire, Evandro Ariki, Gregorio Marin, Julio Cavalcante, Kim Lima, Lucas Hoogerbrugge, Marcos Mendes, Maurílio Alberone, Pietro Occiuzzi, Rodrigo Brito and Tatiana Lourenço, for inspiring young people and assist the implementation of their ideas. The judges: Joaquim Cartaxo, Joaquim de Melo, Leo Lacerda, Preto Zezé and Rodolfo Sikora, for the technical and humanized look to choose the winners and also for allowing 2 groups in the third place, in order to continue the projects. To the realization of this event: SEBRAE, Instituto Banco Palmas, FB Ideias and Instituto Felipe Martins de Melo, for joining forces, believing in the construction of this event. To all the volunteers, who have dedicated their working hours to help us in each action that needed to be done. To the Conjunto Palmeiras, for receiving so warmly during that rich moment. And to all the participants who came enthusiastic about the purpose of bringing new solutions to community problems and becoming Change Makers.

For more information visit the page of the Startup Weekend Change Makers Fortaleza on Facebook or  Up Global! And for the curious, I believe the video below shows some of that fantastic energy we had last weekend!

See you soon!


Startup Weekends are 54-hour events where developers, designers, marketers, product managers and startup enthusiasts come together to share ideas, form teams, build products, and launch startups! Around 1500 events were realized in more than 700 cities, in more than 100 countries around the world.

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