Spotlight on Rio+

–        by Marina Drummond, Rio+ Global Ambassador


From a much-admired starlet, Rio de Janeiro has officially become a diva amongst global cities.

Experiencing an extraordinary historical moment of absolute stardom, pampered from every side, Rio was awarded UNESCO World Heritage Status in 2012, received a Papal Visit and hosted the FIFA Confederations Cup in 2013; and is gearing up to host, in 2014 and 2016 respectively, the World Cup and the Olympics.

Bring on the paparazzi’s.

And yet, in June of this year, the citizens took to the streets in protest. It is not the purpose of this post to develop the whys and wherefores of the demonstrations, which ranged from anger due to a rise in bus fares to complaints regarding crippling bureaucracy and systemic corruption. However, the dissatisfaction which was voiced in the streets has released a burst of citizen-powered energy into the city – energy which, with the right mechanism, can be directed into positive projects.

On the day of the largest protest, the 10th of June 2013, – completely coincidentally, a sheer accident of fate – Rio de Janeiro’s first Collaborative Governance Platform, Rio+, was launched.

A platform which was focussed upon providing solutions, and which needed only the citizen-energy that was, at that very moment, bubbling.

The initiative was the result of cooperation between two groups, Benfeitoria and RioEuAmoEuCuido – the first, a zero-commission crowd-funding website; the second, an urban conservation NGO. Brainchild of Murilo Farah and his wife, Tatiana, both ex-Coca Cola marketing pros, Rio+ moved from drawing board to reality at an impressive speed, gaining public enthusiasm, government support from the Mayor, Eduardo Paes, and corporate sponsors, such as Natura, an environmentally-aware cosmetics giant.

The local government has embraced the project to such a degree that the Mayor has committed, ex ante, to turn the twelve most popular ideas (one for each category, such as mobility, beaches, citizenship), into public policy. Should these prove successful, they may even be expanded and replicated. One disused area becomes a green, tree-filled park. Then ten. Twenty. Fifty…

Proposals include intelligent, integrated bicycle lanes; temporary stages – ágoras – for unknown talents to perform and be discovered for free; creative ways to distribute Wi-Fi; innovative means of greening urban spaces; even floating pathways over Rio’s lagoon, connecting the city in crazy new ways.

Ideas originate from people of all ages, ranging from Victoria Silva, the youngest, at 12, to Victor Koifman, the eldest, at 78 – author of a staggering 49 ideas for Rio’s improvement.

Screen Shot 2013-12-09 at 11.13.03

Rio+ adopted a cyclical model, which it plans to implement year after year, adding improvements as it goes along. The platform was open for the sending in of ideas from April till October, 2013.A new, exciting, phase has just begun: the narrowing down of projects, from nearly two thousand… down to twelve.

In order to do the thing seriously, at each level, experts from civil society, government and business will be involved in the judging, analysis and ranking, using criteria such as innovation, impact-potential and replicability.  Rigorous feasibilitystudies will be undertaken. Legal and technical aspects will be evaluated. Finally, detailed implementation analyses will be made, considering cost, timescale and people-power necessary to get the project underway.

In February of 2014, the chosen proposals (2 per category) will be submitted to popular vote, both on and off-line, until 12 ideas are selected, i.e. until only one per category is left.

And in March, 2014, the local government will fund and implement the chosen projects. An extra idea in the field of Innovation will be implemented with funding from Natura.

In order to make sure that the great ideas which fell by the wayside during the selection process are not abandoned, many of the remaining projects will become crowd-funding campaigns.

Moreover, in favour of transparency and integrity, Rio+ has asked FGV, a top Brazilian think tank, to conduct an independent analysis of the success of each initiative, from process of implementation to repercussion in the borough.

Understanding, also, that it is important to give recognition to the authors of the ideas, in August of 2014, the twelve members of the public whose ideas were chosen will be given a prize at an Awards Ceremony.

… After which a new, improved cycle will begin.

“At the end of the day,” says Murilo Farah, “it’s the people who are going to make a difference in this project. Rio+ doesn’t belong to one foundation, to the local government, to Benfeitoria, to RioEuAmoEuCuido, or to the sponsors. It belongs to the carioca, the citizen of Rio.”

However, although things are only just beginning, Rio+ intends to reach far beyond one city.

It has already partnered with the local government of Santa Catarina, a state in the south of Brazil, where a 2.0 model of the platform will be launched in 2014. The idea is to replicate the Rio+ model in all 26 Brazilian States.

Yet the dreams of Rio+ don’t stop at Brazil’s borders.

Having plunged headlong into the international limelight, Rio+ is making connections with other platforms around the globe, participating in an international network of local governance hubs, exchanging experiences and ideas – all of which really are by the people and for the people.

It is in this spirit that the Rio+ blueprint is on offer, free of charge, for any group of passionate individuals who want to get their local government on board and create a “plus” model of their own.

Alea jacta est.