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André Sobrinho brings young people into the political process by training them to participate in the government councils making the public policy decisions that affect them. By ensuring that the councils reflect Brazil’s diversity and respond to the needs of youth, he is making government more participatory and responsive.

This profile below was prepared when André Sobrinho was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 2007.


André Sobrinho brings young people into the political process by training them to participate in the government councils making the public policy decisions that affect them. By ensuring that the councils reflect Brazil’s diversity and respond to the needs of youth, he is making government more participatory and responsive.


André mobilizes youth to become involved in the public policy decisions that affect them most. His organization, Canto Jovem, works with existing youth groups to steer young leaders toward political participation, and helps them see their participation as an important strategy for social transformation in Brazil. Canto Jovem not only encourages young people to take part in the political arena—particularly guardianship councils, which set policies that impact youth—but also devises strategies to help them get elected, and prepares them to fully participant by educating them about a wide variety of issues, both related to youth and not. In this way, Canto Jovem ensures these young leaders have a broad view of social policies and can work effectively as members of their councils.

The young people Canto Jovem trains also dedicate themselves to assessing and monitoring the work of guardianship councils, presenting from the needs of communities, and following up to ensure compliance with council-initiated policies. Canto Jovem also works to improve communication, in order to increase the visibility of local problems, raise awareness of social issues that impact young people, and propose solutions.

André disseminates his strategy to other parts of Brazil at yearly regional youth meetings, where young people and the organizations that serve them build a common agenda, exchange methodologies, and monitor local policies. To further strengthen the position of young people who work with guardianship councils, André is developing a national network of young council members, which will help spread his strategies and solutions nationally, and lead to effective changes in youth-oriented public policies across Brazil.


Among the impacts of Brazil’s federal constitution of 1988 was a change in perceptions about the value of public participation, especially in terms of its central role in social mobilization and management. After 20 years of dictatorship, new legislation established national councils to work on issues like education, health, food safety, and the rights of children and teenagers, and to include Brazilian citizens in the design and implementation of public policies in these areas.

Passed into law in 1990, the Child and Adolescent Statute established a network of social protections from the municipal to the national level. It created guardianship councils to monitor compliance with laws related to children and teenagers, protect their rights, and devise municipal policies for assisting youth. Communities choose council members, who serve a three-year term and receive compensation. These positions have proven appealing because of the good salary and power they confer. None of the laws creating the councils address the need for council members to reflect the diversity of the communities they represent. Youth representatives are very rare; instead, adults speak for young without understanding their real needs and wishes. Most council members are either academics or the appointees of influential politicians and most council members lack real ties with the most vulnerable segments of their communities. In practice, there is very little community participation in the councils.

This situation reinforces the widespread perception that public policies are inaccessible to average people, and adds to widespread disillusionment about the possibilities for change. A survey conducted in 2004 showed that only one percent of youth mentioned political participation as one of their rights, even though 60 percent of them said they would like to take part in health and education councils. Despite the increase in citizenship initiatives across Brazil, the government bodies that should include representatives from a broad swath of society actually only include members of already influential minorities. Thus, youth continue to be excluded from the creation of the public policies that affect them.


André mobilizes community groups and civil society organizations that target youth, builds young people’s skills so they can participate in politics, and monitors guardianship councils. In order to mobilize youth groups and the organizations that focus on young people, Canto Jovem first maps communities to identify formal and informal groups and organizations working with youth. Then Canto Jovem invites those groups to send representatives to an annual statewide meeting to discuss how youth political can participate in areas like health and education. At the end of the three-day meeting, each youth group creates a list of demands, which are later consolidated and sent to state government entities as well as presented during public hearings. The meeting also enables youth leaders to build a common agenda to empower them and strengthen their actions. Six hundred young people participated in the fifth year of this state meeting.

After the annual meeting is over, Canto Jovem continues building the political skills of the young people who currently take part in councils, or may take part in the future. This training happens weekly in the city of Natal; Andre then disseminates the contents of the training to organizations elsewhere so that Canto Jovem’s strategy can be replicated in other cities. This project acquaints young people with existing networks that provide assistance and protection for children and teenagers; social movements that address a variety of issues, including feminism, race/ethnicity; environment, gay/lesbian/bisexual/transgender concerns, communications democratization, and children and adolescents; the working model of guardianship councils; and other mechanisms for participation. Within its skill-building work, Canto Jovem identifies young people with leadership potential who can monitor council activities. Participants discuss and present a critical perspective on the work of guardianship councils and forums, and put forward new proposals based on the societal needs they’ve identified. Canto Jovem members present their findings and recommendations to councils and follow up on implementation.

Canto Jovem also mobilizes communities to ensure that young candidates have enough votes to be elected as council members. This effort brings candidates together with community members, and ensures the guardianship councils will be responsive to community needs. Their familiarity with local issues also helps newly elected youth further commit themselves to local development, and increases public trust in council decisions.

In order to spread the work of Canto Jovem’s young participants, André also focuses on communication. He promotes youth involvement in political decision making via brochures, community radio and newspapers, street loudspeakers, and advertising. He also creates opportunities for youth to communicate with one another and discus guardianship council initiatives. Finally, André has established a national network for young council members as a way to expand his work to other regions in Brazil. He identifies existing young council members and then builds their skills so that they perceive themselves as political players and can work effectively toward generational renewal in the political arena. This network allows Canto Jovem to take its strategies and discussions to a national level and share experiences with other organizations, while taking into account the specific needs of each region. André believes the national network can play a key role in building public policies that ensure youth have a permanent place in guardianship councils, legitimizing their participation in issues like health, education, and human rights, without sidelining them on youth councils, which have much less impact.


André was born to a family of fishermen in Natal, where he has lived every since. As a teenager at a state school, he started to participate in youth groups focusing on education and sexual politics. This led him to realize that these initiatives, as well as many governmental and non-governmental projects targeting youth, did not involve young people themselves to any significant extent.

A friend invited him to participate in a youth group called Leo Clube, which was associated with Lyons Club International. Unlike most of the other participants, André was not from the upper class, but he accepted the invitation nonetheless, and soon became one of its leading members. As president of Natal’s Leo Clube from 1996 to 1998, he coordinated community activities in the region, and earned the respect of his peers. This work showed André the extent of the social problems in his community and the role youth can play in social change and politics. In 1999, when he was 19 years old, André left Leo Clube and created Canto Jovem.

At first, Canto Jovem focused on issues relating to the sexual and reproductive rights of young people, but later began to also work on human rights. This directly resulted from André’s involvement in different social movements, particularly the Movement of Adolescents from Brazil, which provided him with a broader view of the social and political issues throughout the country. When he was first establishing Canto Jovem, he supported himself and his family with his job as a tourist guide in the city of Natal.

In 2001, André entered university to study social sciences, and was granted a scholarship by Fundação Carlos Chagas, as part of its Gender, Reproduction, Action, and Leadership Program. His studies informed his work with Canto Jovem. During that time, he created partnerships with the UN Population Fund and the Projeto Elos/Núcleo de Educação Sexual in Natal. He also helped two young members get elected to their local guardianship council.

André currently coordinates Canto Jovem in Natal and continues to be involved in the Movement of Adolescents from Brazil as a member-educator. He serves as a deputy councilor of a guardianship council. He also coordinates the national campaign Youth Sexual Rights and Reproductive Rights  and is the Brazilian representative in the United Nations Global Youth Leadership Summit.