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Cecília Zanotti is co-founder of Projeto Bagagem which brings together tourists, residents of the small, traditional communities they visit, and local social organizations to redefine tourism in Brazil while strengthening local development and fostering economic inclusion.  

This profile below was prepared when Cecilia Zanotti was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 2007.


Cecília Zanotti is co-founder of Projeto Bagagem which brings together tourists, residents of the small, traditional communities they visit, and local social organizations to redefine tourism in Brazil while strengthening local development and fostering economic inclusion.  


Cecília shows tourists a side of Brazil they wouldn’t otherwise see. Through her organization, Bagagem, she works with local nonprofits to create opportunities for visitors to interact with residents of small, impoverished communities in Brazil. Members of destination communities participate in the planning of tourist activities, which contribute to local development and promote environmental conservation. Because local culture is the main attraction, travelers have the opportunity to learn about local customs, understand how the local population lives, and become involved with local social and environmental issues.

Cecília believes that planning tourism with the input of local communities is an indispensable tool for creating sustainable development in regions where the tourism industry is growing.  She works in partnership with existing public sector organizations to create itineraries for tourists from around the world. Bagagem also helps communities organize themselves so they can shape their own tourism industries. The trips generate income for destination communities and contribute to their growth and development. Bagagem puts revenues back into the communities that generated them in order to finance further tourism projects. This sustainable model transforms communities while strengthening both the work of the social organizations and local partners. Tourists learn about the social, economic, and environmental realities of the places they visit. Their exposure to civil society organizations broadens their understanding of the social sector. Partner organizations benefit economically and become part of the network Bagagem creates, which allows them to link up with similar organizations working in other areas of the country. Finally, Cecília aims to influence Brazil’s public policy toward tourism.


Tourism and development don’t always go hand-in-hand. When not locally planned, tourism can cause environmental degradation, pave the way for big businesses to replace local businesses and agriculture, impoverish of the population, and speed the disappearance of local culture.
In Brazil, tourism has been growing at an average rate of 3.5 percent a year. In the year 2000, it represented 7 percent of Brazil’s gross national product.  Tourism in Brazil is likely to increase, given the country’s natural, historical, and cultural heritage. The tourism industry is not sustainable, however, nor has it been equally promoted across the diverse regions of Brazil. The northern and northeastern regions of the country, with their diverse attractions, are perhaps the most likely to see an expansion of tourism in the coming years. But these regions also have the highest rates of economic, educational, and social marginalization. At least of quarter of the population there lives in precarious conditions, without formal employment or access to education. Traditionally, tourism to these areas has done nothing to help alleviate harsh social and economic conditions there.

Environmentally, tourism can be devastating, but this devastation is often overlooked because it comes along with economic development and industrial expansion. The so-called benefits of tourism, including revenue, can mask the exploitation that often accompanies it until the local population is left more impoverished, the natural resources and cultural heritage devastated, and social structure diminished.


The core idea of Cecília’s organization, Projeto Bagagem(  is to create a network of community tourism projects in Brazil while working with existing local social organizations. To accomplish this, she creates targeted itineraries for visitors who are interested in learning about life in Brazil’s small traditional communities which are obtaining success through cultural, environmental or social projects involving participation. Bagagem chooses destinations based on the location of successful social organizations that are open to acting as hosts and building a tailored, unique itinerary for interested tourists. The idea is to capitalize on the best that each community, civil society organization, and tourist has to offer in order to strengthen values and create trusting relationships.  According to Bagagem’s guiding principles, communities must own their tourist ventures, collectively manage tourist activities, and be the main beneficiaries of tourism, the purpose of which is to develop and strengthen community associations. The main tourist attraction must be the community’s way of life: how community members organize themselves, the social projects they take part in, and their cultural traditions and economic activities. This enables cultural exchange and allows visitors to participate in community activities. Tourist itineraries must respect the conservation norms of the region and should have the least possible impact on the environment. Finally, host communities and tourists must participate in the fair distribution of financial resources.

Bagagem has three main programs: a network of community-based tourist destinations, a network of agencies and partner organizations, and a network of information. In order to create the destination network, Projeto Bagagem first identifies COs that are references for their work of 10, 20 years and positive impact in local community and environment, located nearby Conservation Units. Current destinations include riverine communities on the banks of the Amazon, afrodescendent communities in Chapada Diamantina in Bahia state, and fisher or rural communities in Vale do Jequitinhonha, Maranhão and Paraná.

Projeto Bagagem works with organization members and community leaders to develop tourist activities. Together, they plan an itinerary and involve other social partners, such as sustainable tourism agencies and cooperatives that are interested in supporting the initiative, marketing the itinerary, or forming visitor groups. These partner organizations are located around the world, though most are in Western Europe.

After the first trip to a destination, Bagagem conducts an evaluation with the tourists who’ve been there, the local organization, and partner agencies. Each trip thereafter involves a preparatory meeting, followed by a post-trip financial report and an evaluation aimed at improving future trips and managing resources. Bagagem has already conducted 21 trips, generating over 220,000 Reals, of which 30 percent was distributed to the communities and partners’ organization, 10 percent to Bagagem, and 60 percent were costs not directly involving these actors. In addition, these trips have the potential to strengthen and other sources of income for destination communities, such as through the sale of handicrafts.  In one two-day trip, tourists bought 10 percent of the total handcrafted goods sold in the village during the entire year.

Bagagem works to strengthen the relationship between tourists and communities. Its tourist network encourages tourists to continue supporting the communities they visited, even after they have returned home. It also encourages them to plan new trips through Bagagem.

The itinerary in Bahia, in partnership with Graos de Luz e Griô, the local CO, involved a youth group, which take on the responsibility for developing tourist activities and distributing the income they generate. She has trained young people during 2 and a half years to act as liaisons with local communities. She hopes to expand these groups and make them self-sustaining. Bagagem’s strategic plan includes developing two new itineraries a year and establishing partnerships with municipal, state, and federal government agencies, with the hope that Brazil becomes a reference in community based tourism in the world.

The impact of Cecília’s work is tangible: Tourists change their perception of the poor rural communities they visit; tourist activities develop resources for local communities and help sustain local culture; and investment in local communities grows. Bagagem is expanding and already working connected to 6 other Ashoka Fellows organizations in Brazil.


Cecília was born in Sao Paulo. During her teen years, she went on several environmental trips, which piqued her interest in environmentalism and travel. In 1994 she enrolled in business school at Fundação Getulio Vargas, where she became active in student groups. As a member of the International Association of Students of Commercial and Economic Sciences, she developed her marketing skills, planned events, and increased the visibility of the organization within her university. Because of this work, she was selected to participate in an international interchange program with the University of Texas at Austin, where she focused on international marketing.

Upon her return to Brazil, she took an internship at Microsoft and, at the same time, helped the Center for Studies of the Third Sector of Fundação Getúlio Vargas to create an electronic magazine about the social sector. During this time, she met Ashoka Fellow Luciana Martinelli, whose work with young people she found fascinating. This, combined with her experiences at the magazine, convinced Cecília to work in civil society organizations. On another exchange, she spent one year  in a voluntary program at the University of Costa Rica, where she developed fundraising and marketing activities for the national parks there.

When she returned to Brazil, she joined the Ayrton Senna Institute as a trainee and project assistant working to improve the quality of education for young people. This experience taught her about Brazil’s public education system and gave her the opportunity to travel around the country.

Her travels inspired Cecília to create the Bagagem Project in 2002, with the aim of taking tourists from different social classes to the Amazon in order to create economic opportunities for local communities and change the way tourists view both Brazil and community development. Together with the civil sector organizations of other Ashoka fellows, such as Projeto Saúde e Alegria, Bagagem began branching out to other tourist destinations. Soon Cecília had established her vision of combining tourism and local development.