EDGARD PATRICIO

Brazil,

In the field of communications, there is a striking power imbalance between big urban centers—which generally act as content producers—and rural communities—which typically become content consumers. It is precisely because this situation perpetuates social inequalities that Edgard Patrício created a network of radio broadcasters, community members and thematic experts to produce and disseminate local knowledge through the use of new and traditional technologies. 

This profile below was prepared when Edgard Patricio was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 2010.

INTRODUCTION

In the field of communications, there is a striking power imbalance between big urban centers—which generally act as content producers—and rural communities—which typically become content consumers. It is precisely because this situation perpetuates social inequalities that Edgard Patrício created a network of radio broadcasters, community members and thematic experts to produce and disseminate local knowledge through the use of new and traditional technologies. 




THE NEW IDEA

Edgard is transforming rural populations from passive audiences of content to producers of content pertinent to their daily lives, empowering communities to become agents of their own development. In order to enable the production and dissemination of locally relevant information, Edgard creates learning spaces in schools, community centers, and public spaces to discuss how to conduct rural life and improve living conditions. The content that emerges is combined with formal knowledge and then synthesized to produce radio programs that are broadcast through existing radio stations. The opportunity for community members to hear their own voices on public radio allows them to understand and value their role as active knowledge producers and citizens. It strengthens their identity and ultimately contributes to a better quality of life.

Recognizing the influence of radio in rural settings and the power of the Internet, Edgard combines old and new technologies to improve communities’ living conditions. His initiative is based on the principle that each community is capable of choosing its own priorities, identifying its existing assets, and when necessary, searching for external assistance to achieve its goals. Through Catavento and the Broadcasters Network—organizations he founded—Edgard gives communities the opportunity to question stereotypes and create locally relevant information. As a result, participants begin to value their collective knowledge. Each radio program produced by Catavento spreads local content about ongoing issues pertinent to rural communities’ development through the Network using commercial, community and school radios, as well as the Internet and text messaging. By incorporating new technologies, such as podcasts and blogs, Edgard is not only enabling the collaborative construction of knowledge, but empowering people to access information.




THE PROBLEM

Brazil’s rural communities are among the most disadvantaged in the country. On average, rural families live on less than half a minimum-wage salary. This socioeconomic situation is perpetuated and aggravated by staggering illiteracy rates. In addition, approximately 40 percent of the population is under the age of 17. Thus, there is a close correlation between such economic disempowerment and a community’s participation in local decision-making processes. 

As a result, rural communities tend to be excluded from processes that foster the local production and dissemination of knowledge, which are requisites for informed decision-making and active citizenship. Most communication tools are still concentrated in the hands of few people. According to a national survey conducted in 2003, in both urban and rural settings in Northeastern Brazil, radio is more widely listened to than television is watched. Radio is therefore an extremely powerful tool that occupies an omnipresent role in most households and is often linked to the political interests of regional oligarchs. Both television and radio shape public opinion and strengthen behavioral norms in rural areas, but neither generally uses communication tools to advance social goals. 

Nevertheless, radio is losing its prestige due to its insufficiently qualified professional workforce. As a result, rural radio stations increasingly rely on “imported” programs produced in urban centers. Thus, power imbalances between big cities and rural communities are turning the former into content producers and the latter into passive listeners. What is more, a current Brazilian law dating back to the years of the military regime prohibits the creation of community radio networks; making local content sharing all the more difficult.

Even though new technologies have the potential to democratize communication media, such tools remain largely unavailable to the most vulnerable sectors of society. Some government programs are trying to address this problem; however, they usually fail to promote the use of new technologies as tools for collaborative information production. Rural communities therefore become mere consumers of information disseminated by a communication media industry that often portrays them in caricatured and negative ways. This representation further disempowers them and fails to create incentives for civic participation. It has a direct effect on Brazil’s rural populations whose human development indices are among the lowest in the country. 




THE STRATEGY

Edgard tackles the prevalence of social inequalities in rural areas of Brazil by empowering communities to access, produce, and disseminate information that contributes to the resolution of their own challenges. As a result of a learning process that bridges the gap between popular knowledge and academia, radio programs are recorded and used to disseminate ideas and relevant knowledge, starting in four Northeastern states and moving to other parts of Brazil and Latin America. 

Edgard’s deep understanding of rural realities and conviction of the power of communication led him to incorporate local radio broadcasters and new technologies as catalyzers of development processes. Although underestimated by their mass-media bosses and colleagues, radio broadcasters are crucial public opinion leaders in Brazil’s rural communities. On the other hand, governmental initiatives fail to explore new technologies as a tool of development process in rural communities. Through Catavento, broadcasters begin to understand their important social roles in democratizing knowledge production and the dissemination of good social practices.

Catavento’s work is based on the principle that everyone—from radio broadcasters to families, health workers, students, and teachers—has the capacity to produce and disseminate relevant information. These knowledge producing networks function democratically. Every individual can participate freely in the formulation and development of Catavento’s activities. Moreover, Catavento encourages and always considers suggestions and criticisms from diverse audiences. The organization is thus challenging the status quo of one-way communication between broadcasters and listeners. 

To maintain a high-quality of programming Catavento Comunicação e Educação (Communication and Education) engages in a range of activities. Its members come together weekly to decide on the topics to be explored. The meetings are conducted using social media tools, thus allowing the collaborative participation of various radio broadcasters throughout the semi-arid region of Brazil, at a low cost. The Network members divide up roles among themselves to ensure that everyone contributes to the production of the radio programs. Finally, the programs are disseminated throughout the Network. The radio broadcasters are trained to customize these shows to address the issues in a way that is locally relevant. They do so by incorporating the audience’s comments and reflections that have been shared through other communication media. 

Thus, radio programs are beginning to play an educational role. They encourage audience members to reflect on the issues at hand, help them understand the problems they are facing, and foster civic participation. For many, this is the first time they are told, or better yet, shown that their voices matter. As a result, community members become more self-confident and responsive to sustainable development issues, which is the focus of each show. In addition, radio broadcasters find an avenue to continuously perfect their skills and appreciate their role as community-builders; an opportunity that was not previously offered.

More specifically, each Catavento initiative stimulates a community’s learning process around important issues relating to education and sustainable development. Edgard developed a project with UNICEF that exemplifies the way Catavento operates. This initiative brought together children’s rights defenders, child protection workers, radio broadcasters, and youth. Catavento facilitated workshops that questioned stereotypes, explored children’s rights issues relevant to the communities and built on local knowledge. From these workshops, Edgard and his team created new radio programs and disseminated them through Communication and Education and school radios. This process also created greater opportunities for collaboration with international and governmental organizations. It allowed community members to define their own priorities in relation to specific developmental themes, such as health and children’s rights, thus enabling the emergence of sustainable development projects from the bottom up. 

A partnership with UNICEF is but one example of Edgard’s approach, which involved 150 councilors in thirty municipalities throughout the state of Ceará. The type of activities undertaken varied from community to community. In one municipality, the councilors decided to use the radio program to create educational conversation circles with local families. In another, the radio broadcasters edited the program to include their audience’s comments. The series was so popular, it was broadcasted during the usual sports programming schedule, a much coveted time slot. In a Landless Movement settlement where a school radio operates, the youth were able to get support from the Ministry of Culture to disseminate the initiative to other settlements throughout the state via the radio station. The “Communicating Knowledge, Achieving Dreams,” project is another example of innovative interactions between radio broadcasters and community members. Thousands of families and 120 radio broadcasters have taken part in 24 meetings on a range of topics relating to children’s rights, which resulted in the production of 61 radio episodes. 

Catavento also seeks to democratize the use of new technologies. Each initiative begins by introducing its participants (those not radio broadcasters) to older and more famíliar equipment; however, new and innovative technologies such as web chats, podcasts, digital radio, and text messaging are quickly introduced. Edgard is also breaking down communication barriers through the creation of digital school radios. These radios are established in computer labs with Internet access and are managed by teachers and youth. Through these digital radio stations, young radio broadcasters can produce and disseminate high-quality programs with ease. Catavento has signed an agreement with the federal government’s National Institute of Colonization and Agrarian Reform, to establish digital school radios and offer training to students and teachers in rural areas. Catavento has spurred the creation of 13 digital radio stations with the participation of 325 primary and high-school students and 130 educators. Oi Futuro, one of Brazil’s largest telecommunication companies, is supporting the digital school radio program. This partnership will allow Catavento to reach approximately 1,450 public schools throughout the country.

Since 2009 the methodology of Communication and Education has spread beyond the Northeast and Brazil. Edgard has expanded his work that was originally focused on four semi-arid states in the Northeast of Brazil and now reaches the Northern region. In addition, his programs are available to download on the web on the Ministry of Culture’s biggest radio platform: Cultura Viva. Morevoer, in August 2010, Catavento organized a four-day Latin American Seminar on Communication and Education bringing together leaders in the field from five countries and more than 150 participants. Catavento thus began spreading its methodology throughout the region through roundtables and courses on community mobilization, educative radio, schools’ radios, and more. 

Edgard’s aim is to enable communities to influence public policy through networking and knowledge production processes. He has chosen to focus on children and youth acknowledging that their participation in the knowledge economy will be crucial for their future success as engaged citizens. Moreover, Edgard created the Brazilian Network of Young Communication Producers, with Ashoka Fellow Paulo Lima, from the project Viração. Communication and Education is currently spreading its reach and impact through partnerships with the News Agency for Children’s Rights (ANDI Network) and UNICEF. 




THE PERSON

As a young boy, Edgard’s father was forced to interrupt his studies to sustain himself economically. He later did everything he could to ensure that his children would have the means to undertake university studies. His father’s encouragement and his passion for learning led Edgard to leave his rural community in 1973 to pursue university studies in Fortaleza, the capital of Ceará. But his experiences in the remote sertão of Ceará marked him for life. 

During his last year of high school, at 18, Edgard engaged in political and community actions. He became involved with the Workers Party and the Direitas Já (a civil society movement promoting democratic values), around the time of their respective inceptions in Ceará. Edgard participated actively with the latter group and created a series of meetings within the university to discuss the theme of democracy. A few years later, Edgard became interested in the first land occupation led by the Rural Landless Workers Movement in the state of Ceará. He created a campaign with Fortaleza’s business owners to support the families during this occupation period. 

After completing computer engineering studies, Edgard switched gears to advertising and journalism. During a radio class, he realized he could reconcile his social goals with a career in journalism. He joined a university group that helped social organizations establish loudspeaker community radios. The possibility of fostering social justice, through community journalism, instead of reinforcing inequalities through advertising, gave Edgard a clear career path. In 1991 he began producing an environmental education program called Catavento with a few colleagues. The program discussed environmental themes months before the UN Summit on the Environment and Development in Rio, 1992. 

In 1995 Edgard widened his contribution to the citizen sector through this experience and created Catavento: Communication and Education. The radio program was on the air until 1998, but many other projects followed. In 2000 Edgard was selected as one of twenty Brazilians to participate in Mercosur’s Leadership Program for Sustainable Development. This experience sparked his interest in the creation of networks. The same year, Catavento began participating, along with 300 other organizations, in the Articulação do Semi-Arido Brasileiro (a network of COs from the semi-arid region) and in 2004 the organization joined the ANDI Network in Brazil.