Dee Keilholz

Chacrinha, a favela on the outskirts of Rio de Janeiro, is mostly known for its high poverty and crime rates – at least until recently. These days, Chacrinha is making headlines for something entirely different, namely “badminton-samba”.

Badminton-samba is the ingenious invention of Sebastião Dias de Oliveira, founder of the Badminton Miratus Association. De Oliveira created this new unorthodox training method to teach favela youth championship-level badminton and provide them with an alternative to crime and drugs. Many Miratus trainees have gone on to compete in national and international badminton tournaments, winning not only gold, silver and bronze medals but also confidence and life-changing stipends.

The secret behind Miratus’ success is rooted in the hard work and charisma of people like De Oliveira, but also in a new approach to social innovation, co-developed by Kirk Bowman, a professor at Georgia Tech. Bowman’s approach, which he calls “identify, invest, inspire”, puts a twist on traditional development policy.

“There’s that unhealthy power relationship we often see in traditional startup-based development where the superhero from the global North rushes in with this great idea and tells the sidekick from the global South what to do,” says Bowman. “We are turning that model on its head by identifying successful local partners, investing in them and inspiring people with powerful documentaries.”

To act on his “identify, invest, inspire” model, Bowman co-founded nonprofit Rise up & Care, which provides financial support to Miratus and other local community organizations. Rise Up & Care also partners with award-winning filmmakers to turn success stories into documentaries, which are screened in Brazil’s favelas, international film festivals and places around the world to inspire change.

Trailer- Bad & the Birdieman from Rise Up & Care on Vimeo.

One such documentary, Bad & the Birdieman, (directed by Lili Fialho and Kátia Lund, co-director of City of God), will be screened at the Innovation Policy Lab (IPL) Speakers Series on October 25 at the Munk School of Global Affairs. The screening will be followed by a talk with Bowman outlining the key elements of Rise Up & Care’s model and a panel discussion on social innovation and the power of film to inspire social change.

“Film is such a powerful, democratic medium. It lets you spend a day with someone like Sebastião Dias de Oliveira and relive his experience and that can lead to a greater understanding,” says Bowman.

To gain a greater understanding also happens to be one of the main motivations behind the Innovation Policy Lab Speakers series, says Dan Breznitz, co-director of the IPL. Hearing from leading voices in innovation policy has been a learning experience, both for the lab and others: “The purpose of this speaker series is to provide a public forum to academia, policymakers and the U of T community to discuss and learn about cutting-edge policy approaches and to explore their societal impact.”

Embracing innovation policy that focuses not just on growth, but also on inclusion and community impact, is integral to the lab’s work. To name just a few projects, Breznitz and Amos Zehavi, a senior associate at IPL, are currently researching Distribution Sensitive Innovation Policies (DSIP) that effectively address economic disadvantage and social distribution of resources. And Peter Warrian, one of the lab’s distinguished fellows, is investigating the impact changes in mining technology will have on businesses and on mining communities.

“There’s a huge emphasis here at the Innovation Policy Lab on examining not just models and theories of innovation, but also the application and socio-economic impact of innovation policies and practices,” says Dan Munro, IPL’s director of policy projects. “How do you design and implement innovation policies that will have a positive impact on the health, wealth and well-being of people and communities? We think that question ought to be at the centre of innovation research and it’s one of the guiding themes of our work.”

Please join Kirk Bowman at the Munk School of Global Affairs on October 25, 6 to 8 pm. The event is open to the public and free to attend. Register for this event.

October 20, 2017