LOS ANGELES, California — According to World Bank data, 16% of Brazil’s population in 2018 lived in favelas — a type of shantytown that, despite poverty, usually harbors a prominent local culture and a great sense of community. However, the Brazilian government tends to neglect these areas, making those who live in favelas responsible for finding their own way of accessing basic services like clean water and sanitation.
Delivery Difficulties in Favelas
Product delivery is another service frequently denied to those living in favelas. A situation even further aggravated by the coronavirus pandemic as people rely more on e-commerce purchases and donations. Lack of delivery services is blamed on a number of factors: outsider prejudice against favelas, difficulty finding physical addresses inside them, fear of crime and now, fear of COVID-19 exposure.
Besides, the pandemic sent the unemployment rate skyrocketing up to 14.7%, meaning Brazil’s jobless grew from 11.5 million people to nearly 15 million since the virus outbreak. It was against this backdrop Giva Pereira founded Favela Brasil Xpress, a logistic startup designed to connect neighbors and create jobs in Brazilian favelas.
The 21-year-old social entrepreneur told The Borgen Project he started the company from scratch, feeling like a distant dream in the beginning. But not anymore. “Today, we are really starting to transform favelas in the entire country,” he said.
Favela Brasil Xpress’ History and Concerns
Pereira says he always did his part to improve his living environment. “When I moved to Paraisópolis, I lived in a risk area within a shack that housed 10 people. I could not settle for it, so I decided that I would change that reality.”
He founded Favela Brasil Xpress in September 2020 amidst the COVID-19 chaos. By then, the young entrepreneur had already identified the delivery problem in Paraisópolis — one of Brazil’s biggest favelas and “home to nearly 100,000 people.” However, another issue also inspired him: The difficulty of receiving donations from outsiders.
As a response to the social impacts of the pandemic, Pereira and other volunteers gave out free meals and groceries to the most poverty-stricken families in Paraisópolis. Throughout this process, they realized many outsiders wanted to make donations but were hampered by the many barriers. This prompted the volunteers to start picking up donations themselves, distributing them among the most vulnerable families.
As their assistance work continued, Pereira identified one more problem: “The unemployment rate was too high, and the volunteers also needed some income to make a living,” he said. Besides, small business owners from Paraisópolis found it difficult to deliver products both inside and outside the community. Pereira solved both by officially creating Favela Brasil Xpress and immediately started looking for partners. Whilst this was not an easy process, companies slowly started signing on, especially after the startup won first place at an urban logistic contest.
Pereira sees Paraisópolis as a place of opportunity. “It is a city for me, actually. It is a country where I search for everything, where everything is possible.” Although Paraisopolis was the first to benefit from the startup’s work, the team at Favela Brasil Xpress has already started replicating its first model in six other favelas, including the Rocinha neighborhood in Rio de Janeiro.
Strategies and Impact
G10 Bank, a financial institution designed to provide micro-loans to the communities, financed Favela Brasil Xpress, while also partnering with Lojas Americanas, ”one of Brazil’s biggest retailers.”
Pereira’s startup works mostly with “the last mile” concept. E-commerce companies drop their products at a Favela Brasil Xpress distribution center, where workers from the community make deliveries on foot, bike, motorcycle, car or even in an electric vehicle. “We don’t deliver packages, we deliver happiness,” Pereira said. “For a long time, it seemed to be a distant dream for the residents to have a package delivered at their doorsteps. But it goes way beyond the packages. We create jobs, promote sustainability and help to develop the local economy.”
Even better, some older people have the opportunity to work formally for the first time. A local manufacturer shared a review online expressing gratitude for Favela Brasil Xpress, saying it’s been easier to purchase raw material and deliver their products outside Paraisópolis.
But Favela Brasil Xpress does not have to be just for Paraisópolis. It’s a model Pereira says can be replicated in other favelas and his company already has started doing it. However, he warns it’s important to understand the peculiarities of each space and adapt the original model to attend to the specific needs of each community. The kind of terrain and the width of the streets, for example, must be taken into consideration before choosing the best delivery vehicle in each location.
Looking to the Future
Pereira hopes Favela Brasil Xpress will eventually branch out to 50 locations throughout Brazil. But that will be possible only if they find more companies interested in partnering with them. Brazil continues to have a lack of opportunities, mainly for those living in the favelas. Pereira believes expanding his company will create even more job opportunities, develop the local economy and consequently, reduce poverty inside the communities.
– Iasmine Oliveira
Photo: Favela Brasil Xpress