Social Enterprise in Rio Favelas


This year, the World Forum for Social Enterprise (Oct 16-18) was held in Rio de Janeiro at the Centro Cultural Ação da Cidadania and I had the privilege of attending.

I was particularly excited by the chance to join site visits to local social enterprises.

Tuesday, October 16, attendees could go to in the morning to either

Projeto Rio Ecosol.

Rio Ecosol was established to promote the local “solidaritu economy”, supporting entrepreneurs in the four communities of Manguinhos, Complexo do Alemao, Santa Marta and Cidade de Deus. These are all favelas in Rio. The last, Cidade de Deus, was the subject of the 2002 film City of God.


The Valle Encantado Cooperative, which was the one we visited.

The Valle Encantado Cooperative was created by members of the community of Valle Encantado (“The Enchanted Vally”) in the Tijuca Forest, one of the largest urban forests in the world and the third largest in Brazil to create economic opportunities through eco-tourism and the promotion of local cuisine.

Social/Environmenal Mission

Tijuca Forest’s original vegetation was Atlantic Rainforest; however, due to degradation processes caused by the removal of timber for building, firewood and charcoal, and expansion of coffee plantations and other crops, this was partially destroyed. Portuguese Emperor D. Pedro II ordered the area to be reforested with a rich and diverse flora of native and exotic species.vale-encantado-photo-3

Today the Forest remains home to rare tree and plant species as well as protected animals. In 1991, the Tijuca Forest was registered by UNESCO as a Biosphere Reserve and a World Heritage Site. A joint effort of government and the communities surrounding the park has developed the Alto da Boa Vista Citizenship Council, aimed at managing the coexistence of the communities with the conservation of the Tijuca National Park. The Forest is also home to a community of over 400 inhabitants.

Social Enterprise

The lack of job opportunities and concerns about environmental conservation led the Vale Encantado community to seek new opportunities for social and economic development. Deforestation, lack of employment, poor sanitation, lack of street lighting, waste collection and public transport, lead the community to organize itself into a Cooperative – COOVE-RJ (the Vale Encantado Cooperative Ltd.) – aimed at transforming Vale Encantado into a tourist destination in Rio. The proximity of the Tijuca National Park, the lush natural surroundings, and the community’s unique organization has attracted interest of foreign and Brazilian tourists. The community is now an ecotourism destination and seeks to stimulate sustainable tourism through two main lines of action: 1) nature trails, and 2) promoting local cuisine.


The COOVE’s Social Buffet is a social business intended to introduce tourists to local cuisine while generating income especially for the local women of the community. Today COOVE has 20 members employed as management staff, chefs, waiters and tour guides. COOVE expects to be completely self-sustaining through the

Wewill arrived at Vale Encantado, located in Alto da Boa Vista, an area known for its natural beauty (rainforest, rivers and waterfalls). Our first activity included a one-hour, easy eco-tour guided walk with magnificent views of Rio’s West Zone beaches. Our guide showed us the local fauna and flora and explained  the way in which the community interacts with its natural environment, including its history, struggles, accomplishments and the creation of the COOVE cooperative.

Originally the inhabitants came to be coffee farmers. They own their small land holdings which they wish to continue to live on. The challenge is make a living and the social enterprise is a way that if successful may help them stay. There are external pressures from the desire of others to develop what is now valuable real estate with beautiful views.

Will the cooperative be able to attract tourists? It is a lovely setting, the hike not too ardurous with local sustainably grown produce cooked into a delightful lunch.

Will the residents be able to withstand the pressures of encroaching development? Can this social enterprise model work to provide income for the residents?

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