CLAS Hosts Theresa Williamson from Catalytic Communities

On April 25, 2018, CLAS hosted Theresa Williamson, founder and executive director of Catalytic Communities in Rio de Janeiro, for a day-long visit.

Based in Rio de Janeiro and with a US 501[c][3] charitable status, Catalytic Communities (CatComm) is an empowerment, communications, think tank, and advocacy NGO working since 2000 in support of Rio’s favelas at the intersection of sustainable community development, human rights, local-global networks, communications, and urban planning. CatComm supports and empowers residents of informal settlements, evolving strategically to support their needs as they arise.

Williamson visited classes, met with students and faculty, and delivered a public talk, Whose Narrative? What Happens When Rio de Janeiro’s Favelas Speak for Themselves?. Typically it is the privileged that set a narrative and nowhere is this clearer than in Rio de Janeiro, where the city’s favelas have experienced a 100-plus year legacy of marginalization. The talk presented this historical context in light of recent trends to greater visibility for favela voices and the new narrative that is unfolding thanks to communities’ empowerment, strategic global communications (including RioOnWatch, a hyperlocal-to-global community news site, now a reference for international media outlets covering Brazil as well as international researchers on Brazil and urban topics), and social media. The talk thus offered effective strategies for confronting privilege, social inequality, and power dynamics in transformative ways.

We will soon make video from the talk available on our website. In the meantime, Williamson provided links about her work:


Portuguese Digest from CatComm

CatComm Internship info

CatComm on Facebook

CatComm on Twitter

Dr. Theresa Williamson, a city planner, is the executive director of Catalytic Communities (CatComm), a Rio de Janeiro-based organization that provides media/networking support to favela communities. She is an outspoken advocate on behalf of Rio de Janeiro’s favelas to help ensure they are recognized for their heritage status and their residents fully served as equal citizens, with four opinion pieces published in The New York Times. Among other awards, Dr. Williamson received the 2012 NAHRO John D. Lange International Award for her contributions to the international housing debate and the 2005 Gill-Chin Lim Award for Best Dissertation on International Planning. She is also editor-in-chief of RioOnWatch, CatComm’s internationally recognized watchdog news site and favela news service regarded for its work in informing and influencing international journalists covering the Olympics, and local debates on housing in Rio. Dr. Williamson earned her B.A. in Biological Anthropology from Swarthmore College and her Ph.D. in City and Regional Planning from the University of Pennsylvania.

The visit was organized by the Center for Latin American Studies. Cosponsored by Mansueto Institute for Urban Innovation; Center for the Study of Race, Politics and Culture; Department of Romance Languages and Literatures.