The long awaited research report on Chocolatão and the innovative cross-sectoral networks of Porto Alegre was recently presented to the city’s Mayor, Prefeito Jose Fortunati, bringing with it a refined development process model for cross-sectoral, participatory collaborative networks and a wealth of new achievement and impact.

The ‘Sustainability and Citizenship Networks of Porto Alegre – and the story of Chocolatão’ report has been warmly welcomed by the many people in Porto Alegre who contributed to it or whose efforts are featured in it. The network model, with its focus on vulnerable urban communities, is of great interest to many internationally. It has also been embraced by the incoming recently elected leaders of the new Porto Alegre city government.

Research focus and team

The research, which commenced in 2012,  initially focused on the preparatory process for the resettlement of the Vila Chocolatão community who had lived in informality in the heart of the city for some 30 years. Under the threat of eviction, a small group of remarkable women in Vila Chocolatão formed a women’s association and then facilitated a residents association which led a bid to the OP (Participatory Budget system) to be resettled. With this bid they demanded: proper housing; the means for formal and viable livelihoods; health care; and education for their children. A network of cross-sectoral partners came together to work with them, facilitated through the new Local Solidarity Governance (GSL) scheme (2007), and helped residents achieve these rights.

Concrete actions prior to resettlement included the development of capacity and leadership in the community (including building community facilities), providing access to legal electricity and enabling the development of formal viable livelihoods through formation of a recycling cooperative. This resulted in the new community, Residencial Nova Chocolatão, some 6 years later, having a state of the art cooperatively managed recycling centre, child care centre and library. 

The network model and process has become a benchmark for a partnered approach to sustainable urban development in the city; the achievements a platform for rights, responsibilities and collaborative action. 

This research has been conducted by the international secretariat of the UN Global Compact – Cities Programme with financial support and resources provided by RMIT University’s Research and Innovation Portfolio. Cities Programme Research Associate and lawyer, Felicity Cahill undertook the painstaking research over a two year period which she then followed up in 2015. The Vila Chocolatão resettlement process was also the focus of Felicity’s minor Masters thesis; ‘When Urban Resettlement Meets Public Participatory Processes – A Case Study of the Resettlement of the Chocolatão Slum Community in Porto Alegre, Brazil. Elizabeth Ryan collated the later research, she was also the report editor and project lead. Vania Gonçalves de Souza  coordinated the Porto Alegre contribution to the study and provided ongoing reporting and review. RMIT Research Fellow and Cities Programme Research Associate, Dr Elizabeth Kath, conducted the interviews with network members in 2012. This was in Portuguese. Over the four year period of the study, two interns contributed to the data collation – Australian student from RMIT University, Tessa White, and Brazilian student, Gabriela Martel. The report was designed and published by Melissa Postma. Chanel Bearder and Patricia Galan contributed graphics.

The research extended over the period of the report development. By the time it was completed some four years later, the approach developed from the Vila Chocolatão experience had become a benchmark for the then new Todos Somos Porto Alegre programme (2012) and applied with another three vulnerable communities – Vila Santo André, Vila Santa Teresinha and Islas. The achievements of the networks working in these communities were documented in the final report. This year, the Sustainability and Citizenship Network methodology has been integrated into the approach of Porto Alegre Resiliente (part of the 100RC program). 

The subsequent projects and achievements continue to be reported on through our new project publishing system on the Cities Programme website. See Innovating projects:

  • New water, electricity and citizenship for Vila Santo André;
  • New livelihoods for the community of Vila Santa Teresinha ; and
  • the Social Inclusion project for Vila Chocolatão .

2016 Video on the Sustainability and Citizenship Networks

A new video was developed in preparation for the launch of this research report and to communicate the concept and system of the Sustainability and Citizenship Networks. This focused on the experience of the  Vila Santo Andre community and was launched at Habitat III in Quito, Ecuador in October 2016. This was part of the parallel event, “The Role of the United Nations Global Compact in the New Urban Agenda in the context of the SDGs.” The video was developed by the Prefeitura of Porto Alegre, under Vania Gonçalves de Souza’s leadership.  It also features Dayane Belmonte Ramos, community leader from Vila Santo André.

[Note: The Video has english subtitles, select ‘Captions’]

The Sustainability and Citizenship Network Model and its link to the Cities Programme’s Melbourne Model

Porto Alegre was one of the first cities to become a participant of the United Nations Global Compact (2004). The city’s commitment to the Compact was connected to willingness  of the Prefeitura (City Hall) to be one of five initial cities to trial the cross-sectoral Melbourne Model advocated by the UN Global Compact – Cities Programme which was based on government working in partnership with the private sector and civil society to tackle entrenched and complex urban issues.

Post the resettlement, the resultant Sustainability and Citizenship Network model formalised and systematised from the lessons learnt with the Vila Chocolatão community and the network of partners.  The system is now a platform from which to work collaboratively with vulnerable communities to address poverty, inequity and lack of fundamental services. 

During her recent visit to Brazil (November 2016), Cities Programme Deputy Director, Elizabeth Ryan, participated in a Circle of Dialogue meeting which brought together a number of the key Sustainability and Citizenship networks, Porto Alegre Resiliente and partners from the new District4 project, a large urban revitalisation project, including Vila Flores. Elizabeth was impressed.

“Throughout this long research project there was always a slight mystery as to how exactly the networks developed this sustained common purpose and vision amongst its members and how the culture of democracy and equality was engendered. These qualities were clearly evident in the interviews we undertook and from our experiences during the numerous site visits over the years. We documented the outcomes and the historical events of the resettlement and network partnerships but the finer threads of engagement where somewhat of an unknown. We thought maybe its just “a Brazilian thing” – a cultural quality. During this ‘Circle of Dialogue’ meeting I experienced that ‘intangible’ quality and saw the democratic dialogue in action. It is simple but powerful. Meetings are always held in a circle, always locally, away from comfortable offices and power bases. Everyone is equal, it doesn’t matter if you are a government minister, vila resident, social worker or a CEO. There is respect in the way the meeting is conducted, everyone is encouraged and given the opportunity to speak. Everyone is listened to”.

“I now truly understand what Vania has repeatedly said. It is all about the dialogue. There are many, many, many conversations. We talk until we come to a decision and a solution”.

The importance of citizen participation and multi-sectoral collaboration

Porto Alegre Secretary of Local Governance and Participation, Cezar Bussato, has been a long standing champion of the Sustainability and Citizenship Networks and participatory practices in the city. Also a Cities Programme Global Advisor Cezar opened the conversation in the Circle Dialogue and speaks in the video below about the role of citizen participation, the networks and multi-sectoral collaboration in the context of developing fair, ethical and sustainable cities.

The Challenges of the Resettlement of the Vila Chocolatão community

The resettlement process was a long and complex journey that had many highlights, sustained opposition and some particularly tragic moments. These included devastating fires and the assassination of the first President of the Vila Chocolatão Residents Association (2009).

The following video, the ‘Challenges of the Resettlement of Vila Chocolatão’, was developed by TRF4, the Federal District Court who made the initial decision to postpone the eviction of the Vila Chocolatão community and instead initiated a social project and funded social worker, Catia Segabinazzi and a lawyer to support the residents. This video was developed to inform a seminar reviewing the Sustainability and Citizenship Networks in November 2015.


We would like to thank everyone in Porto Alegre that has contributed to this lengthy research project, particularly, the original residents of Vila Chocolatão, those who now reside in Nova Residençial Chocolatão, the leaders that have left, and the Network members who participated in the interviews. Also thank you to the leaders and partners in Vila Santa Teresinha, Vila Santo André and Ihlas. Thank you to those who have played an important facilitation and liaison role –  Rodrigo Corradi, Marcio Mostardeiro and Daniel Fontura.

A special thank you is offered to the network champions Cezar Bussato, Denise Costa and most importantly, Vania de Souza.