Youth ACT Brasil - Rio de Janeiro Group
YOUTH ACT BRASIL – RIO DE JANEIRO
The Youth Act Project began in the city of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, in November 2019. We are a group of young university students and recent graduates from different areas of study (Administration, Cinema, Law and Design) who have a common goal: to be a force of change in the reality we live in.
Throughout the project, we had the opportunity to focus on the training of the members, studying topics such as participation, the decision-making process, communication and information. In addition, in the seminars we found an atmosphere of exchange of perspectives and experiences, which inspired and encouraged us to be more critical and to raise awareness among those around us.
We had started the project with the idea of working with a sensitive issue in our country – religious intolerance. However, with the pandemic and changes in the world, the group decided to take a step back, once many of the ideas we had for this action plan would be unfeasible due to restrictive and social distancing measures. It was in this second moment of looking at reality that we realized one more experience that we had in common: the fight for women’s rights.
After some meetings with the two other Brazilian groups, Taquaritinga and Sapucaia, we decided to unite the three cities in a single project. From this union arose the choice of the minority group: women in situations of social vulnerability. Thinking about the action plan, due to the opportunity for a wide dissemination of content, we decided to use the space of social networks to generate more impact for the cause. Therefore, the Brazilian team intends to produce a documentary that has these narratives as its centre, giving voice and calling the viewer to act, thus creating a network of help and transformation.
Youth Act Brazil - Decision Making
Of Latin origin, the word “decision”, (de = out) + (caedere = to cut), presupposes “cutting” the existing possibilities by choosing a single path. To live is to decide and to decide is an inherent act of life. The decision is present even in the possibility of not deciding on anything. In this sense, we must reflect that
humanity has been built on the basis of making small and big decisions: at all times, from simple everyday circumstances to extraordinary challenges, this important attitude is necessary. However, only freedom guarantees the possibility of making decisions.
According to the first article of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood”. Freedom is therefore a right of every person and, consequently, so is the act of making choices, or at least it should be. It so happens that we live in a globalized, divided and increasingly unequal world, which directly involves the organization of societies. In Brazil it is no different: when we adopt a political perspective, we easily realize that, despite being in a democratic terrain, there are people who decide about their own lives and also decide for others. This is mainly because
opportunities remain the privilege of the few.
For us as a group, it was essential to go deeper into this issue, whether at the individual, group or governmental level, as each member is an irreplaceable and crucial part of the functioning of the collective.
Deciding on each stage of the process, deciding on the next steps, deciding how and when, deciding whether to move forward or backward: this is the most beautiful and, at the same time, the most difficult task. After this cycle, our eyes have become more open and our hearts more sensitive to social demands. Indeed, in our realities, do all people have the power to decide on their own steps, on each stage of their own process, to decide whether to go forward or back a few steps? Do all the individuals around us feel that they are an irreplaceable and crucial part of the functioning of the collective?
The action related to decision-making within Youth Act Brazil took place over a few months of largely virtual work through digital platforms. Thus, the mechanisms that made communication between participants possible at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic were video calls and online events. We worked with a training dynamic for the young people in the project and the process was very successful, even with
the physical distance and the limitation of practical activities. We have enriched our knowledge on the subject, just as we have recognised how this agenda is exercised in different ways and from different perspectives. Besides the theoretical and formative aspect, we had practical experiences of decision making, touching on our journey as a group, the action we would have in our local communities – with the social group we should work with – and the choices regarding the best way to develop the project.
In Brazil, the Youth Act is made up of 21 young people who, at the end of 2019, said yes to the invitation to participate in a leadership training project, promoting citizen participation and democratic values. We are young people from three cities in the southeast region of the country, with very different realities – Rio de Janeiro, with 6.7 million inhabitants; Sapucaia, with 22.4 thousand; and Taquaritinga, with 57 thousand
(IBGE 2020) -.
Living in distant cities, in different states, we started the project with three groups working separately, but with the same ideal, holding face-to-face meetings and training. We were very excited about forming new groups, until, within a few months, the Covid-19 pandemic culminated in a major humanitarian and global crisis. Looking back, we see how the project became a space of friendship and welcome. At that time, the fortnightly meetings were a source of well-being and united us in a greater purpose, despite being immersed in so much negative news, amidst so many uncertainties and anxieties aggravated by social isolation, as well as fear of contamination and loss of loved ones. In this context, the online environment, previously seen as a good alternative for international meetings, to connect people several kilometers away, became also the main space for connection between neighbors, between us, participants and residents of the same cities. Thus, our project continued with meetings with a lot of exchange, focusing on in-depth work. We always had as a basis the guidelines that we received at the beginning of each semester from the general coordination. At the end of each cycle, we participated in webinars that brought together all the other project groups. These opportunities for exchange became a space for sharing our reflections, attitudes and competences, as we built up critical skills and a capacity for synthesis that allowed us to contribute valuable reflections on the lessons learned to the whole dedication.
The third semester of the project and its theme “Decision-making” left an important mark on Youth Act: firstly, because it was one of the themes we liked to delve into and, secondly, because it was the period in which we made big decisions. Moreover, all the contents and their respective learning became a symbolic lens of interpretation for our experience in the project.
In terms of training, throughout our meetings we looked for theoretical references and delved into some methodologies of the decision-making process, its different categories and influencing factors. One of the frameworks that we found quite interesting, for example, was a process conceptualised by Bazerman and Moore (2013), which consists of 6 steps: defining the problem/opportunity, identifying the criteria, weighting the criteria, generating alternatives, relating each alternative to each criterion and then identifying the optimal solution.
In this semester we also started a reflection work on minority groups and started to investigate the means by which they can fully participate in society. We should then look back at reality and decide which would be our social group we will be in next semester, our motive to make an impact and create a project. It was in this process that the three groups in Brazil began to become sensitized to the situation of vulnerability, aggravated by the pandemic and experienced by so many women in Brazil. Adding the fact that physical distance was no longer an impediment, as all meetings were held at a distance due to the need for social isolation, we asked ourselves: “What if we worked together, why don’t we unite and become one group?”
And that’s how we became: Youth Act Brazil.
Together, we moved on to the last stage of the project – “Extending the voice to minorities” – where we worked on one of the most challenging and, at the same time, learning stages. In this last semester, our aim was to develop a project that would have a positive impact on the lives of socially vulnerable women, that would increase visibility and amplify their voices. Well, how would we do it in practice? In this complex process, as a group, we had several questions to answer and important decisions to make. Reflecting on this experience, we were able to see the real value of learning by doing and were able to draw some parallels with the concepts we studied at the theoretical level.
In our training sessions, with regard to decision-making at the governmental level, we emphasised the research and work done in our country. We have seen that, due to the large territorial dimensions, Brazilian popular participation, especially at the municipal level, is extremely important and takes place through Councils and Courts that are useful for creating and expanding channels of direct citizen action in national
decisions. In addition, we have seen how information plays a fundamental role in decision-making processes. Therefore, when we started our project targeting women in situations of social vulnerability, we began with a research phase. In order to better understand the context, and therefore act in the best possible way, we sought to understand the reality they live in, the socio-economic and historical context, and to identify existing policies, projects and social programmes. Group decision-making When it comes to group decision-making, we believe that any process must involve the search for a common good. However, it is worth remembering that each individual has a different personality, i.e. his or her own behaviours, needs and opinions. As we have all experienced at some point in our lives, whether in public places, at school or at work, reaching an agreement that pleases everyone in a group can be a regular challenge and difficulty. We experienced this often in our collective duties during the Youth Act project.
The diverse and multiple opinions that surrounded us, while exciting, were also more difficult to choose from. Even if it was through video calls, discussing research and theoretical questions about decision- making, we learned in practice that disagreements between members are real and commonplace in these moments. Thus, impasses in decision-making are the reality when it comes to teamwork. But, without a doubt, working collectively offers us a greater chance of reaching a solution of higher quality and precision, bringing a greater diversity of experiences and perspectives. We could perceive that all participants felt more motivated when they felt that their opinion was important and had contributed in some way to the final solution of a previously determined problem. And this was very important to solidify and reaffirm our commitment as a real team.
It was in this context of collective leadership that the idea of producing a documentary arose, and from it, the whole process we had to organize ourselves, define objectives and make the plan tangible in concrete actions: a process that had 100 times more questions and points to define. From the beginning we felt the weight and the need to inform ourselves more, to seek certain knowledge in order to be able to discuss and make better decisions. Therefore, we had a research stage in small groups focused on different perspectives (economic, social, political) with documentary and NGO referents, as well as training sessions on project creation and filmmaking, promoted by a student participant in the field. After this deepening stage, we started to feel more comfortable to move forward and see the project with more concreteness. We drew up a plan of action and divided the working groups. However, the passage of time showed us that we sometimes underestimated the difficulty of putting plans into reality and managing people and maintaining a high level of energy in such a diverse group. It was then that, after a few months, we had to stop, reflect and answer the questions that reality posed: given the constraints of time, resources and necessary bureaucracies that we now see, is the documentary still a good idea? Indeed, is it still feasible?
The answer was no. And it was very hard. We put in the time, energy and work to see this dream come true. We had several training sessions, exchanges focused on this project. How could we move forward? What would we do with everything we had created together?
The truth is that the decisions were made, and the time could not be turned back. Although difficult, the decision to abandon the plan to produce a documentary, given the new context, was the best and most sensible one.
Looking back today, we can identify a cognitive bias that we might have fallen into then – the sunk cost bias – which occurs when we insist on choices with the intention of recovering resources that have been wasted and can no longer be recovered – in our case, time, a plan of action and the whole journey we have been on. But is it? Could everything that was experienced in the group be considered a “sunk cost”? Well, some might see it that way, but we chose to see it differently.
We remember that the key question we initially had that motivated us to work together was not “how can we make the best possible documentary, sensitizing more people and amplifying the voices of women in social vulnerability?” but “how can we positively impact the lives of women in social vulnerability, sensitizing more people and amplifying their voices?” With this small change, the more open-ended question returned us to a space of possibilities, where we could make new choices, being now in a different place, with 'new baggage', with an experience that had certainly transformed us, as a group and as individuals.
Individual decision making
At the individual level, it was seen that, when making decisions, we must be aware that decisions can be intuitive and quick – when answers arise in the mind almost automatically – or they can be more complex – when making a decision must be a more cautious approach, as the consequences can change the course of our lives. Looking at the workings of a company, for example, we see that the team leader is responsible for making decisions that are directly reflected in the companies’results. Even if he, the leader, has not worked alone, he is the one who takes the decisive action on behalf of the collective ideal. Perhaps because each of us is his or her own leader, making certain decisions becomes even more complicated and even
uncomfortable, as each choice is a renunciation. We choose one path and abandon the other. In a decision-making process, reason and emotion are two aspects that must be balanced. Let us be aware that a choice based on emotion alone, without logical and prudent reasoning, can result in disappointment
in the long run. And an immediate choice, with a narrow logic, made without the sensitivity of one who deals with people and consequences, can hinder your goals very quickly, because acting with humanity is essential in our relationships. Having the freedom to choose is definitely a challenge. That is why, in the most detailed cases, it is important and necessary to take some quality time to contemplate, analyse and choose, among the existing possibilities, the one that makes sense for each of us. In this way we can look at the situation from different points of view and control impulsivity.
In the project, decision-making also had an individual spectrum, since participating with commitment, responsibility and seriousness implies the freedom of each member. Without individual effort, the group would not achieve such relevant results.
During the meetings, it became clear that each person involved in the process added knowledge to the rest and this happened because we are unique, different, and most importantly: we are complementary. Thus, starting from the private sphere – and only from this sphere – we began to structure a group, which integrates the realities of each locality. Society is made up of irreplaceable individualities, just like Youth Act Brazil.
It was through the power of individual decisions that the Brazil group managed to solve the most challenging question since the beginning of the project in our country: how to continue the work after the group’s decision to transfer the energy spent on the idea of making a documentary into something more
efficient and realistic, taking advantage of everything we had learned from the development of the first plan? The answer was very simple. Some members of the group, who live in the city of Taquaritinga, were already involved in a voluntary social organization that works with vulnerable families in the municipality: the “De Manos Dadas” project. Other participants from Sapucaia also spent time engaged in local social actions that were somehow related to the chosen minority. Realizing this, the difficulties ceased. All the theory was already being applied to practice spontaneously, because of the awareness and sensitivity of the young people to act in the positive transformation of the community.
If the social action started from individual initiatives, the next step was to extend this action to the collective Youth Act group: both with the members in Rio de Janeiro and with people in the cities themselves who did not know about these organizations. The distance did not allow a face-to-face meeting between all the members in Brazil, but, again, digital media made it possible to exchange experiences. Everyone was infected by the idea of being close to these women, and this did not depend on physical contact, but on the intention of each one to learn and give a little of oneself to this ideal. Campaigns were made together, many bonds were created and, without a doubt, the experiences taught lessons we would never have thought we would learn.
By studying, discussing and reflecting on the issue, we effectively understand that making a choice is not such a basic and trivial process. Like most of our actions, it demands our attention, our knowledge and our time. Making choices is about adapting. It is knowing how to use in a balanced way both our emotional and rational side that will be important in the journey. To be free to decide is a challenge and yet to have the humility to recognise what was not assertive on our part and from there to start again is a virtue. Getting stuck in one way of choosing is not the way. It is about trying to pay attention to what can happen, but above all to what is already happening. In addition, it is necessary to find the motivation to make the best possible choice. Finally, we have learned that the more knowledge and information we have about a situation, the less complex and risky the decision-making process will be and, consequently, the more assertive our decisions will be, whether we are leading a country, a group or making decisions for our own