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Brazil Needs a Fresh Start

Since the restoration of democracy in 1985, Brazil has made notable gains when it comes to taming inflation, expanding welfare assistance, and even reducing poverty. But unless the country can tackle rising inequality and restore faith in its political leadership, these gains could be lost.

RIO DE JANEIRO – “I pray that my family will one day attend fewer funerals and more graduations.” These words, spoken by Douglas, a Brazilian from São Gonçalo, resounded in my ears like a gunshot. Douglas’s father died in a hail of bullets before Douglas was born; his mother was gunned down on his 11th birthday. Like so many Brazilian children his age, he was forced to drop out of school to pay the bills for his siblings.

After spending time with Douglas in São Gonçalo, one of the poorest and most violent cities in the state of Rio de Janeiro, it became obvious to me that he was a victim of the “zip code lottery.” Douglas lives in one of the most unequal cities in one of the world’s most inequitable countries. Statistically, it will take another nine generations before someone from his neighborhood ascends to the middle class.

Douglas is not alone. As an entertainer for Brazil’s largest television network, I have spent two decades sharing the stories of people living in the country’s biggest favelas and most remote Amazonian communities. And as a social entrepreneur, I am constantly looking for new ways to unlock the potential of the tens of millions of Brazilians living in poverty.