Writing about myself is surprisingly difficult. Simply because there's so much to say.
I was born in Brazil, in the countryside, and was raised in a town surrounded by the Brazilian Savana. When young, I felt so curious about creativity; I constantly imagined how people created inventions and artworks. I knew that creating things gave me a great deal of pleasure, so I was determined to learn how I could put my ideas into action. So I decided to pursue my degrees in Arts, Humanities, and Digital Curation to pursue a career in the arts and cultural heritage preservation. However, the side effect of my curiosity for creative processes is that I got involved with education.
My first ever job was as a school teacher for a rural education center for disabled persons in the Brazilian countryside. Warm, challenging, deadly, and fascinating: the Tropical Rainforest and the Brazilian Savana around the school offered challenges, mysteries, and possibilities.
The students under my responsibility were deaf and blind. As a major in Arts, Humanities, and Digital Literacy, I was - of course - puzzled by the many obstacles I had to face daily: lack of resources, electric energy, and digital technology in general (not to mention the giant spiders and jaguars around). Most kids had never been in touch with tablets, computers, or digital systems. And my job was precisely to change that scenario.
There was, however, an extra challenge: language. My Portuguese mother tongue was not enough since the students communicated through Braille or Brazilian Sign Language - which adds a layer of complexity to every learning process. And I did my best to share, in any way I could find, what digital technology is, how systems work, and why the digital world is so important for contemporary society. Due to the linguistic barriers, I resourced to convey drawing lessons (for the deaf) and sculpting sessions (for the blind) as a method to find a common language through images, formats, or textures. At a certain point, the exercise was to draw or sculpt the word “Technology,” then “Digital,” then “Future” (Tecnologia, Digital, and Futuro in Portuguese). The blind students had an outstanding abstraction of the terms, putting together textures and formats representing their imagination and perception of technology. Meanwhile, one of the deaf students asked me: “Teacher, why do you keep asking us to draw invisible things? We cannot see them.”
Since I heard that question, which by the way, I had no answer to, I realized how these concepts are invisible to all of us, not only to the kids in the rural school in Brazil. For example, when I was doing my empirical research for my Ph.D. at the Institute of Education (University College London), I had difficulty finding a consensus on what my team understood by technology. I understood it as an extension of human senses, some colleagues understood it as algorithms, and others understood it as a knowledge field. In other words: a variety of definitions for a variety of concepts. I realized that much of our work is trying to define these concepts due to this main characteristic: invisibility. Dealing with the invisible is acknowledging that a lack of common definitions leaves room for power imbalance dynamics, in which the narratives from powerful groups can overshadow the ones created by marginalized communities.
This experience taught me more than I could imagine about the language of teaching digital literacy and the importance of storytelling when it comes to capturing the imagination of young students and preparing them for the future. With that, I was motivated to pursue a Master's Degree in Communication and Information Sciences and join the United Nations as a collaborator to bridge academic knowledge and humanitarian practice. I was first associated with UNESCO in 2015 with the Media and Information Literacy Alliance, where I supported the Latin American scenarios in promoting engagement and creativity through technology. The bond with UNESCO made me curious to understand the United Nations organogram and how the many UN Agencies transform theory into practice. That experience sparked my curiosity on the question: is it possible to tailor digital initiatives globally, bringing cultural and social idiosyncracies in the application and production of digital technology?
Overall, I observed that technology is neither a neutral space nor universal; it cannot be applied the same way in every part of the world, but it can be customized to local conditions, culture, and community needs. Furthermore, technology [due to its invisibility feature] can sometimes be associated solely with devices and digital connection, shedding light on the fact that the digital can be seen uniquely as a tool or a means to an end. I'm afraid I have to disagree with that. In fact, I believe that what empowers people the most is the understanding that they are in a constant exchange with technologies to create and exercise power. The digital unveils experiences and dimensions of the world in a way that qualitatively transforms people's lives. Understanding this helps us redefine the meaning of technology and the fundamental role each of us has to play in building an equitable and inclusive world for all.
With that in mind, I decided to pursue a Ph.D. to investigate how communities can understand technology more than a tool or more than a task to be accomplished. In 2017 I was granted funding to research in a consortium with the University of São Paulo [Brazil], the University College London [United Kingdom], and the University of Rome [Italy] to do my Ph.D. in the field of Education, Innovation, and International Development. During my Ph.D. I dedicated my studies to developing a technology application model for education and cultural projects, a framework I had the chance to validate with communities from the Amazon Rainforest in Brazil. My research has been turned into a book, "Abstraction Clusters to Understand Digital Development: introducing the SETA model," published by the University of Tübingen [Germany].
One curious fact is that throughout my studies, I never stopped working. I found a way to conciliate my research with the work I was doing with the UN or governmental entities. Actually, I judge that my work and academic research serve as oxygen to one another: I had the chance to observe the practicalities and pragmatical nature of education while researching technology on a more technical and philosophical level. This allowed me not only to perfect the framework I created [SETA model] but to grow expertise in community engagement and practice, partnership, and funding management. This knowledge is something that can't be found in books. This expertise allowed me to be elected Youth Ambassador for Media and Information Literacy by UNESCO in 2019, representing Latin American and Caribbean countries.
With the COVID-19 pandemic, my life went through a turning point. Partly because all of us were under sanitary threat, complying with the quarantine measures imposed by Governments across most countries around the globe. But also because I started to work actively in the field of information quality and management due to a side phenomenon to the sanitary emergency: the infodemic. With my ambassadorship with UNESCO, I started volunteering to join materials from the World Health Organization [WHO] and arranging translations to endangered languages and dialects. Our group of Youth Ambassadors managed to translate all content related to social distancing and public behavior guidelines into more than 30 languages in less than three months. We also created a digital public library containing helpful content about the disease in more than 110 languages.
Then I started officially working with the WHO in the Epidemic and Infodemic Department, managing information quality, risk communication, and community engagement about COVID-19. And one of my focus points was in the Brazilian Amazon, under which we developed a program that provided quality information in Portuguese and 15 other indigenous dialects and food and supplies for 1.837 families for one year [all based on donations and pooled funding]. In this program, we also developed research based on risk communication. We managed to co-author the report from the Independent Panel for Pandemic Preparedness and Response [IPPPR-WHO] entitled "Make it the the last Pandemic."
After two years of working in Public Health, I obtained my Ph.D. in 2021 - graduated with distinction from all evaluators. And shortly after, I received an offer to join the University of Tübingen as a Fellow Professor, teaching "Technology Decolonization in the Global South." In Tübingen, I also manage the education sector of a pooled funding for local protagonism in the African continent. Alongside Tübingen, I associated myself with Vero Institute in Brazil, an organization that studies and breaks Disinformation Cycles in Latin America. Again, my academic experience served as oxygen to my work with Vero and vice versa, and I am proud of the social and financial positive impact I managed to offer through my work.
In 2023, associated with my work with the Universität Tübingen, I received research grants from the German and Dutch governments to conduct long-term research in Africa and in the Amazon rainforest. From June to November/2023, I conducted the research "Exploring Digitalization through the Lens of the Amazon Rainforest's Indigenous and Ribeirinha Assemblages". With that, I moved to the Amazon for three months to live in the surroundings of Parintins (Amazonas State) to research the digital influence and innovation among Sateré-Mawé indigenous communities. Right after leaving the Amazon, I moved to Dakar to start the African chapter of my research that will go on until 2025. I am currently developing the Framework for decolonizing transformation in non-Western and Southern innovation and technology [TnWIST]. The TnWiST Framework is a project that aims to promote prosperity and local protagonism among digital creators, practitioners, users, workers, and students. It is a knowledge path in which innovation becomes context-driven instead of data-driven in the attempt to break colonization cycles that utmostly are born from power structures in the Global North.
The TnWiST has an innovative methodology which involves mapping case studies, engaging communities of practice, co-creating and co-designing products, and delivering, at the end, a visual and graphic resource so the engaged social assemblage can guide their post-colonial practice even after the departure of the research team. Each case study takes a minimum of 4 months to complete the interaction and interface and can involve participants who are also invited to co-author and collaborate on further materials, such as papers and research reports, after the implementation period. By bridging the gap between academic research and practical applications, this project aspires to provide actionable recommendations for policymakers, industry leaders, and educational institutions.
For my future steps, I see myself continuing my work in cutting-edge research and academia among international organizations and scientific institutions. Education is what bounds my interest: I consider it the most pressing topic to be studied in the near and far future. However, I must admit that it is sometimes frustrating how many sectors do not prioritize education, and fighting for education quality for all has been an uphill battle across my twelve-year career. Nevertheless, I remain hopeful. I believe in change, and I believe that transformation - however complex and challenging - is possible. If we don't dream, no one will dream for us. If we don't believe, no one will believe in us. So it is our job to keep trying and being persistent in creating a world where we all can thrive and learn from each other. It might sound a bit daunting, I know, but that doesn't intimidate me. It's just a matter of having the will, bravery, and passion for making a difference in the world. A world where all humans can prosper.
If you, my kind reader, have the same drive as me, please drop me a message; my email is in the footnote. Let's join forces for a better world. As they say, a human alone builds only dreams: action requires alliances, cooperations and partnerships.