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'Imagine the World Cup' - popular dig at Brazil's preparedness is turned on its head

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(Read caption) Fans celebrate after Brazil scored against England during a friendly soccer game at the Maracana stadium, in Rio de Janeiro, June 2. The Confederations Cup will be a test both on and off the field for Brazil. The country is trying to show that it can build stadiums and complete infrastructure projects in time for the 2014 World Cup, and the national team will try to show that is has the potential to contend for its sixth world title.

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• A version of this post ran on the author's blog, Riogringa. The views expressed are the author's own.

It's become a Brazilian cliché: "Imagina na Copa!" Just imagine during the World Cup. It's a common complaint about many problems in Brazil, particularly in big cities, predicting an unhappy future for the country's megaevents. Overcrowded airports? Imagina na Copa! A spate of muggings in São Paulo? Imagina na Copa! A series of road signs with English misspellings in Rio? Imagina na Copa!

The saying was popularized further by a series of comedy videos that came out last year, and is the title of a new song by a popular sertanejo duo. But a new organization by the same name is seeking to turn the pessimistic expression on its head. I spoke to Mariana Campanatti, one of the group's founders, about what Imagina na Copa hopes to achieve.

Imagina na Copa was started by four Brazilians in their late 20s living in São Paulo. The two paulistas, mineira, and carioca were working at corporate jobs, and wanted to do something different, focusing on social good projects. "It's easy for people to complain," Ms. Campanatti explained. "Why don't we stop complaining and do something?" A lot of Brazilians of her generation also want to get involved in social good, said Campanatti, but sometimes things get in the way.

"Between the intention and the action, there's a barrier. People have a lot of trouble seeing themselves as an agent of change." So Campanatti and the Imagina na Copa team decided to share stories about ordinary Brazilians working on social good projects to show how easy it can be to get involved, without necessarily needing a "noble" cause or a lot of money.

So each of the four quit their jobs and "threw themselves out into the world." In September 2012, they launched the project on Catarse, a crowdfunding site similar to Kickstarter, and raised R$25,000 to start the organization. They officially launched the site on Jan. 3.

Imagina da Copa has three main areas. First, it launches a story each week describing an organization or social entrepreneur in Brazil, complete with a video, photos, and a blog post. "We want to show that any person have a role in social change, whether it's in their neighborhood or in society," said Campanatti. The organization looks at a variety causes and entrepreneurs so that others can relate to them.

Each week, Imagina na Copa has featured some truly incredible entrepreneurs. There's Alessandra Orofino of Meu Rio, a successful organization to get young people involved in public policy in Rio; Monique Evelle, who started the Salvador-based organization Desabafo Social at the age of 16, starting out by explaining human rights by sitting down with kids in public spaces; Augusto Leal, who started the Bibliocicleta, the traveling community Bike-Library in Bahia; and artist/activist Thiago Mundano of Pimp My Carroça in São Paulo, among others.

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The second area of the organization is holding workshops. Often, people interested in social good don't know where to start and feel overwhelmed by the number of causes. Through the workshops, Imagina na Copa helps participants figure out which cause speaks to them--the kind that "gets them out of bed in the morning"--and then teaches them how to turn their interest into a project. They've held five of these workshops in cities across the country, some of which have already turned out social good projects.

The third area is launching a monthly "mission." Since Imagina na Copa began, it has launched campaigns to crowdsource signage and bus line information at bus stops in cities, to donate books in a pay-it-forward style, and to separate recyclables in green bags. "Everyone doing a small thing can generate a bigger change," Campanatti told me.

To get the word out, Imagina na Copa largely relies on social networks, especially Facebook. "We only exist because of social media," Campanatti said. It's also a way for the group to connect people interested in similar causes, and to reach Brazilians across the country. However, since the four co-founders travel a great deal to meet with social entrepreneurs and feature their stories, they decided to start a network of "captains," or local leaders. They recruited 40 young people (the average age is 22) from 20 cities, and trained them last month in São Paulo. Now, this group will be able to organize their own workshops, launch missions, and suggest stories.

Like other non-profits, Imagina na Copa is constantly seeking funding. The four co-founders don't have salaries and are living off personal savings. Aside from crowdfunding, they managed to get sponsorship from Instituto Asas. They also have partners who donate space and services, and Folha de São Paulo syndicates their weekly story. They're relaunching another crowdfunding drive starting June 12, which marks a year before the World Cup begins.
Despite their early successes, the co-founders plan to end the project in its current form when the World Cup begins. Putting a deadline on something helps motivate people, explained Campanatti, giving a more tangible sense for getting things done. When 2014 comes, the group plans to assess the project and publish a report, and figure out another way to continue their work. After leaving careers in places like ad agencies and banks, working on social good is "a path of no return," said Campanatti.

Rachel Glickhouse is the author of the blog Riogringa.com

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