Read our translation below:
“What are you doing here again? You should go shopping! You should be living your futile life!”
Social entrepreneur and philanthropist Patrícia Villela Marino has heard this type of questioning many times. But she says she never thought about giving up.
Patrícia, age 51, is the founder of the Humanitas360 Institute. Founded in 2015, the organization works to reduce violence and improve the quality of life of the Brazilian population. She is dedicated to causes considered thorny: the well-being and empowerment of the incarcerated population through social cooperatives and advocating the research and use of cannabidiol – medical marijuana.
Humanitas360 has three program fronts. The first is Entrepreneurship Behind and Beyond Bars with Social Cooperatives projects in prisons, the Tereza marketplace and the LAB360 virtual social visits, which started because of the pandemic.
Another front, Information and Research, bringing together the study of “Citizen Engagement Index in the Americas’, the documentary Weaving Freedom (2017) and the Guide for the formerly incarcerated populations.
Lastly, the Institutional Partnerships core supports Cannabis For Kids scientific research in partnership with UFABC, which tests the use of cannabidiol in 200 autistic children, and the initiative Supporting Solid Waste Pickers, together with the Cataki NGO and UFMG.
Patrícia is also the co-founder, manager and financial maintainer of CIVI-CO – an impact business hub for the creation and promotion of social technology with an impact on public policies. Today, more than 70 organizations occupy the coworking space in Pinheiros, west of São Paulo city (there is an article about CIVI-CO here at Draft).
“My position is to be the great guardian of this idea/manifesto that we are not naturally engaged. We become engaged from the moment we know each other’s pains and difficulties”
Her efforts as an activist were recognized with the 2020 Humanitarian Award, given by The Trust for the Americas, an affiliate of the Organization American States (OAS).
Check out below Patrícia Villela Marino’s interview with Draft:
You are the daughter of a lawyer – Jane Rieper – and a politician – former state deputy Floriano Leandrini, one of the creators of the MDB party. How was the environment in your home in your childhood? Did you talk about politics, social conscience?
I come from a home with many antagonisms. I’m 51 years old, I’m from 1970; when we lived in a dictatorship.
What was said at home, was not said outside the house; and sometimes what you were at home was not allowed outside… I remember hearing that neighbors ratted out other neighbors when positions were against the regime.
My father was a political activist and to make things even more tense, my grandfather was a well-known aeronaut and worked for the regime.
So, let’s say that within the same family we had different positions that coexisted in an interesting way.
I remember hiding to listen to conversations about politics, because they weren’t childish conversations, it was a subversive subject at the time.
Let’s say that subversive issues – the dream of democratizing the country – happened” in my house, and that inspired me. But it was also a conservative house, especially in terms of customs. And that was and still is Brazil’s dichotomy.
We are so liberal or dream of liberalism in some things… and we are so conservative in others.
Back when you were a child, women did not have much representation in the job market. Were you educated to be a protagonist or to have a supporting role?
Every opportunity was given to me: there was never the slightest doubt that I would go to college, unlike most Brazilian homes a few years ago.
There was, indeed, this call for protagonism, but with a certain fit within the classist, sexist and racist culture of Brazilians. And my family didn’t run away from it. It’s hard to get away from it when this is the imposed reality.
So I was educated to be a female protagonist with limits within what we considered politically correct. Because a woman is expected to marry, procreate, attend social obligations accompanied by her husband… and rarely the husband accompanied by his wife.
That changed at different stages of my life. Today, Ricardo enjoys saying he is Patricia’s husband, but for a good 20 years I was Ricardo’s wife.
Was your choice of law degree influenced by your mother? Was it somehow a conscious choice to create social justice? And did you get to work in the area?
I did have some influence from my family. My mother met my father in law school. When she got married, she soon became pregnant with me and the first thing in this sexist, classist and racist society is for the woman to dedicate herself to the house, to pregnancy…
So my mom dropped out of college and my dad went on and made his political career. My mother went back to college when my brothers and I were a bit older so my great-grandmother could take care of us.
When I chose to go to law school my mother was obviously super happy. It’s like I’m pursuing her dream.
And there was something already in me I could not explain– the will to fight injustice. But I didn’t quite know how to do that, because I also had my other side of a very conservative upbringing.
But I had a calling, so much so that my favorite subject in college was criminal law, which has a lot to do with what I do today, because it was probably there that I saw the greatest injustices.
This led me to graduate in college, do the mandatory internship and then go to the preparatory course for Magistracy or Public Ministry… I still hadn’t decided.
At that moment, I saw myself as a future executor of the law with a very conservative base and yet with an idealism that was not conservative at all. It was as if two people were talking inside me.
At the same time, I had an unfulfilled dream – to be a missionary. Believe it or not I once wanted to be a nun!
Today, being a missionary does not have a religious context. To be a missionary is to carry out a mission in what I believe I can be of service to someone and something.
I thought that if I passed the Judiciary or the MP exam, I could take some time off for a missionary sabbatical. That was the plan. But my life didn’t follow my plan, it followed another.
Today, I realize I would be an extremely conservative and punitive law enforcer. Glad I didn’t go! I would be a disservice (laughs).
When did you start to see yourself as a social activist?
My first experiences acknowledging certain situations and making myself a tool and somewhat at service, were on my birthdays that my mother insisted on celebrating in an orphanage.
All my birthdays – until I was 27 – were celebrated at the orphanage. When I was already a teenager and realized my mother wasn’t going to give up on that idea of hers, I understood I had to embrace it as a transformative opportunity for me, and not as a conflict
That’s when I started reaching out to friends, family members – including Ricardo, in our last year in Brazil, before we got married – to organize ourselves and make it happen for those 300 boys, in a way that wasn’t just an event, but a life experience for us… and for them too.
I got better over the years when I went to live abroad, exposing myself to experiences of true philanthropy – which was not a charity –, understanding how it could be systemic, and how it could transform systems.
When I returned to Brazil, I tried for years to fit in where I no longer belonged… But that actually helped me establish some assumptions for the ideas I defend today.
So, there was this first taste at the orphanage and then a deeper one… You know when you have to let things “down”? I was able to elaborate better for it to really become a tool for internal and personal transformation – and, later, a transformation in the different levels we live and coexist.
After getting married, you lived abroad for five years: in Boston (from 1998 to 2000) and between New York and London (until 2003). How did you exercise your activist facet during this period? How did this phase help you understand what philanthropy is?
It was my first couple of years in the marriage so I could romanticize a lot, but I won’t. It was really hard. I arrived in the US without a social security number and was simply “Ricardo’s wife”. I couldn’t do many things, not even leave the country and go back there without being accompanied by my husband!
It was very difficult for my audacious and adventurous spirit to accept that … Luckily, I was in a very progressive academic community.
MIT was inviting significant others to be involved as well – a term that was amazing to discover. In Brazil, you were either the wife or husband of an academic; there, there were already significant others, which was neither one nor the other! It could be a man who was someone’s “wife”; a woman who was someone else’s “husband”.
I got involved with college and started to live with other cultural realities. There were girls from fundamentalist cultures whose husbands wouldn’t let them do anything! I interceded and, in time, a professor invited me to participate in the Philanthropy and Third Sector classes at the J. F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University.
The classes were amazing and there I realized that systematized philanthropy, with methodology, can be a valid intervention in public policy. It’s not giving money away; it is to be at the service of transformations. And if you still have the economic power to contribute, even better, because it enhances your role as a transformer in society.
These things started to make sense to me. I mean, it wasn’t direct assistance anymore, like my birthdays had been. It was direct assistance with a level of systemic transformation and incidence of dogmas that needed to be changed from an experience and a full approach – not an empty one!
Philanthropy becomes a state of experiencing things, as if they were glasses, lenses through which you see the problem, see the victim without victimizing them and without blaming yourself. It is to take responsibility for the systemic changes that, together, we need to make.
That was life changing for me. I started to think that this was where I wanted to be.
How was your life in the years following your return to Brazil? What did you do at that time? What moved you?
Those were tough years. First, moving back to Brazil and trying to fit in in a place where I no longer fit in… Once again, I found myself in a society with certain standards that Ricardo and I didn’t fit into.
We had been married for a few years and had no children. People would say, “How come? Whose problem is it: his or hers? A couple that does not have an heir?”
It was a difficult and intense moment of my life. I did a lot of volunteer work, I got to experience other realities… but I didn’t expose myself, because I already received so much criticism and I wasn’t ready to receive more.
I heard things like: “Patricia likes her own aesthetic so much that she doesn’t give up on it to get pregnant”. So I needed to find a way to survive these criticisms. And what gave me that was my spirituality and my volunteer work.
I also followed Ricardo’s work a lot. By doing this, I came across several problems and was able to insert myself as a facilitator of social solution processes outside Brazil, mainly in Latin America, where he often worked.
And so I started treatment, because I knew that the infertility situation was mine. I ran into another problem during this treatment – I ended up in the hands of a quack doctor. I was one of those women who did not receive the needed welcoming … I received perversity instead.
I shut down after that, it was a trauma that I had to overcome. So, it took me years to rediscover myself.
In a way, being hands on in volunteer work, without being at the forefront of management, did that prepare you for what would later become Patricia, founder of Humanitas360?
Absolutely. When you have the responsibility of having employees and with an organization, it’s very demanding. While I was able to dedicate myself to other jobs, I had experiences that mean a lot in my life.
For example, I worked with Gastromotiva and when we took it inside the prison system, it was incredible. I realized how much people within the system need life projects… and that’s what I try to do today with Humanitas360
While I developed the Sustainable Ilhabela Institute [founded in 2007] – at the time an institution of environmentalists in favor of human development respecting the environment – I lived what is now called Climate Justice. Today, we know that it is the poor and the most marginalized who bear the heavy load of development that does not respect the environment.
The experiences of going to landfills and participating in the life of garbage collectors who work in sheds or on the streets were also amazing. I owned these experiences to make a statement that we cannot omit ourselves from any existing problem in Brazil!
Can it be said that this period formed Patricia, who not only comes with a signed check, but also with empathy and understanding of people? When watching the episodes of the webseries #EuSouTereza (2021), one can see in the testimonies of women from social cooperatives how much inmates can have autonomy within the projects…
Those were my incubation years. If today Humanitas360 is an incubator of social cooperatives inside and outside the prison system, first I had to go through my incubation, to be firm in believing that this thesis is validated and valid.
It was the privilege of having been invited by some people to make inroads that were absolutely important and contributed so that, in my second half, I could do even more.
I don’t believe in “a check for a check”. Money is super important – but if we don’t know how to deal with it, it becomes our master, when in fact, it should be our servant. When it becomes the master of our lives, we are all obsessed with gains, with greed.
It is with this care and respect that we have to treat economic power, so that it does not take the place of a master – both in the life of those who already have it and in the lives of those who need it.
In 2011, you and Ricardo started to engage in the debate on drug policies and even founded the Latin American Platform on Drug Policy, which later became the Humanitas360 Institute. Is the defense of the medicinal use of cannabidiol a parallel or subsequent initiative? How did this all start?
Ricardo and I have always been part of family succession and discussion groups, in Brazil and abroad. Among some peers, the urge to do more was common, beyond what the families – or the corporations these families represented – were already doing.
With this same group we formed and I led the Latin American Platform on Drug Policy. The idea was: if our families or the institutions we represent don’t want to get involved in this debate, we, as individuals, do!
Together we tried to understand what really weakened Latin America. It was a way of using the region’s weakness to find out how we, as influential families, could play an important role towards improvement.
Our perception was that drug trafficking distorted relationships, discredited Latin American citizens to their institutions and distorted the very sense of citizenship, because citizens did not feel protected.
We started a cycle of conferences, research, so we named this the Latin American Platform on Drug Policy. The goal was to open a debate with the US. Because, if the demand was there, we, as suppliers, had to “match”.
Before that, this debate took place without Latin America’s positioning, or without the positioning of great Latin American families – including internally, in their own countries.
We decided that legalization and decriminalization were necessary so that we could, at least, develop an industry, take people out of this place of marginality and incarceration and manage to have, in our countries, a break from a dogma and taboo… something that was already happening in the US.
So some very significant and influential families in Latin America became aware of this.
You were the producer of the documentary Illegal (2014), which shows the story of Brazilians’ struggle against taboos and bureaucracy to legally use cannabis-based medicines, which help relieve chronic pain and epileptic seizures. In 2015, Humanitas360, started to combine the problem of the prison system and drug repression policy with the concept of social and philanthropic projects. Did one thing lead to another?
Our movement as a Latin American Drug Policy Platform initially had a security perspective. With our engagement, research and meetings, we were faced with the need for public health.
We have these two points: we talk about security, militarization, demilitarization and laws; and we look at the humanitarian context. In this context there is the prospect of cannabis medical use to improve the quality of life of children, adults, the elderly and families as a whole.
The Latin American Drug Policy Platform was the embryo of Humanitas360. It was an important experience to understand how much drug policy was imposed by another country [the US] on our continent, on our country, without being debated with the Brazilian society and how negative this is from our national perspective.
I brought all that up to Humanitas360, in 2015, when I saw the need for the platform to become a legal entity. So I talked to the group and some of them joined my advisory board.
Was the plan to have entrepreneurship as the basis for the institute’s actions from the start? How did you come up with the idea of applying a methodology of social reintegration to reduce recidivism and the return of people to the prison system? And what were the initial hardships?
My previous experiences were almost always in entrepreneurship, along with a clear perception that a good number of Brazilians would not be, unfortunately, hired by the formal job market, due to lack of training.
Most of the time, there is a lack of education, food, health and family security… People would have to reinvent themselves, look for alternatives. Otherwise, crime would always be an alternative, because in a capitalist reality everyone has to pay bills!
That’s when I realized that entrepreneurship was a path that needed to be developed.
In my forays before Humanitas360, I experienced the reality of the prison system and I understood that the incarcerated for trafficking crimes will not be hired for the simple fact that if they have a fine, they will not get their political rights back. Therefore, they won’t be able to have an official job.
For this person to be inserted or reinserted in civil life, he will need to have a job … And if he is not hired through formal means, he will have to undertake. That was the path Humanitas360 saw.And we also wanted to work on building a collective mentality that would take that person out of individualism… bring the perspective of collectivism, communitarianism, and that together we can do more and better. I always believed that.
This is a thesis that we are working on – there is a protection network that is beginning to be formed and the social fabric, completely frayed, begins to be sewn between those people who understand each other, because they participated in the same problems, in the same hardships
The credit goes to my team, which sought in the social cooperatives law a legal support we needed to be able to base this systematization, so that it would be an alternative to the current public policy of the criminal execution law.
The institute was founded in 2015; the first social cooperative, Lili, in Tremembé Women’s Penitentiary Complex II, dates back to 2018 (followed by Tremembé Men’s Penitentiary Complex II). How did it all start? Were there any hiccups?
In order for this legal framework to exist in 2018 – that is, the social co operative legal life– we started working in 2016.
There were some battles: for the first cooperative to legally exist and to have its registration recognized by the State of São Paulo Board of Trade; opening a bank account; making the Brazilian Association of Cooperatives understand and accept a cooperative of incarcerated women.
I relied on some partners, such as the Mattos Filho law firm, which provided us with legal opinions supporting the thesis that female prisoners are women in a state of vulnerability; people didn’t want to frame them that way.
In 2016, we started visiting the women’s prison in Tremembé to start our relationship with the women and the team there.
We held weekly meetings with this group to explain that we wanted to develop with them a thesis to prove that a consistent job of training in socio-emotional and professional skills was a project of freedom.
This project started inside and expanded outside the prison, through products that would be sold, and all the revenue would be brought back to them – Humanitas360 would not keep anything.
Just the mention of that, brought up all kinds of questions. “What do you mean? You are doing this and not getting anything in return?” It was difficult like that between 2016 and 2018, also because of the previous administration of the state government. When management changed, I approached them so that this embryo would have stable political conditions.
The idea was to innovate, to develop a social technology in the state of São Paulo, provided by philanthropic capital, backed by the Public Power, that would be transformed into civic capital and delivered – why not? – to this management as political capital.
The public manager would take part of the risk when prototyping an alternative to a criminal execution plan. I take the financial risk – and also a big emotional risk – and together we make social technology and innovation happen… But unfortunately there was no such understanding.
In December of 2018, I signed a technical cooperation agreement with the National Council of Justice [signed in Brasília with Minister Dias Toffoli, allowing the implementation of social cooperatives in prisons across the country]. I thought it would give me more support with the São Paulo administration, but that didn’t happen.
In May of 2019, we are informed that we must leave the two penitentiary units where we worked – the women’s unit, where the cooperative developed household items and sewing, embroidery and crochet accessories; and the male one, which was an organic garden with soil treatment – harvesting almost two tons of hibiscus.
Today, Tereza’s pillars are a virtual store, charitable events to collect donations for new cooperatives and Casa Tereza (workshops outside prisons for cooperative members who have left prison), in addition to partnerships with points of sale, such as the Grupo Maní Restaurants, owned by chef Helena Rizzo. Did it all start with the idea of selling the products made by Tremembé women’s cooperative?
We always dreamt big. Tereza was already an idea combined with the cooperatives. So, in the bigger picture, it has always existed. It is necessary to understand that these cooperatives are inside the prison system, with all the difficulties.
Sentence progression, for example, is wonderful. But for a business, it generates a certain difficulty, because the person who has been trained is freed and can no longer work where he/she loved to work before.
We have always had to deal with the difficulties of the criminal enforcement law. Therefore, we had an idea incubated by Humanitas360 and which turned into an independent legal entity, Tereza.
It is a commercial entity that values quality production and commercial contracts that these women and cooperatives cannot make, precisely because they are incarcerated.
Tereza is the legal entity for all acts of the cooperatives commercial life: for sales to happen, to propagate this narrative – so that the change of paradigm is not just a dream, but an affirmative action – and so that woman will receive as income the revenue generated by her own work, whether incarcerated or not.
You can see Tereza as an umbrella. Our idea is to have several cooperatives – each one can even have a different scope of production. Being inside the prison system, the person has restrictions, so Tereza’s legal entity comes in and pays back the cooperative members.
For example, today Anahí Cooperativa Lili replaced Cooperativa. Anahí opened with women who started back there and others who have joined the process now. They are still learning, they still can’t manage all the accounting and tax management of their business… So, Tereza is the one who does it.
And being all social co-ops, all income is provided by the co-op fund. Incarcerated women can now contribute to their household; when they leave, they will not be a burden, an extra mouth to feed.
On the contrary: while in prison they are already contributing to providing for their families. And when they leave, on the first day of freedom, they already participate in the operation and management of their business, to grow within it.
At some point, Humanitas360 leaves [management] and the cooperative will have its autonomy, which is what happens today in Anahí. We have different levels of autonomy and emancipatory process.
Humanitas is always the incubator for cooperatives and for all issues of social, legal, psychological and spiritual assistance for the cooperative members. Tereza, which is the institute’s spin-off, manages the commercial side of the business.
You spoke earlier of emotional risk referring to this project. What do you find most special about living with these incarcerated women?
The most immeasurable and perhaps the most dangerous is the emotional risk, because developing relationships is unavoidable. Human beings are absolutely relatable.
It is in relationships that we improve ourselves, we make mistakes, we learn to forgive… And these relationships are between completely different people, with totally different life stories, some with many possibilities and others with none.
That’s why I was really hurt when we couldn’t work in Tremembé anymore… [Patrícia gets emotional] It was the first time that those incarcerated women were being penalized for doing something right in their lives…!
It was very difficult to be taken away from the management team, from the prison guards – who at first did not believe in our work but later became partners –, from the security director – who previously saw a fragility in her work there and, suddenly witnessed the improvement of the organizational environment…
This opportunity to make a significant change was aborted… As a human being, this is a frustration, it’s an unfulfilled mission that I carry with me – but I still hope that one day I will be able to fulfill it.
On the other hand, working in other states is wonderful… [Today, the cooperatives Anahí, in São Paulo, and Cuxá, in São Luís-MA are operating; there are four cooperatives in the state of Rio Grande do Sul opening soon].
You realize Brazil is extremely unequal [even] in the only place where it could have equality – because everyone is in prison. But even there [in prison], you see the unequal situation of women, who do not have their female needs met.
We managed to build trust there so that bigger things could be discussed… even establishing a social business. And the greatest experience was: we will only learn to live in diversity if we understand and accept our differences.
Our differences are not for conflict, confrontation. Our differences are for collaboration, understanding – and compassion for each other.
Does the initial lack of trust repeat itself every time you open a cooperative inside a prison?
Almost always. And it’s not just a distrust from the inmates. It happens to the system managers themselves, who look at it with criticism, because, supposedly, things have been done well for so many years… Why change now?
Human beings are also “preservationists”. If everyone has been doing it the same way for so long, any change is an instability. That causes conflict and huge differences. But Humanitas360 will never give up this insertion.
It is permissible for organized civil society to participate in the penalty. There are even moments of legal provision for this to happen. And that’s the only way we can provide social and restorative justice, and increasingly institutionalize peace between us.