How to find a mailbox in Sao Paulo’s favelas
Jun 17, 2024

How to find a mailbox in Sao Paulo’s favelas

Brazil has densely populated, low-income communities living on the outskirts of many cities like Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo. Ordering online shopping just isn’t an option as they don’t have an official address, but that may be changing.

This story was produced by our colleagues at the BBC.

Sao Paulo in Brazil is South America’s largest city; some 12 million people call it home. But almost 3.5 million of those residents live on the peripheries of the city in unofficial towns known as favelas.

Basic government services like trash collection and even the post office are often not available. Hurdles like these have led over 70% of favela residents to give up on buying online, according to the Instituto Locomotiva, a Brazilian research firm. But a start-up called naPorta is trying to solve the problem.

“One of our founders was born and raised inside the favela, so he had troubles trying to receive products at home,” said Katrine Scomparin, naPorta co-founder.

“We say that they [residents] are excluded from the map of e-commerce — they are excluded from the digital world,” she said.

The presence of gangs and the favelas’ narrow, unpaved streets have made deliveries here complicated, but a lack of official street addresses may be the biggest hurdle. This is where naPorta believes it’s developed a solution, thanks in part to a tool from Google called Plus Codes.

Plus Codes are digital addresses created by dividing the world over and over again into ever-smaller boxes. With each division a number or letter is added to a sequence, creating a unique location code which can be tapped into Google maps.

Scomparin added: “We worked with them to map this region to create streets, create addresses in order for them to receive not only their package, but [for] vital services such as calling an ambulance or asking for the police.”

But even with reliable addresses, most traditional delivery companies won’t enter the favelas.

“Getting lost in these areas, that can be very risky,” said David Nemer, an anthropologist and professor at the University of Virginia, where he studies technology in Brazil’s favelas.

“Obviously cartel folks do not want people roaming around watching their business. This is why services and deliveries are often not completed once they have to reach territories like this.”

NaPorta has turned to local residents like Paulo, who know the ins and outs of the neighborhood.

“In the favelas, there are many hills, many dead ends,” he said. “So the fact I live here makes things easier because I know where the dead ends are.”

That doesn’t necessarily guarantee his safety. What’s more, workers like Paulo are contractors with few safety nets, according to Nemer.

“Delivery app workers are overworked, they’re not paid enough,” he said. They don’t have access to any benefits. NaPorta claims to be aware of these issues, and they aim to establish a humane and fair work relationship. So let’s just hope that they can fulfill these promises.”

The company says its couriers take home a fixed fee per delivery that nets them between $1,000 and $1,500 a month on average, above the national minimum wage of around $200.

Scomparin said they’ve reached these policies, not by just including the community digitally, but by structurally designing the company alongside residents of the favela.

“So understanding how people live their daily lives,” she said. “By doing that we understand that it’s not only about digital inclusion, but it is structural inclusion.”

It’s safe to say a delivery app is not going to solve the deep rooted issues seen in the favela, but naPorta’s community-based solution may just be a start.

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The team

Daisy Palacios Senior Producer
Daniel Shin Producer
Jesús Alvarado Associate Producer
Rosie Hughes Assistant Producer