Story behind the research: Meet Juliana Rodrigues!

April 8, 2022
Juliana Rodrigues

Inquisitive about social innovations that adopt frugal mindset, valuing simplicity in life, and passionate about being in nature are just a few sides to Juliana Rodrigues's inspiring story. Find out what our DocNet member said about her background, interests, and sources of inspiration!

Juliana Rodrigues
Juliana Rodrigues

I am Juliana Rodrigues. I am a Doctorate Candidate in Management Studies at Aalto University. I am from Brazil, and I moved to Finland last September to start the doctorate program. As a Latin American woman researcher, one of my strong commitments is to engage in a meaningful dialogue between Global South and North perspectives towards sustainability transitions and in connection with the practices on the ground. After working with social innovations in Brazil, Uganda, India, USA, and in other collaborations in Latin America, I became extremely interested in investigating how social innovations that adopt a frugal mindset might be creating alternative concepts and appropriated meanings of quality, well-being, social change, and, consequently, development.

The idea for this research emerged when I was in India for the second time as the traveling professor for the SIT IHP Social Innovation Study Abroad Program. For two semesters, I traveled with two cohorts of undergraduate students through San Francisco, Uganda, India, and Brazil. This compelling journey was very influential in my personal and professional trajectory. It resulted from a significant career change and conscious commitment to work as an educator and engaged researcher on socio-environmental issues.

Before this change, as I have a bachelor's degree in Social Communications, my career began working in communications, social responsibility, and management in different sectors. During this first phase, I already discovered my academic vein, teaching as a professor of practice for undergraduates in Brazil.

I encountered myself with a strong passion for being in the classroom, understanding the educator's role as a facilitator for students to navigate their own learning.

Questioning organizations' roles in creating a sustainable future and the limitations of underlying values of success and consumerism – and my contribution to our societal challenges, I pivoted my focus to social innovation. I decided to pursue my master's degree at the University of São Paulo, at that moment, investigating emergent social enterprises movements. Yet the opportunities and partnerships that I have developed from graduate school constituted a turning point in my action area. I could expand my understanding beyond traditional enterprises to learn about different realities – from grassroots initiatives to corporate foundations; from international standards of impact evaluation to people's meaningful narratives of social change; from digital solutions to social technologies; from scalable impact to local development; and from experiences in villages inside the Amazon Forest to social entrepreneurship in peripheries of major cities. Moreover, I realized how people's stories deeply inspire me and how researchers can contribute as facilitators in bridging practices from communities and debates towards development.

Those experiences led me to a profound interest in investigating how social innovations persevere and create relevant social change, especially from grassroots settings. Ingenuity and frugality set the tone of many solutions based on the best use of contextual strengths and resources. Despite enormous cultural differences among countries like Brazil and India, this mindset has deep cultural roots expressed in local languages – jugaad, in Hindi, and gambiarra, in Portuguese–commonly referred to as sources of creativity and ways to workaround. Due to my communications background, I was amazed to investigate similar meanings and uses of the words in both countries. Such expressions are not well-translated and not always consciously recognized, even though they indirectly influence diverse social innovations.

I started the Doctorate with this forefront research idea, echoing critical perspectives on entrepreneurship research and calls to translate the development debate into practices on the ground. The meanings enacted by them might indicate different images of what development may look like in different contexts. Seeking a meaningful collaboration between Global North and South, this interdisciplinary research will be conducted in partnership with Fundação Getúlio Vargas in Brazil.

Being part of the UniPID has been an excellent opportunity to exchange ideas, learn, and engage with people working with congruent topics. Such interactions are valuable, as I am very new to Finland. I had never even visited the country before. Therefore, I deeply enjoy learning more about its culture, history, nature, and people. In keeping with my passion for languages, I am trying to learn Suomi. Going beyond the fact that the language is indeed challenging, I am amazed by its structure and the beautiful sound of double consonants.

I also feel connected to what is said to be a Finnish trait of valuing simplicity in life

Speaking of words with deep cultural meanings, the concept enacted by Jokamiehenoikeus (or should we say Jokaisenoikeus?) as the right of every human to nature is also very inspiring for the development debate. It also goes in hand with my passion for visiting places, being in nature, hiking, and camping. I also feel connected to what is said to be a Finnish trait of valuing simplicity in life. I try to engage in a simple lifestyle, making conscious choices regarding my consumption and production. But like many of us, I am aware that I live with many contradictions, and my research many times has helped me to recognize them.

Resonating discussions around my research, I have recently read the provocative book "Winners Take All" by Anand Giridharadas. He presents a relevant critique on contemporary approaches to solving societal problems. Joining the efforts on decolonizing epistemologies, it is worth checking influential Latin American thinkers, as Paulo Freire. It is impossible not to mention his book "The Pedagogy of the Oppressed" when discussing critical thinking and participation. Both books are available at the Finnish Public Library system, one of my favorite spots here! The Cambridge Latin American Research in Education Collective also organized seminars to celebrate Freire's 100th anniversary.

To conclude, a curiosity: although this is my first time here, this is not my first contact with the Finnish culture. Serendipitous as life can be, in fact, I can remember Finland from a very young age. My mother was born in a city in Brazil where there is a traditional Finnish community and where Santa Claus has his tropical cottage: Penedo, a district in the municipality of Itatiaia, in Rio de Janeiro state. Thanks to this, I feel very nostalgic when I walk through the streets of Finland every now and then.


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Story behind the research is a blog series dedicated to highlight and showcase UniPID DocNet members and their research. Read more about DocNet here!

Photo credits: Sky Studios, 2018 on Unsplash