A collaboration with Marcelo Rosenbaum


These spoons tell a story. Carved out of the branches of the Molongo tree, they herald a new sustainable practice of production that will help empower the community that participated in the Rosenbaum project: A Gente Transforma. 

The background 

The Amazonas Sustainable Foundation (FAS) is a Brazilian non-governmental organisation that in the last nine years has been developing innovative activities aimed at supporting sustainable practices, environmental conservation and the improvement of the quality of life among the riverside communities in the state of Amazonas. Its projects focus on income generation, social empowerment, social infrastructure, education and the improvement of the quality of life of the population. The development and support of these communities keeps the Amazon rainforest standing.

Through A Gente Transforma, a programme led by the Rosenbaum® design and innovation office, Marcelo Rosenbaum and his team have met and worked with a number of communities in Brazil, on a variety of different projects. These projects involve the immersion of the Rosenbaum team in these partner communities and are guided by the methodology of Essential Design. This methodology uses design as a tool to stimulate the recovery of essential values n communities connected with ancestry, the sacred and nature. It also seeks to leverage the local creative economy and promote its value. For this project the team included British designer Sarah Colson, Dutch designer Bertian Pot, Brazilian Paulo Biacchi and Portuguese researcher and curator Frederico Duarte.

Nova Colombia is a river community in the Amazonas state of Brazil, formed of 12 families, their main source of income is fishing, family farming and handicrafts made from the Molongo tree, a very common tree in the region. It is here that the FSA and the A Gente Transforma team converged to collaborate with the members of the Nova Colombia community, the goal, to support the community by developing handicrafts that were of value to them. 

The collaboration

The objectives of the project were many fold but at its core was the imperative to ensure that the design outcomes were of relevance to the community and sympathetic to their existence. It has become common for the output of communities such as these to become entirely market driven, farming or making products that are of no consequence to the producers, fulfilling no educational function, or intellectual purpose, other than income generation. This disconnect can result in practices which promote the loss of traditional culture, handicrafts and the natural environment. 

The outcome

The Rosenbaum team worked with, and from within, the local community over 9 days to create educational toys inspired by local cultural references. The collection of toys includes memory games and puzzles made from local wood by local craftsmen. The solution was well received by the FSA and once the community receives additional tooling, these toys will be created on a wider scale for delivery to 80 community health workers, for use with children and parents across the region. 

Early on in their time in Nova Colombia the team realised that the majority of the Molongo tree was wasted in the production of traditional handicrafts. Although abundant, the Molongo tree is not especially fast growing and these trees can only be cut at the minimum age of 33 years. Inspired by these existing products and looking for a way to reduce the waste associated with them, Sarah Colson created the Molongo spoon using local handicraft methods. The spoon utilised the tree's branches, a part of the tree hardly ever used in local handicrafts. These spoons were deemed to be a great symbol for the project, not only did they have a very obvious function but they could be sustainably produced and revered as a design object that could in turn be marketed and retailed. The profits to then be reinvested in the community and other projects like this one.

Sarah ColsonComment