“The traditional life path of building wealth in our prime working years, followed by practicing philanthropy in our retirement, is no longer the only – or necessarily the best – option for people who want to be net contributors to society,” said Elliot Rosenberg, who will graduate May 19 from the University of Virginia with bachelor’s degrees from the McIntire School of Commerce and the College of Arts & Sciences.
Rosenberg came to that conclusion in 2012 at the end of his summer internship in Brazil, where he worked for Village Capital, a venture capital firm that supports and invests in for-profit social enterprises and start-ups with social missions or environmental focus.
More specifically, the internship was at a Village Capital-funded start-up in São José dos Campos called QMágico, which provides an e-learning platform and online educational content aiming to revolutionize Brazil’s education system. During his time there, he visited Rio de Janeiro’s poorest neighborhoods, the favelas, where he saw firsthand how sustainable development models are providing livelihoods to residents and changing outsiders’ perceptions.
Of that visit, the Los Angeles native prophetically wrote in his blog, “Hopefully I can soon be one of those agents of change.”
Fast forward to today. Rosenberg will return to Brazil in June to live in Rio de Janeiro, where he will run a for-profit social enterprise that he founded. His business, called Favela Experience, offers travelers an online marketplace for overnight, authentic homestays and apartment rentals in the homes of favela residents, as well as connections to local adventures and cultural tour activities.
“Our guests immerse themselves in vibrant favela life,” Rosenberg said, “while our host families double their incomes, allowing them to invest in their health, housing and education.”
According to his website, these rentals are near the heart of the South Zone, the tourist and cultural district of Rio.
Rosenberg adds that since launching Favela Experience in February with just one experimental listing, the company has received rave reviews from guests and has generated more than $2,000 in revenue.
He said he plans to increase the company’s marketing efforts to potential hosts to build the listing base in time for the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Summer Olympics, both of which will take place in Rio.
“My time in Brazil cemented my desire to pursue a career in social entrepreneurship immediately after graduation,” he said.
Rosenberg, who majored in commerce at McIntire and Latin American studies in the College, admits that he’d once considered pursuing a traditional career in the private sector followed by practicing philanthropy in his retirement, but the Brazil experience changed his direction.
“While I had strived for that life path,” he said, “my summer experience changed how I see my role in society. We U.Va. students can dedicate ourselves to lives of service, and we can do so comfortably and meaningfully beginning now and continuing to graduation and beyond.”