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Speaking My Language

One of the most unequal countries in the world, Brazil is full of contrasts. Slums exist side-by-side luxury homes. Violence is rampant, as there are few opportunities for those born into poverty.

The nation once had one of the highest interest rates in the world. Today, Brazilian central bank interest rates are at about 2.250 percent. (The U.S. rate is only 0.250 percent.) But the fact that interest rates are falling year after year—reaching the lowest level in June—does not mean that consumers have access to cheaper credit. 

Brazil also has serious problems of functional illiteracy; many of the nation’s most vulnerable are led into debt without understanding the concept of interest rates. Consumers using the revolving credit of their credit card (when someone cannot pay the full amount of their bill on the due date) are paying, per year, fees of more than 300 percent. For bank overdrafts, the interest rates exceed 140 percent.

In the face of this reality, hundreds of young YouTubers from low-income and mostly Black backgrounds have emerged to fill the gap left by a deficient educational system. Their objective: Educate the masses with basic notions of economy and finance. 

Nathália Rodrigues coaches viewers on organizing their finances. 

Channels like “Finanças com a Nath” [Finances with Nath], created by 21-year-old Nathália Rodrigues, with almost 160,000 subscribers or “Blogueira de Baixa Renda” [Low-Income Blogger], created by 26-year-old Nathaly Dias, with 225,000 subscribers, have been dedicated to this task, as well as others with more “general” objectives—mixing humor, everyday scenes, stories of success amidst adversity, and even veganism—both on YouTube and Instagram, reaching tens of thousands of people.

“I always saw [college professors] teaching me how to invest a thousand reais, but that was never my reality or that of the people I know,” Rodrigues explained to O Globo newspaper. Now, she follows the news and translates concepts into a more accessible language for her audience. “I show ways for people to get organized, I teach people to sell unused objects and to use spreadsheets for financial control. All in easy language,” she said. “If you can save 20, 30 reais a month, it’s already wonderful.”

Rodrigues told BBC Brasil that she can’t “talk to a person to save a thousand reais a month, because that’s their entire salary—or not even that.” She says she began to think about creating the channel by studying management fatigue, helping her father save money.

“I began to encourage him to write down his own expenses, so that he would decrease the number of credit cards,” she said. “He was not in the habit of organizing himself financially.”   

Viewers access, learn from, and gain greater independence through videos made by those who speak the same language and share the same reality.

Juliano Spyer says that when he was conducting his doctoral research on the use of social networks by low-income individuals, YouTube—as well as Google, Facebook, and WhatsApp—were the most used channels for low-income individuals. “For many of the people I met, these services were confused with the Internet itself, because all the ‘rest’ connected to them through these platforms,” he says. “YouTube, more than any other service, fulfilled its function as a school, not specifically as a school with desks and math classes,  but as a place to seek knowledge.” 

Some of the most popular channels on Brazilian YouTube (and even worldwide), such as Whinderson Nunes (39.9 million subscribers) or Kondzilla, one of the largest YouTube channels in Brazil and Latin America (58.8 million subscribers), have creators who grew up in low-income households. There are several channels that “teach everything,” from finance to how to use Excel and do minor house chores, says Spyer, adding that “they are the most important source of knowledge available for Brazilians with low education.” 

Particularly after 2013, says Pontes, the first Black and low-income YouTubers began to emerge, seeking to share their life experiences with others, denounce abuses, disseminate their music, teach and also learn. 

“The public interested in such information has always existed, as well as the lack of skill, didactics and appropriate language of already existing channels, generally elitist, and which for a long time kept the monopoly in the task of popularizing matters related to personal finance,” says Hades Junior, independent digital entrepreneurship consultant from São Paulo.

Millions viewed Nathaly Dias’s “minimalista” home makeover.

Channels such as Finanças com a Nath and Blogueira de Baixa Renda, “among so many others that focus on content at the intersection of race, gender and class, represent a voice and listening space for themes and issues of interest to historically vulnerable groups,” says Ana Paula Camelo, PhD in Scientific and Technological Policy and researcher at Getúlio Vargas Foundation.

Camelo says that, until recently, these issues would not have space, attention or even relevance in traditional media. In this sense, she adds, “their role transcends mere entertainment and represents opportunities for themes and projects aimed at these groups to increase their reach and visibility.” 

It’s also important to remember the impact of such channels beyond traditional quantitative metrics. They also transform lives of not only the channel’s owners, but of those who access, learn from, and gain greater independence through videos made by those who speak the same language and share the same reality.

Larisse Pontes, Social Scientist and PhD student in Social Anthropology at the Federal University of Santa Catarina (UFSC), agrees. “I have no doubt that it is of the utmost importance, even knowing the limitations of Internet access and other digital barriers in the country, these initiatives do not fail to contribute to a democratization of knowledge in a peculiar way, dialoguing with diverse audiences in an accessible language, in most cases, which is also an attraction.”

Low-income YouTubers have realized that “the information gap had color and class through her own experience[s],” explains Pontes. “And there are many reasons for the emergence of diverse channels focused and made by young low income and black people.”

These channels represent a search “for peers and recognition,” Speyer says, “something “sometimes called ‘geeking out.’”

Nathaly Dias is called by her fans the “Low-Income Marie Kondo.”

Born and raised in the favelas of Rio de Janeiro, Nathaly Dias is called by her fans the “Low-Income Marie Kondo.” She focuses on minimalism: how to survive with little money and save on home decoration, shopping, etc. 

“You have to live with the essentials. If people who are poor understood how impactful and good this lifestyle can be, they would live happier,” she said in a 2019 Universa interview. Her focus is to help people manage their salaries, she says, and understand that “the fashion industry, the consumer industry, keeps telling us, with marketing moves, that we need this or that, but in fact, we don’t [need].”

Her vision of financial education is that one must be mature to make difficult choices, that is, to buy the essentials, organize oneself financially, and plan for the future.

From the point of view of Internet dynamics, explains Camelo, “the existence of these channels—which go through financial, infrastructure and resource challenges that reflect broader inequalities in society—implies a new dynamic of production and consumption of content, promising to expand such dissonant voices and allow people belonging to these groups, with little or no representation in the traditional media or heard in other political spaces, to express themselves.” 

In fact, channels created by low-income and often Black people, dealing with diverse themes, are conquering the Brazilian internet and promoting a true digital revolution.

→ Learn how COVID-19 is deepening inequalities in Brazil.

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