Natiele Alves

Redefining the Suburbs

  • Redefining the Suburbs

The Árvore da Vida (Tree of Life) project in Betim, Brazil promotes the social, cultural and economic development and empowerment of the community surrounding the Fiat Automotive plant. This year, through a special video web-series, it is celebrating 15 years of activity with more than 22,000 people who have benefited from its many initiatives.

Natiele Alves
Natiele Alves

October 15, 2020 - “I never imagined that a girl born to such young parents and raised in a low-income community could find herself walking down the runway for one of the world’s top fashion houses,” said Natiele Alves, 25, describing her experience with Dolce & Gabbana in Milan, Italy. “I was very proud and grateful to everyone who believed in me.” Natiele has modeled at major Brazilian fashion events, as well as international events in the United States, Germany, France, South Africa and other countries.

From 2009 to 2011, Natiele was a participant in the initiatives of Árvore da Vida. The program was launched by FCA in 2004 to help improve the quality of life for youth living in Jardim Teresópolis, a community located near its assembly plant in Betim, Brazil, through a range of social, sports, educational and training initiatives. In 2017, the program became an Institute managed by the community itself and is now called Instituto Árvore da Vida (IAV). Over the past 15 years, more than 22,000 people have benefited from Árvore da Vida’s many initiatives.

Opportunity, Empowerment and Self-Esteem

It was through singing lessons and workshops organized by Árvore da Vida that Natiele believes she developed the self-confidence that is so important for her career. “Before joining the choir, I was very shy, I didn’t think I was pretty and I couldn’t communicate very well. It was by participating in the group, interacting with many people and giving presentations, that I learned to express myself more”, she says.

Natiele is one of three protagonists in a web-series that commemorates the 15th anniversary of Árvore da Vida. The other two are Douglas Rodrigues da Silva, 14, and Laiza Gonçalves Serpa, 15, who also have success stories to tell. Douglas in music and Laiza in athletics.

“Participating in Árvore da Vida was very important to me because it made me think about my role in the community and helped me realize that there are other possibilities,” Douglas says. He was always interested in music and to learn the piano, he downloaded a piano on his mobile since he didn’t have one of his own. He practiced several hours a day. “People from Árvore da Vida visited our class and told us they were auditioning for the choir. I started attending practice and studying. It helped me understand more about music, including the technical side,” he says.

Douglas Silva
Douglas Rodrigues da Silva

Music and Sport for Social Transformation

“If it weren’t for this opportunity, I might never have had a chance to develop my artistic side,” Douglas recalls. He is pleased that he can also be an example for his younger brother, Willian, who has always wanted to take part in IAV’s activities. And now that he’s 11, he can finally sign up. “I’m proud because I started with no experience at all and in a very short time my mind has been opened to music. The Árvore da Vida initiative helped me a lot,” says Douglas.

Laiza also joined the program to study music (percussion, in her case), but then redirected her career towards sports, achieving excellent results in the long jump — with a personal record of 5.3 meters — and in the 4×75m relay. She takes everything she has learned through IAV with her when training and during competition. “I learned to understand people, to have humility and to seek out opportunities. My sport is an individual one, but this background has given me a different attitude towards my competitors. One of respect,” she says.

Laiza trains at least 15 hours a week and she applies the discipline that she developed at IAV. “I strive to do my best every day, and to influence others to believe in their dreams,” she says. Like Douglas, she is also an example for her younger brother, 8-year-old Itayus. “He sees me competing and now he also wants to be an athlete: competing in the long jump. I’m glad I can open these opportunities for him,” she says.

Laiza Gonçalves Serpa
Laiza Gonçalves Serpa

Education: A Tool for Change and Breaking the Cycle

“Children and adolescents are multipliers of change. They have the ability to positively influence the people around them. Transformation is both social and individual. Our job is to help young people discover the world of possibilities,” says Duane Vilarino, executive secretary of the IAV. And that’s why the Institute’s activities are focused on this age group. “We are redefining the suburbs,” she adds.

For Duane, the three protagonists of the web-series are representative of the successful path of the many other youth who have participated in the IAV experience. “Here, we are involved daily with stories of transformation, like those of Douglas, Laiza and Natiele. It’s true that we have also lost some kids to drug trafficking, but there is nothing more rewarding than seeing the many successful results we have achieved over the years”, she explains. It demonstrates that access to knowledge and learning is transformative. The Institute knows from experience that education is fundamental to change.

Luciana Costa, Sustainability Coordinator for FCA Latin America, agrees. “We always work on after-school activities that are complementary to the standard school curriculum. We know that improved education is directly correlated to a fairer society.” FCA has continued as the Institute’s main partner even after the community took over direct management.

The numbers are impressive: children and youngsters who participate in the IAV activities are 3.6 times more likely to continue studying, and are 4.8 times more likely to graduate from an institute of higher learning. Douglas dreams of majoring in Music and Laiza wants to become a civil engineer, but without abandoning sports.

A Gradual, Collaborative and Sustained Construction

Luciana says that one of the major lessons learned by everyone involved in the program over the past 15 years is the power of collaborative construction. “FCA’s approach is to empower people rather than to impose our view. From the beginning, our intention was for the project to become autonomous, managed and led by the community itself,” she says.

She believes that FCA has also continued to better its understanding of its social role. “It’s like being a bridge at the service of the community,” she says. Luciana also sees the IAV program as part of the commitment to Brazil’s development. “By adopting the approach that we have as an organization, we have the ability to influence our employees, suppliers and dealers, in addition to influencing other companies and playing an active role in the public policy agenda,” she adds.

For the Director of Corporate Communications and Sustainability for FCA Latin America, Fernão Silveira, the celebration of 15 years of Árvore da Vida is a celebration of a quality project, and the three-episode web-series crowns this story. “It’s not a one-off initiative, but a gradual and sustained transformation, during which we have recalibrated our objectives and learned from mistakes,” he says. “For a company to develop, we need a society that is equally developed from a social, economic and environmental point of view,” he adds. Duane adds: “Offering opportunities is what transforms realities. That’s what we do.”

Check out the web-series teaser to learn more about these three exciting stories.

The individual episodes are also available on YouTube:




FCA’s sustainability commitment to local communities is aligned with the principles of the United Nations 2030 Agenda and the following Sustainable Development Goals:

Sustainable Development Goals: Quality Education - Reduced inequalities - Sustainable cities and communities

Read more about FCA’s community initiatives in our 2019 Sustainability Report

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