Mariana Rufolo is the founder of Circo del Sur, an organisation that uses circus arts to prepare vulnerable youth for life and a career. Rufolo’s social entrepreneurship work led her to be elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 2015.
Rufolo grew up in a family with hard-working parents who also had a strong appreciation for the arts. Her father was an independent theatre actor, her mother a teacher, and both were tango dancers. As a child, Rufolo was active in many sports and was a gymnast on the national team.
At the University of Buenos Aires, she decided to study psychology and body language. In her fourth year, she won a scholarship from a university in Trujillo, Peru. She travelled there along with a group of researchers and advanced psychology and anthropology students to learn about therapies used by indigenous groups. The experience influenced Rufolo’s view of how change and transformation occurs in people: she saw social and community concepts as essential elements for successful change.
Back in Argentina, Rufolo switched from studying psychology to social psychology, which has a community focus. In Peru, she had seen the necessity of society’s role in individuals’ mental health and development, so she studied under Alfredo Moffatt, the founder of a preeminent psychology school in Argentina.
At that time, Rufolo was also invited to be an acrobat in a professional contemporary circus company, where she fell in love with the discipline. She participated in many national and international tours, and saw the power of the circus to communicate and transform. She decided to bring a circus workshop to schools, starting with those located in the most marginal zones of Buenos Aires. Later, along with her circus company, Rufolo took a show to Villa 24, one of the most infamous slums in the city. The enthusiasm of the children in the neighbourhood drove the creation of a three-month course on stilt construction and use. Two years later, Rufolo, along with residents of Villa 24 and other circus artists, founded a circus school called Escalando Altura (Climbing Heights), which served as the location for the workshops until she founded Circo del Sur in 2002.