Earth 2 Hub Interview – With Tamara Giltsoff

August 2012

INTERVIEW WITH EARTH 2 HUB – A SCIENCE, TECH AND ARTS PLATFORM

Tamara is an innovation leader and entrepreneur. She works with corporate business and entrepreneurs to unlock new markets and new business models with a focus on impact opportunity and investment. She has advised start-ups such as Trillion Fund and Sustaination and is working with corporates such as Telefónica, O2 and P&G. She was named of “35 Outstanding Businesswomen Under the Age of 35” by World Business Magazine and INSEAD, in 2007, for her work pioneering impact ventures.

INTERVIEW

E2H: Of the many new ideas around building a better future, which ones are you most interested in and why?

TG: Most recently I have been interested in the rise of people- (or ‘crowd’) enabled movements, business models and solutions. Digital technology has enabled millions of citizens to participate in change, drive impact and even to invest in new business models or solutions that solve problems. Our networked world has given birth to public engagement campaigning platforms such asAvaaz.org and social movements such as AllOut.org and TheRules.org; crowdfunding platforms such as Crowdcube and Kickstarter; group-buy and people-powered investment models such as Solar Mosaic and Trillion Fund; peer-to-peer business models that give people access to learning, such asSkillshare and Coursera, or in finance, such as Zopa; shared services such asBuzzcarWhipcar and AirBnB that increasingly rely on trust, reputation and transparency; direct trade business models that cut out the middleman such asLiga Masiva and models that use data mapping to give power to smallholder producers such as Sustaination. I’m fascinated by data science and the potential to shift markets and behaviours through smart use of it. I could go on, and on… If I had to summarize my bets for a better future I’d say: mass public engagement, data science, collaborative economies and power of the crowd.

E2H: Of all the places you’ve either visited or lived, which do you feel embraces the most sustainable way of life?

TG: It’s not the place that embraces the most sustainable way of life. It’s the people. We are now connected to billions of others around the world. Place and ‘Nation State’ becomes much less relevant to ‘sustainable’ when the power of many millions of people connected to each other kicks-in. I’m not convinced by place; I’m convinced by human potential and scalable solutions. Read More…

Memories of China – My Leaders’ Quest Experience

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June 2012

In May this year (2012) I spent a week as a participant on the Leaders’ Quest China week in Shanghai and Changsha. It was my first visit to China amid a diverse group of 20 or so business leaders. On the closing night of the week I described Leaders’ Quest week as ‘an open window’. What I meant is that the Leaders’ Quest week (“Open Quest” in this case) gives you access to people, places, experiences, stories, businesses and behaviours in an emerging economy in the 21st century. They achieve this by providing access to their diverse networks of leaders and the rooted relationships they maintain, established over many years of operating Quests. My experience was a window in on a new and never before experienced world for myself.

The week also gives you access to a co-group of leaders attending the week, and their stories, for an intense week of social interaction. It is quite unlike anything I’ve ever experienced to be found together with leaders of different ages, social class, nationality, levels of wealth, measures of success, life-long dreams and career paths, set within a strange but enchanting environment. The essence of Leaders’ Quest, and its value, could be summarized ‘connecting people’, which is what we did in China. We connected with the people of China and with each other. Sounds very simple in practice. However what emerges from this diverse mix of people coming together is far from simple. Below are a number of anecdotal stories from my experiences, the lessons learned and the incredible people I/we met in China…

Finding Zen in China

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June 2012

Who would have thought that I would have (re) found my Zen, through the art of riding, in China, influenced by lengthily conversations with a successful private equity investor. He who himself admitted he thought I was a ‘Treehugger’ at the beginning of the week and of little relevance to him and the sort of leadership and success he was used to.

There we are. That is the power of the Open Leaders’ Quest week: people with different views, life experiences and levels of wealth and power coming together to share life and leadership experience. Invaluable conversations with the said man have led me to a deeper look at Zen philosophy through the practice of dressage, which I had just began to pick up again not that long before leaving for China. Not only was I inspired by the stories he shared about his experience finding classical dressage and how hours of early morning practice also led him towards greater business and leadership success, he also convinced another Quest leader from India to take up dressage practice (as a total beginner). The three of us had spent hours one night deep in discussion on the subject of dressage, finding our ‘hara’ (core) and using our passion to influence leadership/success. Myself and Imran have since been compelled to read a trilogy of stories by the master of classical dressage Paul Belasik, who spent many years studying Zen practice and martial arts to inform his work with horses and his leadership skills.

Through these conversations I have learned about the importance of re-finding my passion (or my ‘Element’ as Ken Robinson might suggest) and building this into my business practice. I am also looking at ways to lift and integrate some of the principles of the masters of classical dressage, Zen and martial arts into learning and educational business ideas I’m playing with.

I had other deeply relevant conversations throughout the week with CEOs, human rights leaders and successful private equity investors; a brilliantly funny and astute Italian duo; the young Chinese translator on our tour; an artist come publisher and all-round sassy Chinese woman; a successful corporate strategist and man with great wit from a vastly different and more privileged background than I; the bold and brilliant ex ‘postman’ who is now head of people at British Airways; and the most quietly successful marketer from a Fortune 500 I’ve ever met. I could go on… The eclectic mix should say it all.

Jet Lag and China’s Early Morning Club

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June 2012

Jetlag is not easily resolved on a week that is as intense and stimulating as the Leaders’ Quest week. When you mix jetlag with full scheduled days and evenings, questioning and insightful conversations in a new culture thrown together with 20 other diverse and successful business leaders, what you end up with are highly stimulated minds. My mind didn’t want to sleep most of the week. Nor did many of my fellow leaders.

Lack of sleep brings with it a quality of its own: a slightly altered state that sees the world from a different angle. It certainly intensifies things. Sometimes this brought me great clarity and insight on the country I was visiting and the people around me. Sometimes it brought a sense of being totally lost in translation. Long evenings drinking wine, deep in discussion with my fellow Questers, also brought significant learning and new perspective. Many of those late night conversations were invaluable and have led me to quite significant decisions – not least a decision to start-up my own business venture!

One memorable night, I barely slept. Awake from 230am, by 430am I decided to head out for an early morning run through Shanghai inspired by a fellow Quester who’d done the same the night before. I’m a runner. There’s no better way to feel out a strange city than taking to the roads on foot. I didn’t imagine I’d get quite such a glimpse of the people of the city at that time of day.

I took the Yangtze River path that divides the old Shanghai with the new Shanghai. So many people talked of the speed of development of this part of the city, which was only until recently rural land. Along the path I met many fellow runners, some in large groups and mostly men. I got ‘high-fives’ and big smiles as I ran head-on into the people of China. I passed kite flyers, their charge at least a mile-high in the clouds. A certain calm was with these people of the morning who made their art look so simple and easy. I passed t’ai-chi practice. And I witnessed the strength of community and togetherness that little understood outside of China. I was also part of this togetherness, somehow invited in on this special early morning club. The rural views of a bygone Shanghai may have been replaced by a vision of urban development but the gathering of these early-morning people, many of them an older generation, served to remind me that people transcend development and human needs remain.

The Face of China

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June 2012

Words get in the way. And they seemed to get in the way often in China. What I mean is that some of the best, most knowing experiences I had were not in conversation but were in observation and experience. Spending a weekend in rural China, outside of Changsha in the Hunan Province, was one of these revealing moments. Yet at the same time nothing was really ever revealed. Things were often not said and questions unanswered.

Throughout our two-day trip into rural China, government officials accompanied us the Leaders’ Quest group of eight. Questions posed to our hosts were sometimes redirected and often never answered. The discussion carried ahead as it needed to carry ahead and much learning came despite this. The plan was never quite clear i.e., where we were heading next or where we were residing for the night. Mystery reigned.

Behind the ‘face’ of China, the mystery and the unanswered questions, is a human China: a deeply complex culture steeped in history and a strong identity. In the countryside I experienced warmth and a pride that was not told in words but was expressed in interactions. I was served the most incredible spread of tasty food, in a farmer’s family home. And before I knew it I was hugging, clicking glasses, smoking cigarettes (I don’t smoke) and posing for pictures with families that welcomed us like we were part old family and part VIPs. I experienced the emotion of a senior government official who had returned to the area having made his wealth to give back in person to the countryside that had served him so well. His connection to the land and the spiritual history surrounding us came alive in his eyes. The presence he held at the lunch table as he fed stories to Jason – our LQ host who in turn fed relevant bits of translated information to us – was quite astounding.

Another official, so overwhelmed by the significance of hosting us, his important English guests, expressed a whole different emotion at the table. His behaviour, largely affected by endless toasts of rice wine, became impassioned and almost child-like in its intensity. He was seeking the attention of his guests by over-adoring each of us – male and female alike! Nothing was said. Nobody flinched. The other officials carried on regardless, ignoring his rather outrageous and courageous behaviour. What we got to experience was the vulnerability behind the ‘face’ of China. The sensitivities that lie within every human were shared in experience versus in words on this rural trip. The questions never answered become irrelevant when the experience reveals all.

The Shortfalls of High-Performing Education

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June 2012

Education was a timely and critical topic of conversation that came up again and again throughout the visit. China has acknowledged that although its students outweigh the performance of Western students in academic terms, there is a significant gap in learning in their society being felt across the country. The gap is of creativity, critical thinking, curiosity, and innovation skills. The General Manager of a large manufacturing facility, himself MBA educated outside of China, talked candidly about the skills gap that China faces and the manufacturing margins lost to likes of Steve Jobs. He recognised the limitations of the copy fast and brilliantly culture of growth in China.

The government in China is increasing the minimum wage around 15% year-on-year, which is slicing the margins of cheap manufacturing. Manufacturers are being forced to move up the value chain, shedding the cheaper contracts and turning away business and trying to scale up a workforce. But the experience and culture of experiment and innovation is lacking across the country. As is highly skilled manufacturing and leadership talent, according to the General Manager.

Most of the successful and senior leaders we met had at some stage experienced education outside of the country in Western institutions (largely the US and UK according to anecdotes). Families with money are increasingly sending their children abroad to be educated outside the Chinese system and Western schools are setting-up shop across Asia. Dulwich College has opened an academic institution in Shanghai, Beijing, Suzhou, and Seoul, and is due to have presence in Singapore by 2014, to bring a Western education system into Asia. An incredible sign of times and the appetite for foreign education.

Fascinating to me is that there is such hunger from East to learn creative thinking, innovation and leadership skills from the West. Yet despite the gulf of learning the West requires to fully embrace and understand the emerging powers of the East, in order to thrive in this century, there seems to be much less hunger to learn from West to East.

It was a stroke of luck to be attending the Quest week alongside an education leader from St Paul’s School in London. He had strong views about the need for education to evolve globally and for greater connections in education and learning to be forged globally. For myself the education discussion has left me ever more curious than ever about a sector that is already being quietly disrupted by digital technology and collaborative business models.

China’s Sandwich Gen

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June 2012

A breakfast morning was spent with the new blood of China. Tony Li Lixin is one of China’s  ‘digital native’ generation (or near enough so). Tony is a young 30+ year old; he grow up with digital technology; he’s the Chief Writer on ‘The Bund Magazine’ by day and by night he runs the closed social network China30s.com that he founded. China30s is at the moment a non-profit movement rooted in connecting the values-led China. Tony is smart, connected, globally minded and values-driven – much like the demographic if China30s. He thinks a lot about the future of China. He’s a family man. He studied International Public Policy at UCL in London and has extensive experience covering global elections. He’s not a campaigner, instead he believes in movement building and mass participation.

Tony set up his independent social network called China30s.com for the Chinese ‘Sandwich Generation’ – people who are in their early 30s and find themselves in the middle of career development, family, home building and other shared life stages. The site has emerged from nowhere but is fast attracting a crowd of 30-something individuals that are typically values-led and somewhat concerned about their future and the future of China, who are looking to connect to others like them. The site is a closed network. Tony evaluates each new member request by hand based on a series of questions and expressions of interest he requests of interested parties. The site is full of imagery and stories of a 30-something generation experiencing the rapid change in their country and a scale of growth that is taking its toll. The network has organised offline social events, where members of the community gather to bring ‘positive power’ to issues or NGOs they want to support.

Tony gave us a view in on a section of Chinese society and a values-set that is just not that easy to identify as an outsider. The view is of a highly connected and collaborative society, very familiar to the digitally networked society I know of outside China. These are a group hungry to share stories and thoughts about the future: concerns about the direction of the country and the growth obsession, the shape of things to come globally and the everyday life challenges that this generation face. For me what was so striking about China30s.com was that this demographic seems different to the China of past or the China today we think we know as outsider. Absent was the ‘face’ of China and the guardedness that oftentimes clouds (business) discussions. A brief demo of the site from Tony exposed something different – much more reachable and exposing.  It also exposed the ferocious appetite of this generation to connect and seek meaning and identity through doing so.

Asked if Tony’s motivation was to build a political movement with China30s and he closed up. Fair enough. It is an impossible question to be asked in China. Though I did sense that there is a movement emerging within the network he has built, intentional or not. There’s certainly something powerful about the participation and connection he has built between this questioning and connecting generation. Perhaps China30s is the melting pot for innovation talent?

The Growth Dilemma

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June 2012

Undoubtedly growth is bringing value to China and its people in many ways. It has created a vast increase in millionaires – 1.4 million households in 2011 with more than $1million in assets according to Boston Consulting Group[1]. More importantly it is in many cases lifting people out of poverty and improving livelihoods.

The impact of such fast and vast growth in China is also playing out with less certainty of happiness and prosperity for some.  The rate of the building/cities development alone is taking its toll on people and planetary resources. Land use and the communities that live in China are shifting at such a rate it is almost impossible to maintain the delicate intricacies that hold together society. The aesthetic of China is also rapidly shifting, which has changed things for many people. Many spoke of the rural fields they used to look at across the River Yangtze in Shanghai that are now thick with masculine architecture and towering buildings.

You can sense the haste at which infrastructure and housing is being built. It waits for no one and in the process thoughtful planning and quality construction compromised. The impact of this on the society at large will be unquantifiable for a while. What we did hear and sense through conversation is that there are an increasing number of Chinese people who are concerned that the essence of China, its strong Confucian values and communities, are fast being diminished by growth and poor city planning.

Environmentally growth has been taking its toll in this country for many years but it has never been more visible. 75% of all rivers are highly polluted. You cannot drink the tap water. There’s big concern about the quality of industrialised food production and, of course, there are rising levels of obesity – the disease of growth.

Much of these are typical symptoms of industrialisation. Most of the developed world is now dealing with fall-out of the industrial era and consumer-driven growth, alongside the massive leaps in human wellbeing that it brought. China is mid way creating and feeling pain of industrialisation but this time it is being experienced on speed. This speed of growth has accentuated the pain for many.

It was good to feel the sense of new and the impressive mobilisation of resources that growth has brought in China. It was good to feel the pride and hunger to flourish like other global markets. The invitation to us from one government official in Changsha said it all: “Welcome to our city. We invite you to get rich here”. China is impressive and positive story in many ways, not least the ability of these great people to mobilise and implement their plans. But present in pretty much every conversation and interaction with Chinese leaders told a story of uncertainty for the future of the country and the vast infrastructure emerging around the people.

I admire China and its people greatly. I was honoured to be there meeting people at the frontline of its vast economy and its rural transformation. And I am curious to understand more. The story for China is certainly not as pre-determined as we might think on the outside.



[1] http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/05/31/united-states-losing-millionaires_n_1559803.html

Kickstarter and Shared Value

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January 2012

I really enjoyed reading Kickstarter’s Year of 2011 summary not least before it is beautifully designed. Such a treat for a business to indulge its fans in this way.

It is such a flourishing and joyous success story because it involves much more than the business’ own success. Indeed Kickstarter could not be a success story without the success of those people using for their enterprise: their incredible ideas; their inspiring and often stunning videos; their investment wins and product successes.

It’s a business that was created to enable other people to flourish, while it flourishes. It’s a business that has created enterprise in all of its glory and it has unlocked the potential of a vast pool of everyday people.

It is, in my view, a Shared Value business model because its customers gain value and flourish while it does. They actually depend on each other. And its customers are actually not customers, or consumers; they are creators, investors and active participants.

It’s a joy to see Kickstarter’s exponential growth in the last year and the attention it has received. Its success sends a clear signal to capitalism that the corporation of the future is not built on concentrated ownership, consumerism and shareholder wealth only. It is built on Shared Value business models and prosperity for all stakeholders.

Meeting with Ricardo Young – Can the BRICS really evolve as FUTURE economies?

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“Brazil has all the conditions to evolve in the new world” (Ricardo Young) but will it evolve or will it continue grow the old [economic] way?

I was lucky to get over an hour of time with Ricardo Young the ex Founder and President of Ethos Institute, Brazil’s leading sustainability think tank, and now leader of Instituto Democracia e Sustentabilidade. Ricardo himself ran for Senate representing the Green Party in São Paulo. As I understand it he gained 4 million votes [unconfirmed] on the promise of prosperity and sustainable growth for all. He is a key advisor to Marina Silva, Brazil’s ex Environment Minister, who ran for presidential elections in the 2010 elections winning 19% of the first round votes (nearly 20 millions Brazilians). Together they are championing a new political movement in Brazil.

Ricardo is straight talking; he’s tight on time and he’s a man with a mission to make Brazil a true 21st Century economic leader, building a sustainable economy working and championing capitalism 2.0. Yes, now is certainly the BRICS’ time. Europe and America have run into the ground on free market capitalism, industrialization of everything, and debt-driven consumer culture. The evidence is apparent; the ‘old way’ is no longer serving society or planet well. The future, which we are in already, needs to be different not least because the old paradigm is not financially sustainable, as we have seen with European and US market collapse. Nor is it environmentally viable over the longer term.

Ricardo talked of a Brazilian government that had for the last 30 years aimed to be one of the worlds leading economies; with the ambition that Brazil would indeed be the future economy. Brazil’s time has now indeed come. But, as Ricardo observed, much like other BRIC countries Brazil is building its leadership on an outdated model of capitalism and the majority current world view. There is nothing ‘future’ about the dominant approach to growth in Brazil despite how successful it may appear by building on the new middle classes spending power. Read More…

It’s Not The 1% Who Create The Jobs, It’s The Customers

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Ha. So “Finally, A Rich American Destroys The Fiction That Rich People Create The Jobs” published on Business Insider. (Thank you Nat Billington for sharing this).

Successful advertising entrepreneur Nick Hanauer suggests that it is not the 1% of wealth generating and low tax paying entrepreneurs that drive economic value. It is the gigantic mass of middle classes, the customer base of which enterprise depends on, which bring the vast economic power. But these guys have been pummeled, all over the world, by taxes that reward the 1% at their expense. I would add that the middle classes have also been pummeled by the fallacy of debt-driven consumerism. This group have been encouraged to overspend by spending money that is not actually theirs, in order to keep the economy growing and the 1% getting richer.

I have suggested a need for a Shared Value Academy that makes use of the vast economic and human capital that is the ‘expanding middle class’. Nick Hanauer is right to suggest that it is this segment of society that economies depend. It is very evident here in Brazil. But there is a third way that does not only depend only on the purchasing power of middle classes but that includes them in the value chain, so that they too can share the value created through enterprise. Apple has been hugely successful at enabling this with the iPhone/IPad application revolution, albeit to a wealthy / upper middle class base who can afford its products and to invest in the application development cycle. IBM have recognised the need to integrate its customers within its supply chain. It is incubating ‘customer-entrepreneurs’ all over the world working on clean tech solutions that align with IBM’s Smater Planet vision. IBM ensure their technology is embedding within their customer’s solutions, so that overtime, both parties share the value together. On a completely different scale AirBnB has created a platform that enables its customers to become entrepreneurs – renting our spare capacity in the home and connecting people all over the world.

The Shared Value Academy

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November-December 2011

There are four years between now and the Brazil Olympics in 2016, which is enough time to prototype and then scale at least 10 new social ventures with shared value potential…

I have talked a lot (below) about the need for business to shift from the current economic paradigm – corporate-consumer-capitalism – to one that seeks to create shared value through solving social/environmental/economic problems together with untapped ‘entrepreneurs’ or the new generations of ‘leaders’ in the communities that face them. I believe that global business, and in particular consumer brands, are a strong platform to enable this shared value approach because of their vast and sophisticated supply and value chains and their wide consumer reach. In this context, corporate-consumer business becomes a template to unlock value in others and share the benefits. There are, after all, a lot of people – and a lot of changemakers – on this planet.

 

There are increasing examples of this model framed as ‘Inclusive Business’, ‘Enterprise Development’ and ‘Hybrid Value Chain’. All of these approaches were on the basis of a blended value chain, enabling collaborative entrepreneurship and value to be shared between producer and consumer. But more evidence is needed. As global consumer businesses seek growth in emerging markets where planetary, social challenges and corrupt government is most felt, this new frontier of wealth creation needs to expand and be legitimised within the global economy.

In talks with the world’s largest consumer goods company this week in response to Paul Polman’s latest rhetoric on long-term growth in emerging markets, I suggested the need for an ‘academy’ for social business and shared value models. The ‘Shared Value Academy’ would be run and placed geographically in an area where there are social challenges to address and innovation and human potential to unlock. Read More…

Who I’ve met in Brazil

November-December 2011

I’ve spent five weeks exploring the country of Brazil and its people and undertaking meetings with key social business and sustainability leaders. The core purpose of my meetings with leaders was to uncover insights about Brazil and business, sustainability leadership, and impact ventures; it was also to make business connections and to develop a Brazil-UK ‘bridge’ on sustainable business and social ventures. With the support of Lucy O’Shea, CEO of Futerra, and Jimmy Greer, sustainability leader and new economics thinker, both from the UK, I was able to connect to the following Brazil leaders:

Rio de Janeiro

Anderson Fraça, Founder Dharma Comunicaçao, and Jessica Lagotta

Amy Casterton, Culture and Innovation, British Consul, Rio

Carlos Alberto Messeder, Academic Director, ESPM (school of marketing, advertising, design)

Damian Platt, MBE and Founder of Culture Is Your Weapon

Florencia Estrade, Founding Partner, Cria Global

Isa and Paolo Giordino, Founders and Partners of Cielo Ambiental

Marcelo Alexander, Sustainability Director, Isolux Corsan

Salvador

Leticia Menger, Host of TEDxPelourinho (Salvador)

Sao Paulo

Ana Maria Melo, ex Ethos Institute, social innovator and connector

Chris Hori, Science and Innovation, British Consul

Fabio Interaminense, Founding Partner, Grupo Eco

Fernando Monteiro, LEAD and founder of Evoluir – sustainability education

Lincoln Paiva, Green Mobility

Marcelo Pedro, Head of Operations Latam, Olam International

Mark Hillary and Angelica Mari, IT Decisions

Renato Raposo, Head of Communication, Ethos Institute

Rodrigo Bandeira, founder of Cicade Democratica

Ricardo Young, Diretor of Instituto Democracia e Sustentabilidade, leader on sustainable development

Shigueo Watanabe, Director, IBOPE Ambiental – measuring ecosystem services and carbon impacts

José Bueno, Founder Rios e Ruas, Rivers and Streets (experiential learning working with the hidden rivers of São Paulo)

A Spirit of Enterprise and Acceptance

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November-December 2011

I have met and connected to some extraordinary people on my five week exploration of Brazil. I came to Brazil to uncover insights about the country, its economy, society, culture and history; and insights on sustainable business and social innovation. I also of course came to enjoy Brazil’s diverse culture and stunning landscape. The following posts are my reflections on what I’ve come to understand about the country; my words are just one lens on this country from someone who is new to it.

This is a country that welcomes people without prejudice but with pleasure in ones interest in it. Without much effort I have met, spent time with, and made important connections with social entrepreneurs, heads of sustainability think tanks, corporate leaders, ex NGO people now working in the Favelas on enterprise models for solving social issues, consultancies, agencies and academia. I have stayed with families, friends of friends, or those who are now my friends. Wherever I have been I have been helped and supported along my journey – largely by Brazilians but sometimes expats. (See the full list here).

A spirit of enterprise and of passion sits within the heart of the people of Brazil. This is coupled with extraordinary warmth and a deep-rooted creative culture – the music, dance, Capoeira, Afro-influence, the food, and the colour of beach life etc. Brazil is like nowhere and everywhere mixed together. It has a taste of the American values of acceptance and freedom; but it has humanity and passion and a strong sense of community rooted in the Latin culture. It is happily multicultural, diverse and integrated, yet socially divided by class. The class divisions are made of fences not brick walls – there is both curiousity and in some directions aspirations with the other class but there is also a fear of each other. The rich are terrified of the poor and the poor live under the command and by the pocket of the rich. Some describe this as a ‘C21st slave trade society’ and talked of the motivation to keep the poor uneducated in order to maintain low cost labour and a seemingly apathetic (to corruption) society. Read More…

Hungry for English! English, get hungry

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November-December 2011

I arrived in Brazil with very little knowledge of the language but a huge appetite to learn it. I have been taking lessons (now over Skype) with a teacher in Rio. Contrary to a Brit’s usual experience abroad most Brazilians speak very little English, which is tough but good news when you are trying to learn a language. As a culture the Brazilians are fantastically open-minded and accepting, so even a poor attempt to speak in their language is welcomed and celebrated – think the total opposite to the experience of attempting to speak French as a novice speaker visiting France.

But I noticed a real hunger here for people to learn English. As Brazil has become an emerging economic power and visible global player, its people yearn to be able to connect more globally and to be able to attract the sort of talent Brazil requires while it struggles to overcome the challenges of an under-skilled population. My friends at IT Decs have written extensively on the need to skill-up and import talent into the IT industry. Their recommendation is that that the IT industry needs to embrace the English language. Note that I also think English speakers need to embrace a wider language set, now more than ever before due to the shifting economic powers and globally connected cultures.

Contrary to what I had been informed about, quite a few professionals in São Paulo and Rio speak English. But the appetite to connect with my work, my language and me has been overwhelming and very flattering.

 

Beyond BIG

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November-December 2011

I expected Brazil to be big. I’ve read about Brazil’s economic power, its vast natural resource capacity and its mega cities; and I’ve read about the super power businesses in Brazil such as Petrobas, Vale, Itau, and Brandesco, and their regularly quoted sustainability stories.

Brazil feels big. It is big. It is the fifth largest countries in the world by population and geography according to Wikipedia. And it is blessed with huge amounts of natural capital, not least the ‘Pre-Salt region’ of oil reserve that has gained so much publicity recently

What is lesser known or understood to the outside world at large (myself included) is that Brazil’s wealth creation is of course beyond the preserve of few powerful businesses. 95% of Brazil’s economy is made up of SMEs (Microempresa (microbusiness); Empresa de Pequeno Porte (small business)). In a country with a population of 192 million, that is a vast scale of enterprise. I’m assuming then that many of the Expanding Middle classes in Brazil and other emerging markets make up this vast portion of the business community. Read More…

Brazil’s Global Identity in the C21st

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November-December 2011

Could Brazil identify and champion 200 sustainability champions – microbusiness, small, or large – and present to them world between now and Rio +20?

I spoke at length with Renato Raposo who is Head of Communication for the Ethos Institute – Brazil’s leading sustainability think tank – about the need to communicate an identity for Brazil business in the global economy that goes beyond mining, oil and big agriculture.

Renato’s position at Ethos is fairly new; his task is to communicate the Institute’s work (internally and to the world) and present a picture to the world of sustainable business leadership coming from Brazil. The challenge is also to communicate Brazil’s point of view on the future of business in the C21st and in particular sustainable business.

While here I have heard a lot that ‘Brazil’s time is now’. Brazil’s time now is also an opportunity to take a leadership role in shaping what business looks like in this century, given the planetary challenges and technological revolution underway. Other emerging markets are vying for a position here (e.g. China’s clean energy revolution; mobile tech and empowerment in parts of Africa; technology and social change in India etc.). And all eyes are on the emerging markets. The World Economic Forum states that by 2025, Brazil, China, India, Indonesia, the Russian Federation and South Korea, will account for 50% of the world’s economic growth. Read More…

Social Prosperity and Growth?

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November-December 2011

Could one brand commit to the success of 10 new radically innovative social ventures, in market and delivering high impact results, by 2016 Olympics?

‘Social prosperity’ and ‘growth’ in Brazil are two concepts that don’t currently sit well amid the Capitalist economy. Indeed they are two things that don’t sit that well together in large parts of the global economy, which of we are seeing today. There is considerable buzz in Brazil, in almost every conversation I have had, about the ‘consumption potential’ of the Expanding Middle (as classified by Goldman Sachs) in Brazil. In other words Brazil’s classified “E” and “D” consumer segments moving up through the class hierarchy with more potential to purchase (in many cases debt-based purchases).

Nor does the term ‘Green Economy’ sit well with social prosperity. A term that is being bandied around with Rio +20, the World Cup, Rio Olympics 2016, Brazil’s growth in sugarcane ethanol production in mind. All eyes are on Brazil in the next few years. NGOs and world leaders are gathering here next year in 2012 to present their concepts and push the ‘Clean Revolution’ (the Climate Group’s key message) or ‘Green Economy’ (Rio +20 official message) i.e., environment and green growth at the intersection of economies and job creation. Read More…

Favela Pride?

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November-December 2011

Interesting. The Favelas, certainly in Rio anyway, have a sort of mystique and value to them that is rarely portrayed to the outside world. Nor is it portrayed in the Brazilian media. There is an element of pride that Rio holds about these communities as well as the obvious fear and prejudice held amongst the extreme wealthy segments. I met many people who talked about the music, the creative output, the community, the parties, the art and more produced by communities living in Faveles. Indeed the Saturday night I was in Rio was the night of the third anniversary of one of Rio’s best ‘Favela parties’ in Rochinha which has recently been ‘pacified’ by the police. I heard about this party from my Portuguese language teacher; I heard about it from my AirBnB hosts; I heard about it from my Brit / ex-Pat friends in Rio – all of them the ‘upper middle classes’.

So I can’t help thinking there is massive potential within these communities to be unlocked and importantly to be celebrated. There seems to be a space for the Favelas in the heart of many Cariocas (Rio people) and Brazilians. And clearly the Fevalas are a part of the identity of Rio and Brazil.

Expanding Capitalism with the Expanding Middle in mind?

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November-December 2011

How can businesses help citizens across the globe bridge challenges posed by environmental, economic and social pressures to become responsible consumers? (Paul Polman, CEO Unilever)

I spent the day with Anderson França otherwise know as Dinho (@Dinho_Rio), who I was introduced to by Jimmy Greer – the man behind a lot of great knowledge about Brazil, social business and currently writing a book with Umair Haque on post-consumerism.

Anderson and his smart and sassy colleague Jessica took first took me to the infamous Café Columbo in Centro Rio, and then to a Favela, where we spent hours discussing the next model of enterprise for Brazil and behind-NGO models. Anderson spent five plus years working with Afro Reggae in the Favelas; before that he spent time teaching music in the Favela communities. He talks of the ‘myth of Favelas’, referring to the untouchable and helpless image of the Favelas portrayed to the outside world, which he feels the many NGOs play to.

Today he is the founder of Dharma Comunicação (@DharmaAgencia). Dharma’s mission is to leapfrog government and NGO intervention in the Favelas and to champion social change agents inside the communities. He wants to create a social venture accelerator inside the Fevalas and to promote a true image of the human potential within these communities.

Dharma’s core asset is the relationships Anderson has with the communities and his ability to mobilize members of Favela, civil society and brands, to get to truly understood needs and opportunities. Dharma recently brought together a significant group of stakeholders for Telefonica to explore the role of mobile tech and social innovation. He says brands struggle to understand these communities too; they just do not have the embedded relationships required to understand the needs and arrive at high impact solutions that will be embraced and owned.

Anderson and Jessica took me to Complexo do Alemão, one of Rio’s many Favelas, with nearing 100,000 inhabitants. Read More…