Updated: Jan 3
Abstract: From a personal journey through the last decades, using Brazil as the example, the author hereby presents an analysis of what has been her perception of the socio-economic experience in emerging countries for well-educated professionals, and how biased that could have been. She brings us throughout time into what are some of the emerging countries present challenges, stressed by Covid, and the feeling of a backwards future at play. A shift in the narrative proposes an alternative course of actions, as an opportunity brought by the ESG movement, to leaders, professionals and executives on how to create a more fulfilling future, based on an economy that not only is informed by the stakeholder's capitalism approach, but could turn emerging countries into having a bigger global role.
Dictatorship was the regime when I came into the world. That was Brazil at the beginning of the 70s. Throughout my childhood and young age, all I could see was improvement. Starting from a place of high inequality, loads of social issues, and from a yet conservative society, we followed into democracy and later into direct elections for the presidency; my feeling was that we were progressing towards being the country of the future. It was an optimistic view, as I watched through a few economic crises lead by different leaders, not all of them skilful or assuring. In fact, I've known only one Brazilian suitable president in my almost half a century journey. I'd witnessed my father's money being taken away by Color de Mello. I'd observed stratospheric levels of inflation, which to this date I cannot explain to my American husband. I'd watched the surreal freezing of the prices and the cutting out of zeros from our currencies. Next, it had been uplifiting to regard the slow opening of the economy, the creation of the Real and, the beginning of a sense we could have a, somehow, trustworthy and stable economy that followed through my adult life. Over the years, I observed the birth of the internet, mobile phones, big data, social media, and AI, as many of us did. Throughout the decades in which I was a student and a young professional, I felt as if we were evolving, moving forward. Indeed, I was advancing as a professional in my career. Chances to grow and to make a difference were at my reach. The only limitation I had to deal with was my own blindness or immaturity at times.
How privileged was my view?
I came to be part of the 1% at the top of my country socio-economic pyramid. Because I've studied in great schools, I had the privilege to go to the best federal university in the country, and I made connections that helped me find and earn great jobs. I worked hard, led by the education I received at home, which taught us to approach life with responsibility and understand that you must work to deserve what you receive. But the fact is that I started from an advantageous point. My family was never rich, but then very few are in Brazil. Being upper-medium class between the 70s and the 90s was already a huge privilege. A lot has changed in the last 20 years, though; today, I see a different tone over the picture. I have been watching Brazil, and its people, fall behind.
Brazil is in turmoil politically already for a decade or two, which has slowed it down economically; recently, Covid didn't help. In terms of environmental and social sustainability, despite some great examples of positive action, we have walked backwards because of the narrow-minded approach of both a corrupted left-wing ruling followed by a retrograde, undemocratic and unconscious right-wing government. But my country is a country of contradictions, and while we are walking backwards in so many instances, there is also a movement towards more responsible business. Governance, ethics, and the full spectrum of the ESG principles are now the focus of attention for many companies in many countries, which is no different in Brazil. I praise the resilience and persistence of the good people in the country. I ask myself, is this movement towards ESG also an excellent opportunity for the country as a whole? I think it is. Am I recovering my resolute optimism?
The ESG approach demands stakeholders' engagement; it proposes an economy that some describe as stakeholders' capitalism. Others go beyond and describe it as a social economy, or the economy formed by businesses that are a force for good where value creation gains a new meaning. Therefore, we need both the skilful use of the advancements of technology, know-how and open-minded attitudes embracing giving, compassion and authenticity. We need the understanding of social paradigms, of diversity, and to be aware of the local context and reality in which 90% of the population (who are not making those decisions) live. It is also fundamental that the leaders can be capable of being servant leaders.
Professionals, experts, executives, investors, and people with means need to be willing to do something that, in Brazil, unfortunately, has not been part of our culture for many different reasons. We must let go of concerning ourselves with only our own needs and ambitions, to let go of the idea that we need to take every opportunity to make a personal profit of it. We need to stop looking only into what is good for us personally and start looking into what is good for others, mainly to the majority of others. To help Brazil recover and accelerate the journey of improvement, we need to give back. We must use our talents, contacts, expertise, international connections and possibilities, and emotional intelligence combined with our intellect to bring this country into really sustainable, inclusive, and fair development.
We, privileged professionals, who have made decent careers, who have had the chance to start our own successful businesses, who are executives and decision-makers, have the opportunity in our hands to be the force that will bring our country back into the path of a brighter future. But this means to confront ourselves with the comfort of convenience that we enjoy in our position. It requires us to be open and knowledgeable. It demands we find and implement new ways to run our businesses. It asks us to open the doors to the ones who were not so lucky and to listen to them and their wisdom too. At times, I believe this will mean having the courage to practice approaches that seem too far from us, too advanced, or only possible in the developed world. At other times, this will mean to halt and listen to the employees and communities and their immediate needs and their concerns, applying simple solutions.
One can find many articles and information about how the emerging world is lacking behind, either following COVID effects, or simply because of the growth of global inequality and the fact that the developed world it's not properly sharing their richness, as they face internal challenges with root causes that are no different from the ones affecting the rest of the world. The BRIC is not a thing anymore. China is the 2nd largest economy in the world, and maybe soon they will be the first. They form their own group. While Brazil and Russia didn't follow through as becoming the economic promises they once have been to the world. India, despite fantastic developments, despite being a top technological partner of any country today and, despite their entrepreneurial successes, has a lot of social and political challenges to deal with internally. COVID was not kind to India as well. How can countries like Brazil, India, South Africa, Chile or Indonesia, and other emerging ones fully embrace sustainability, circular economy, ESG principles and other changes in how to do business in an environment of new challenges, a slower economy, and political uncertainty? How can emerging peoples even care about climate change with so many socio-economic issues to fix and a pitiable and uninformed political class to deal with?
The answer might be in being bold. We have immense resources that the global population needs and rely upon. Emerging countries have forests (still), we host the most significant biodiversity of our globe. Many of these countries have water, drinkable water, available. We have abundant professional and academic expertise to leverage on. We can expand connections with capital and knowledge globally, even though we must face a fiscal and tax system that is not helpful (that also we can change). We can let go of being shy and afraid of a broader entrepreneurial mindset. We can make global issues our issues. Brazilians can throw away acting as victims, as the people from the country that is always supposed to be something great in the future. People and businesses can act on what they are now and from their current strengths. Emerging countries can become role models in many of the global issues. Even Covid can be an opportunity for a better future. Willingness is the starting step.
Becoming a great nation could be achieved within businesses and organisations by embracing bold and transformative ESG practices instead of just setting and reporting some indicators to attract investors. ESG or sustainability or whatever term you want to use for these movements can leverage fundamental business transformation. People like me, who have had the opportunities of growth and development, shall stand up and work not only for their careers but for the good of the people they impact, for the sustainable and responsible development of the country and the needs of the world. I tempt professionals, experts, and leaders to be humble, listen to communities, employees, environmental experts, and the socio-economic necessities of society. Give space for diversity, to a less conservative and more conservationist political approach.
My residence is in Europe, but I work globally and within Brazil. I perceive myself as a citizen of the world. Although this piece has been written centred on Brazil, I see that much of the message I am trying to convey here apply to many other countries, in both the developed and emerging economies. All of us can make a personal contribution, a serious one that will interfere with our comfort and convenience, but that will enable a much more meaningful and noble legacy that we can proudly leave behind. Long after my generation and all the generation of today's adults, the effects of our actions will remain. We are the ones building the future. What future is that we are creating? Does it look like one we could celebrate and be fulfilled by?
* Note: As I just close this blog post a new article by the Guardian on the turmoil of some countries, including Brazil, amid Covid.
About the author: Karime Abib is a former executive with 25 years of experience and a consultant and advisor in sustainable business models and leadership, business transformation and ESG strategy, ESG assessment and sustainable supply chains. She also dedicates herself to programs and actions for the empowerment of women. Learn more about her on LinkedIn and more about her current work visiting AdvantiKA GmbH and Empowr International.