Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Sustainability in the Amazon - Brazil Diaries

First part...

We had an eventful journey from Dulles to JFK to GRU, Sao Paulo, Brazil, which included having a Darden impromptu reunion over dinner at JFK, with the team going on GBE to Buenos Aires and the vegetarians in the group chomping on homemade masala bajji and medhu vadas (all in the waiting lounges at JFK), we finally arrived at Sao Paulo, Brazil – tired and sleepy. What hit us first was the humidity – it was like being back in Chennai! Actually all of Sao Paulo reminds me of India – including the bikes on the road. I am beginning to think they’re like some standard characteristics of emerging economies!

Day zero, the day we landed, was spent in taking a long shower and going on an afternoon tour of the handicrafts market in Embu, an hour’s drive from Sao Paulo. After walking around the place and getting a taste of Brazilian beer, we headed home, tired and hungry. The Darden contingent is being hosted by Sao Paulo’s premier business school IBMEC and they hosted us for dinner on Day zero evening at the swanky rooftop of a 41 floor restaurant. The view of Sao Paulo was breathtaking and we spent more time standing outside taking in the view than actually sitting on the table. But oh wait, we had enough time to down a few Caipirinhas the Brazilian national alcoholic drink (think Mojito with a little more sugar). Since I’m such a Mojito fan, I was all for this drink!

Day 1 morning we went to take our first day of classes at IBMEC. We had discourses on Private Equity in Brazil – an interesting insight into the Brazilian capital markets and the fiscal/monetary policies, Culture in Brazil – an engaging lecture by an American psychology professor and finally, the best class of the day, Sustainability in the Amazon.

The Amazon is 60% of Brazil by area and yet is fraught with social and ecological problems. Our professor was a knowledgeable woman from IBMEC who had spent many years studying and working at the Amazon region and was well versed with the culture and society of the Amazonians. She talked about the extreme poverty of the region and how the rainforest and its rich biodiversity has become a political hotspot in the country. She talked about how there has been rampant deforestation by mining and manmade fires and how a series of policies in the name of agrarian reforms put the rainforest on the road to destruction. After all this bad news, she took us through the case of Orsa Foundation, one of the few Brazilian companies that are working at sustainability projects in the region. It was heartening to hear about the work they had done and were continuing to do to ensure the natives learnt to live with the forest instead of being forced to destroy it for money.

After a Peruvian lunch at IBMEC – with fried bananas! – we headed off to Abril Group, Brazil’s second largest media house that had footprints in the ink and digital media. As someone from the technology industry with a keen passion and involvement with ink/internet media, I found this visit extremely engaging. Abril group was like a case straight out of strategy class – the new media wave was just washing over Brazil and abril group wanted in, but did not know how to adapt their existing business model to play in this new market, where the blurry lines included behemoths like Google, MSN search, Yahoo search in the playing field.

After a cocktail party at the mezzanine and a tour through the extremely lively-looking offices (complete with Portuguese sponge bob caricatures on the elevator doors), we headed home. Not one to call it a night so soon, a bunch of us headed off on foot to find a mall and a place to get some beers. A few buckets of beer and fantastic conversation later, we’re home and hitting the sack. Day1 and a number of road crossings later, Toso (my Japanese classmate) is still safe and sound – he needs watching when crossing the road!

Story so far - Muito Bon!

PS. It’s hard to get by if you don’t know Portuguese or Italian. But you learn soon enough because the Brazilians are amazingly friendly.


Ashwin said...

Is a tour of the Amazon on the itinerary too?

MechaniGal said...

Unfortunately no :( That would have been awesome though... ah, well, there's always the option to come back again when the wallet's a little more stuffed!


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