The Brazilian ‘ABC’: the best of Brazil, from ‘A’ to ‘Z’

The challenge was ambitious: grasp the fundamentals of Brazil’s culture and economy through an immersive week of meetings and tourism. Have we achieved our goals? Are we able to understand which are the challenges and opportunities Brazil will face in the next few years? As future managers, will we put at productive use our learnings by better handling business in Brazil?

The answer to these questions is not easy nor brief, thus we asked the executives of the companies we visited to provide some insights. Ana Corrêa do Lago, one of our hosts at Natura, defines the main challenge of Brazil as Political stability and reinforcement of the green agenda’, while she highlights as the country main assets ‘People’s warmth and resilience, great modernist architecture (i.e. Brasilia), and outstanding and varied green landscape. Many countries assembled in one!’.

Indeed, Brazil is a multi-faceted country in terms of population, demographic, morphology and even cuisine. To navigate it, you need to understand the ‘Brazilian ABC’: the best of Brazil from ‘A’ to ‘Z’.

 Açai – Now popular all over the world for its nutritional properties, this berry originally from Brazil is at best when eaten frozen, with few slices of banana on top.

Beleza – The cool way of saying ‘Hi’ among the youngest. The perfect start when you want to feel like a local.

Caipirinha – The national drink, made with cahaça and a zest of lemon, to be enjoyed from sunset to sunrise.

Dulche de leche – Argentinian will refuse to  admit that Brazilians have mastered the recipe of ‘dulche de leche’, but this versatile dessert gets as delicious as it sounds.

Empanada – Forget the diet: bolhino, empanada and churros are only few of the many fried snacks that you will encounter. Totally worth the calories.

Farufa – The local version of ‘couscous’ and an alternative to ‘arroz’ (rice). Often served as a side in typical restaurants.

Gente – Literally translated as ‘People’, it is a popular way of addressing the crowd.

Havaianas – The most famous Brazilian brand: the colorful flip-flops are sold and worn literarily everywhere. Just one warning: it is impossible to restrain from buying them.

Ipanema – One of the most famous beaches of Rio de Janeiro, together with Copacabana and Leme. At Ipanema you can get the best view of the ‘brothers’: two rocks characterizing Rio’s skyline.

Leblond – One of the most beautiful and popular neighborhood of Rio de Janeiro.

MASP – The biggest museum of São Paulo, hosting the largest collection of European arts in the Southern Hemisphere.

Não –  Just to get the basics right, ‘não’ is ‘no’. In case you are wondering, its opposite is ‘Si’.

Obrigado – The first word you will learn and probably the only one you will master by the end of the trip. Works better when accompanied with a smile.

Pão de Açúcar – One of the greatest attractions in Rio de Janeiro. These twin mountains connected by a cable car are a great spot to get a 360 views of the city.

Queijo – … Or better, ‘Pão de Queijo’, are amazing cheese puffs you will be offered from breakfast to dinner.

Rio de Janeiro – No words can explain the beauty of this city: just add it to your bucket list and go check it out!

São Paulo – Paulisti will argue with Carioca on which is the most beautiful city of Brazil. While it is always worth abstaining from such a dispute, São Paulo is for sure the widely recognized business center of the country.

Telenovela – Telenovela and soccer are the favorite forms of entertainment of each Brazilian household. Worth watching one episode to understand why.

Ucuba – A precious seed growing in the Amazon now used in many moisturizers. Not (yet) able to make miracles, but it is as close as you can get.

Villa Madalena – A neighborhood famous for street arts, it is one of the unmissable spots in São Paulo. Mark your map.

Zouk – A traditional dance. Not as popular as the Brazilian ‘Samba’, but danced everywhere from nightclubs to Carnival parties.

~Alice Signori ‘18

São Paulo or Rio de Janeiro: Guess which is our favorite city?

In a country where only 85% of the population has access to basic sanitation, but virtually 100% has access to a TV set, a visit to Globo, the major media company in Brazil, is a mandatory stop.

While strolling into ‘telenovelas’ sets and pretending to be the characters of the Brazilian ‘Game of Thrones,’ our hosts explained the impact that telenovelas, and thus Globo with its ‘100 years of stories,’ have on the local population. Not only sentimental comedies, but often sensitive topics are discussed throughout a whole series, soliciting a real call to action from the audience: for example, when the main character of a telenovela was diagnosed with cancer (luckily only for the sake of the plot), a surge in the blood donation throughout the overall country was suddenly registered.

After such a dense and interesting week of Brazilian immersion, the question seems natural: what’s better, São Paulo or Rio de Janeiro? The class has a clear answer: 63% of the surveyed sample thinks Rio rocks it. Wondering why? The great beaches, the breathtaking views, the presence of one of the ‘Wonders of the World’ (Christ the Redeemer), and the carnival spirits (and parties) pervading the entire city have clearly captured the CBS’s crew. Still, what’s in São Paulo that makes it a though competitor? Its role as an undiscussed business center, being a capital of great food and posh clubs as well as being pervaded by an elegant atmosphere are all elements contributing in making this city a great choice especially for a long-term perspective.

Clearly not ready to face the thermal and emotional shock that going back to the cold New York city and the busy business school’s schedule requires, there is only one thing left to say: ‘Muito Obrigado Brazil’, it has really been a blast.

~Alice Signori ‘18

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São Paulo
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Rio de Janeiro

From São Paulo to Rio de Janeiro: when Social Responsibility is a way of being

‘Bem estar bem’: at Natura wellbeing is not a buzzword, but the overall company mission. The holding company of ‘Aesop’ who recently acquired also ‘The Body Shop’ showcases right from its tagline the dedication in making a positive impact not only for its clients, but for the overall planet. To pursue this objective, Natura has introduced a number of innovative tools, such as the Environmental P&L, the triple bottom line management of suppliers and various projects aimed at preserving the best of Brazil, such as the effort in teaching local populations in the Amazonia how to exploit what natures has to offer while preserving the native environment.

Customer service is in Brazil’s DNA: Azul, the airline founded in 2008 by David Neeleman (the owner of JetBlue and WestJet), is already the 3rd best airline in the world for 2017 according to TripAdvisor’s ratings. The unconventional approach in the airline industry allows Azul to be the number 1 in 75% of routes served and to achieve customer loyalty through a focus on punctuality and proximity to customers’ needs.

Different city, but same priorities: headquartered in Rio De Janeiro, BNDES in one of the largest development banks in the world. With a net profit of roughly 6 billion reals in 2016, BNDES’ priority is to help Brazil prosper. From micro-enterprises to companies and municipalities, BNDES has issued 5.600 disbursements only in 2016, with the overarching objective of making money while helping Brazil’s advance both at the local and global level. As BNDES teaches during the very first training given to its employees ‘Our name starts with a ‘B’ which stands for ‘Bank,’ and that it’s first. But our name also ends with an ‘S’ which stands for ‘Social,’ and this comes second’.

Helping pursue the priorities of the country is something that many Brazilian businesspeople have at heart: it has for sure been a driving value for Jorge Paulo Lemann, the founder of Gera, a VC focused in investing in early-stage education who wants to make a difference in the lives of many young kids. To touch with hands the impact that this VC is already achieving, our meeting was hosted in one of the main (and most beautiful!) schools in which Gera has invested money and talent. Latest technologies and unconventional teaching methodologies (negotiation and public speaking classes are the bread-and-butter of kids from kindergarten to 12th grade), the ambitious goal of the VC is to close the Brazilian education gap, using a bottom-up approach which should complement the parallel work done by the government itself.

Enough of speaking about business: Rio’s incredible vibe and its break-taking views have not gone unnoticed by our CBS crew. Watching the sunset at the Sugarloaf was worth the trip: the sun slowly dropping into the sea was a natural wonder (and a great Instagram favorite).

Finally, the long beaches which surround Rio’s lagoons are a sweet and irresistible call. With temperatures reaching 93 degrees Fahrenheit these days, we are really looking forward to our Friday afternoon at the beach. After all, that’s not how all Friday should look like?

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Natura’s factory
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Natura’s shop
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Azul Headquarter
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BNDES presentation
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Tour of Eleva School with Gera
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Sunset at the Sugarloaf
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Farewell Dinner in Rio de Janeiro

~Alice Signori ‘18

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‘Brazil is not for amateurs, it’s for professionals’

There is always a key to understand a country. According to Patria, the Brazilian Private Equity firm partially owned by Blackstone, the magic formula is a blend of discipline and long-term investment. While Forex exchange fluctuations and the frequent economic downturns that characterize the Brazilian economy frequently make the international news, the reality is that over the long-term the Brazilian economy has showed a tendency to ‘regress towards the mean’. By investing in resilient sectors and taking a very disciplined approach, it is thus possible to obtain significant returns and long-term profitability even in such a difficult country.

Also at Embraer, one of the major aircraft manufacturers in the world, the forty-eight years old company history is a confirmation of its outstanding success. Still family-owned and now a billion making company, Embraer is characterized by the coexistence of difference business sectors, a strong focus on people and by a very high level of innovation. Particularly inspiring was the (surprise) visit from the CEO, who highlighted how in an industry where a single mistake can cost billions of dollars, it is of crucial importance to acquire talents and to have the best business people on board.

On with our company visit, we had the chance to understand the strategies leading Cosan, a huge conglomerate managing businesses as diverse as railroads and gas distribution, and who is convinced that by a strong discipline and a savvy portfolio management it is possible to ‘make a difference in this country’.

Finally, we spent an afternoon wandering around the campus of Itàu, the first bank of Brazil. At Itàu, we had the unique opportunity to take a tour of its proprietary art collection (the 8th largest corporate collection in the world!) and to discuss the future of banking and its digital transformation. Closing the circle right where we started, our guests proudly shared why many foreign companies are not thriving in a country where there is huge space for growth. ‘Brazil is not for amateurs, it’s for professionals’: same recipe, but spelt in different words.

And finally, to understand a country, there is no better way than wandering around the city and making the best out of it. After a walking tour of the city center, a stop at Vila Madalena and Beco de Batman where street art prospers, a visit to the Brazilian’s Central Park (Park Ibirapuera) and a lunch break spent visiting the MASP museum, where the largest collection of European art of the Southern Hemisphere is treasured, we learned a fun fact about São Paulo. Unlike their carioca cousins, Paulisti do not have beaches. How they compensate? Having the best Malls and calling them ‘their beaches’. Hard to miss the resemblance: a part from the long-hours spent there and the warm heat filtering through the large glass windows, Malls display similar therapeutically effects as beaches. For each hour (and dollar) spent, there is a significant surge in mood and relaxation. Money back guarantee.

~Alice Signori ‘18

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Embraer
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Itàu
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Itàu Art collection
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City tour
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Graffiti – Street Art

‘It’s not difficult to disguise in Brazil, it’s unnecessary.’

‘What’s next for Brazil? It has been said about Italy – It’s not difficult to govern Italy, it’s unnecessary –  I would say about Brazil – It’s not difficult to disguise in Brazil, it’s unnecessary.’ Fernando Cardoso, former President of Brazil, concluded his address at Columbia University last November with these provoking words. Why and what is Brazil disguising? What is preventing such a large a powerful nation from growing faster than China or to transition from the developing to the developed world? And, more importantly, which are the businesses and people who are driving the change?

If even Mr. Cardoso struggles in finding the perfect answer, we can be granted some pardon as well. Or at least some of the time. The Fall 2017 Global Immersion Program in Brazil is about to start: not only a week dedicated to the the discovery of Brazil and of immersing in the Brazilian culture, but also a one of a time opportunity to let each student develop a personal perspective on the future of Brazil.

The official kickoff of the GIP Fall 2017 is scheduled for this Sunday, the 14th of January in São Paulo. During the following week, a group of 30 students lead by Professor Medini Singh and his Teaching Assistant Maria Morad will have the unique opportunity to visit some of the best Brazilian companies. The program is packed, with more than 10 visits scattered across São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, spanning across a pool of diverse industries. From aircraft manufacturing to venture capitalist, from media companies to beer giants, and from wellness to banking, the Global Immersion will hold true to the long-lasting Columbia promise of ‘being at the center of business.’

While company visits will give an unconventional glance on the business side of Brazil, the cultural and social side will not be overlooked: after all, let’s not forget we are still (MBA) students. Afternoon and nights will be dedicated not only to enjoying the warm Brazilian summer (which will hit us up after this extremely cold NY winter), but also to check out of our bucket lists some unmissable sightseeing (such as the ‘Cristo Redentor,’ one of the ‘Beauty of the World’), as well as to enjoy the preparations for the upcoming Carnival in Rio.

Are you already green with envy and wishing to have bid for the coolest Fall GIP? No worries: we will keep you posted. In between one caipirinha and the next.

Até logo!

~Alice Signori ’18

Top 10 Moments from GIP: Economic Growth in the UAE

It’s hard to believe our trip to the UAE has come and gone so quickly. Our whirlwind week brought us from soaring skyscrapers to desert safaris, sovereign wealth funds to night clubs, man-made islands to mosques.

Leaving the UAE, I’m left with a few most striking impressions. First, the country is a crazy case of development done right upon the discovery of oil. The UAE is second to none when it comes to the astute management of natural resources. The country’s leadership truly did an exceptional job diversifying the economy beyond oil and gas, allowing the relatively oil-poor Emirate of Dubai to become a global financial center and tourism destination to rival few others.

Second, the UAE is a country of stark contrasts. In a matter of minutes you can travel from beach resorts to an urban metropolis, and then drive off into the desert horizon. You can see a man trailed by his four wives in a mega-mall of retailers from Europe and North America. The UAE is home to the planet’s largest mosque, which was built in the past decade. And you’ll find groups of women in headscarf letting loose at pricey nightclubs. Put simply, the UAE is a very unique place, that feels like no where else I’ve ever been.

In an effort to sum up such a jam packed week, I’ll share 10 of the top moments from the trip:

  1. Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi. The massive and beautiful hospital — believe me I never thought I’d describe a hospital that way — that was built two years ago and offers free healthcare to Emirati citizens. In addition to an array of cafes, restaurants, and a salon, the hospital has VIP suites with adjacent hotel rooms for family members to stay.

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2. Shopping malls galore. After visiting so many of the world’s largest malls, it’s safe to say I’ll never view shopping malls the same way again. Dubai’s malls — which all seem to be connected by elevated walkways — don’t just feature some of the stores from back home, they’s feature all of the stores from back home, as well as from Europe, Asia, and a swath of local Middle Eastern retailers. What’s more, inside the malls you’ll find things like indoor skiing, pictured below.

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3. Enviable Office Buildings. Living in New York City, you never expect to return home and feel like your city is filled with old, modest buildings. But after a week in the UAE, that’s bound to be your feeling upon returning home. Pictured below, we attended a meeting at the Dubai International Financial Center, one of the “Free Zones” that allow foreign business ownership.

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4. Camel selfies. During our desert safari on our last day, we rode SUVs through sand dunes, rode camels, got henna tattoos, and watched fire and belly dancers. As nice as it was to be out in the desert, it was crazy to see just how many SUVs of tourists were out in the same part of the desert, suggesting that Dubai could be doing more to promote desert tourism.

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5. The Palm Islands. One of the most memorable company visits was to the real estate developer, Nakheel, responsible for developing the Palm Islands and The World. We toured the original palm-tree shaped, reclaimed land island by boat, seeing the expanse of the project that doubled Dubai’s coastline. I found touring the original Palm Island, Palm Jumeira, to be so fascinating I devoted an entire blog post to it.

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6. The Sheik Zayyed Mosque. The construction of the Sheik Zayyed Mosque was completed less than a decade ago, making it an unusually modern national landmark. Visiting the picturesque mosque was a special break from a week of company visits, as we got to see another side of the UAE, pertaining to the country’s cultural heritage.

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7. Music Hall. It’s rare to have high expectations for a place and to have them surpassed, but that was our experience at Music Hall, a night club in a hotel on the Palm Island that was a unanimous favorite experience from the trip. Featuring a variety show of musical guests from around the world, Music Hall delivered on its reputation set by our professor and TA. We’re proud to say we closed the club down.

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8. Emirates Training College. Touring Emirates Airlines, one of if not the top global airline according to many rankings, training facilities was a treat. During the super interactive visit, we tested life jackets in a lesson on flight safety, learned about flight attendant hair and makeup, and tested the different first and business class seats in an out of commission airplane.

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9. Burj Khalifa. Visiting the 125th floor of the world’s tallest building was exciting even for New Yorkers, used to being surrounded by tall buildings. From across Dubai, you can see “The Burj,” the super modern skyscrapper that is soon to be replaced by an even taller building in Dubai.

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10. Old Dubai. It’s hard to find remnants of the fishing village along the Dubai Creek that was the entire city of Dubai less than a half century ago, but if you look hard enough, you can find them. After touring the souks, frequented mostly by locals unlike in some other Middle Easterern countries, we stumbled across some non-modern boats used for transportation by foreign workers who flock to the UAE by the millions. That boat ride across the Dubai Creek was one of the most fascinating experiences of the trip, as one of the few glimpses into the village that was.

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5 Takeaways From Abu Dhabi

Halfway through Global Immersion: Economic Growth in the UAE, I feel as though I’m still being surprised daily about the country, its rapid development story, and the people who do business here. During the first three days of the trip and the portion of the program in Abu Dhabi, we visited the state-owned investment fund Mubadala, a family oil and gas construction business Alsa, the Abu Dhabi Investment Authority, Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi, consulting firm Strategy&’s first Middle East office, the Ministry of Climate Change and the Environment, and the Sheikh Zayyed Mosque, the largest mosque in the world.

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Here are my five most significant takeaways from Abu Dhabi, as we move on to Dubai:

  1. It’s great to be a UAE national. Making up just 11% of the country’s 9 million population, Emiratis have it good. The country really takes care of them, having been population whose land oil wealth was discovered upon. As a local, the government provides free health care, housing, and education, including many opportunities to study abroad. In turn, the UAE does not suffer from the “brain drain” phenomenon — its highly unlikely for an Emirati educated abroad to stay abroad because their quality of life is so good at home.
  2. Despite being on the largest economies in the Gulf and Middle East, the UAE is not and has never been a regional super power. The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is the most important regional player, despite having a much less wealthy population (per capita).
  3. The UAE’s development story is an anomaly. Many other countries, including regional neighbors Kuwait and Qatar, have tried to grow into economic powerhouses like the UAE, but they have not succeeded to the same extent.
  4. The secret to the UAE’s development success was diversification. When the country was founded 44 years ago, Sheikh Zayed famously said that the country could not rely on its oil wealth. Developing deep finance, real estate, aviation, and logistics industries, beyond the low hanging fruit of their natural resource wealth lying in oil and gas, is what has made the UAE the nation it is today.
  5. Abu Dhabi, however, felt somewhat like a ghost town. Many of the people we’ve met so far –especialy expats — have been commuters from Dubai an hour and a half away. Abu Dhabi is filled with skyscrappers and parking lots that appear to be empty. Some people have hinted to us that this is the result of the drop in oil prices over the past couple of years. But more than that there seems to be a “build it and they will come” feeling.

Zoe Fox ’17

Global Immersion: Economic Growth in the UAE

Arriving in Abu Dhabi   

We’ve all seen those side-by-side photo comparisons, laying photos of Dubai in the 1990s next to those from today. From the dusty dessert town on the gulf emerged a souring steal metropolis, whose modern skyscrapers are quite literally second to none other city on the planet. And just as the buildings grew into the clouds above the dessert, so did the land-filled islands off the city’s coast, most notably the infamous Palm Island resort, a global landmark visible from space. Before the semester began, I had a slanted perception of the UAE’s economic development story, assuming that the construction boom was a direct response to the oil boom. I’ve learned during the past six weeks taking Global Immersion: Economic Growth in the UAE that the story is a bit more complex. That the UAE’s darling development tale can also be attributed to astute decisions on behalf of the country’s leadership; most notably, to diversify beyond oil revenue.

 During the six weeks leading up to the trip we were introduced to the complexity, and at times simply incongruous business landscape and history of the United Arab Emirates. We heard from experts on the GCC oil countries, the burgeoning Islamic financial hub in Dubai, and migrant labor in the UAE. But perhaps most interestingly, it became clear that the narrative we’d hear in meetings would not necessarily be the one we’d witness, or have read about in the news. The UAE’s success can be attributed to its oil and its untold stories; its foreign workers who build its skyscrapers and amusement parks.

If I learned one thing in the six weeks leading up to the trip it’s that in this hub of business — where just 1 million of the country’s 9 million population are citizens — there will be the stories we’re told by businessmen and government representatives and the ones that we may not see. I’m excited to gain a deeper understanding of the country and its business landscape over the next week, as we visit Abu Dhabi and Dubai. We will visit local companies such as Emirates airlines, the Abu Dhabi Investment Authority, and Nahkeel, as well as meet with the Ministry of the Environment, tour the monumental Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque and Emirates Palace, and visit some of Dubai’s world famous shopping malls. Stay tuned for what’s in store!

Zoe Fox ’17

Global Immersion: Economic Growth in the UAE

 

 

Taking Tunisia Home

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It’s been a week since we returned from Tunisia and I’ve had some time to ruminate over what we saw during our time in country. If I were to distill what I observed over the week into one sentiment it would be empathy for the country, which has so much potential to be a regional leader yet is very much haunted by three terror attacks in 2015.

I was truly convinced during our visit that Tunisia has the potential and is well positioned to be a regional leader — it has a booming entrepreneurial scene in Tunis; quality exports shipped across the region, to Europe, and to the U.S.; and tremendous natural and cultural beauty that should attract tourists. Yet the country’s reputation has been severely damaged, which understandably detracts tourists and investors alike. Exporting crops (like olive oil) and manufactured products (like paper goods) are the only industries that we observed that are not hurt by the recent wave of terror in the country.

What will it take for the country to recover from the three attacks — two of which explicitly targeted tourists? Perhaps it will just take time, or perhaps the country’s tech entrepreneurs or quality produce (often sold around the globe under the label Italian) will begin to rewrite the country’s story in a more favorable light.

An U.S. embassy official told us that when he brings potential investors to visit the country it has just one shot to appear ripe for investment — they won’t come back for a second time if they don’t like what they see on their first visit. I found this to be disheartening, and am hopeful that as a professional I will strive to see more of a market and its story than these fly-in, fly-out investors. AfricInvest, a private equity group which hosted us for a significant portion of our business told us that their key to success is that most of their investment team lives locally. If I take away nothing else from the trip, it will be that in order to be successful working in a market like Tunisia, a superficial quick trip will not show me the real potential of a country. I’ll need to invest time and dig deeper.

-Zoe Fox ’17

Global Immersion Tunisia

Tunisia’s Female Entrepreneurs

 

dar ben gacem.jpgOne of my first questions about visiting Tunisia was whether the women’s rights awarded at independence in the 1950s had an impact on society. A couple days into Global Immersion: Doing Business in North Africa and I already sense that the answer is a resounding yes.

Our first night in Tunis, before the program officially kicked off we visited Dar Ben Gacem (pictured above), a stunning seven-room guesthouse in the historic medina, city center, which is a restored 17th century home adorned at every corner by works of local artisans. But the house is only half of the story. Dar Ben Gacem’s founder, Leila Ben-Gacem, is a biomedical engineer turned social entrepreneur, who is simultaneously running a hospitality business as she works to untap the potential of Tunisia’s medina. She got her start in 2006 running training programs for local artisans, ensuring they could continue to practice their crafts as sustainable livelihoods so that the country wouldn’t lose that aspect of its heritage. Put simply, she was an incredibly inspiring woman to meet on our first night in Tunisia, making a strong case for that the country’s women are distinctly empowered.

The first official company visit was to Lilas, a paper products company, the first of its sort in North Africa. In a region lacking forests, Lilas imports pulp from Brazil and Scandinavia and produces a host of paper products that it exports across throughout North Africa and to 18 total countries on the continent. We toured its modern factories and saw just as many women working on the floors as men. But what’s more impressive is that Lilas was founded in 1994 by Mounir El Jaiez and Jalila Mezni, a husband and wife team. She, not he, serves as CEO. Though we didn’t meet Mezni, her company’s steady growth over the past two decades makes a good case for her success as a CEO in Tunisia.

It’s more than these two cases. Our tour guide told us that 62% of the country’s university students are women. The economist who presented to us at the African Development Bank was female. What feels like a majority of a group of student entrepreneurs that we met were been female. We met two successful female entrepreneurs, one who co-founded Tunisia’s first co-working space and the other who founded a sustainable agri-business, during a social enterprise panel this afternoon. The country may have its challenges, but its women are ready and able to tackle them.

-Zoe Fox ‘17