Making life-long friends from around the world, seeing your business in a new light and the challenge of looking tall Swedish people in the eyes – these are a few of the things we talked about with Luciana Oliveira, of New Hope Ecotech, after she completed the first three weeks of the SE Outreach Accelerator.
Why did you apply for this program?
I applied for this program because I have a communications background and I have a MBA in business. I founded a company during the end of my MBA, so I had the basics of business but I started a company without really knowing what entrepreneurship would look like, and social entrepreneurship in particular. I’d read about it, I knew people who were doing it but I never really put the time into analyzing it or thinking before making decisions. So I found myself running a startup, with a team of nine people, six months after graduating from my MBA, without having thought about what is it that it takes to be the CEO and a change-maker of an early startup. So for me it was a big opportunity to be removed from my routine and think through what it takes to build and grow a startup. So that was the reason I applied, but also because of connections. We know that Sweden has a lot of great entrepreneurship and especially in the industry that I’m in – which is environmental services. It’s huge here, so I knew that I would meet people who could contribute.
Now that you’re three weeks into the program, what has your experience been like so far?
Oh my god… I knew I was going to learn things, but I was not expecting this much! Lena Ramfelt is so insightful about business overall, not just social entrepreneurship, and she really made me think about my company and see my company in a different way. I now have a clear path to follow. I was a bit confused before, about my priorities, but now it’s so much clearer. Of course I’m going to go home and maybe some things will be a little bit less obvious, but now after three weeks in this program I know exactly what I should be doing during the next 12 months.
What is the first thing you’re going to do when you go back to Brazil?
There are two big tasks! One is to prioritize the type of customers I’m looking for. I need to look for early adopters. We have been talking to very big companies, that in theory are not early adopters, innovators. It’s not because people in these companies don’t want to be innovators, but because there is so much bureaucracy inside the company that they cannot allow themselves to innovate in the fast pace that we need. We believe the companies we need are small brands that want to grow and differentiate themselves and have a sustainability story to tell to their customers. So when I go back I’m going to look for these guys. I’m going to have as many meetings as I can have in these next four months before I come back here in September. The other thing is really about the team, to analyze the team better, understand their motivation better.
What has been the best moment?
All the people I’ve met… All of them have been doing amazing jobs in their companies, but there are some of them that I have come to admire so, so much and that I want to keep as my friends forever, even though they are far away. We spent so much time together and they tell me about their companies, and when they are telling me about their companies they are also telling me about themselves. Why did they make that decision? Why are they doing what they are doing? This shows who they are and it’s so inspiring! So I want to keep having these people as my friends, because sometimes you are running your business, doing the annoying things, going after customers or paying bills and you ask yourself: why am I doing this? And if you remember that there are other people exactly like you, in Malaysia, in Nepal, it’s like you are part of a global net of people who want to make a difference and you feel stronger because you know that you’re not just a crazy person.
The next question was what it’s been like to work with people from different countries, but you’ve talked about that already. Has it been complicated in any way?
Yes, it’s complicated too! Today we had an example where one participant offered to switch her individual coaching time with another participant because he had a meeting later. So we were like: why don’t you switch and start before? And then he was quiet. He didn’t say anything. We said: are you not understanding? She’s offering you this! And he was still quiet. And then it turned out he didn’t want to say to anybody but he had work to do before the meeting. Which for me is so obvious! He can just say “no I don’t want to do it early because I have work to do”, but he didn’t want to say it. I thought, this guy is very smart – why does he not understand? But it’s actually cultural! He doesn’t want to say he has work to do. So you have to have your eyes open, even more open, to not only understand what the person is trying to say but what’s behind the way he’s acting.
What has it been like being in Sweden?
People are too tall (laughs). It’s so challenging to look at people’s eyes. I don’t know, I think that people here are very aware of their situation, that Sweden is a developed country. It’s so much ahead of many countries in terms of public policy, lifestyle, work-life balance and what the government has to offer its population. Still, the people I’ve met sounded so aware, they know they are in a different spot and they really want to see how the other countries are different and want to understand where we are coming from. They could just say “what, there’s no electricity in Uganda?” but instead they are like “yeah, I see, I know, there’s no electricity in parts of Uganda. The government isn’t going to solve this problem, I know, so you as a social entrepreneur have to solve the problem.” They are not just stuck in the bubble of a super developed country, which for me was something beautiful to see.
So, like you said, there is a large industry working with environmental services in Sweden. Have you been able to gain anything from this that you can bring back to Brazil?
Oh yes! I always knew, when I was researching the area we work in, that in Europe there are companies that offer platforms by which big manufacturers can just go online, say how much waste they put in the market – either price, packaging or electronics. They say how much, the platform tells them how much they have to pay and they just pay. You don’t even worry about it. I knew that existed in most countries in Europe and I knew there was someone in the company making the payment but I never saw anyone actually going online on these famous platforms, what the routine was and how it felt to do it so easily. Then I met a person here who is really doing it! She goes online, she pays the bill and she just keeps telling me: “this is so much easier, I can’t imagine myself going after the waste that my company puts in the market.” For me, this was brilliant and this person was so dedicated to help me! She told me what it’s like in Sweden and she really wanted to understand why it’s not like that in Brazil. She showed me the whole process. It was amazing! People on the board of SE Forum also want to connect me to big companies, like Electrolux and all these huge companies. Everybody wants to help the way they can. They look at your story and say “let me see how I can help!”. They really put some thought into it, I’m very happy that I came!