2017: The Stories Brazil Can Tell the World

I am skeptical of “building a brand image”. Yes, I do believe in “expressing the brand essence”. The difference between the two is found in the truth and concreteness of the attributes for which the brand will be recognized.

Based on this premise, for Brazil to transcend samba, soccer and corruption, and to be better perceived and valued, we need socioeconomic development and an ethical and political evolution. Ultimately, that all depends on a dramatic improvement of our educational system.

Even today, 27% of Brazilians are functionally illiterate. Studies show that for every three additional years of high school education, the country can grow its GDP by more than 1%, and each additional year of schooling can result in a 10% salary increase. In terms of health, literate mothers can halve the risk of children dying in their early years. In terms of safety, a 1% increase in school enrollment in Brazil’s most violent municipalities has helped to reduce the homicide rate by 2%. *

We are among the largest economies and consumer markets in the world. We have no internal conflicts, except for the current childish clash between “coxinhas” and “mortadelas” (nicknames for political supporters on the right and the left), nor with our neighbors, save for a friendly soccer rivalry with our dear hermanos in Argentina. We all speak the same language from Oiapoque to Chuí. We have no volcanoes, hurricanes or earthquakes. We have a rich ethnic diversity and an unsurpassed natural heritage.

Our curse, however, is the legacy of slavery and patrimonialism. The former positions us as one of the nations with the highest degree of social inequality in the world. The latter has resulted in governments that historically serve as a source of illicit enrichment for a portion of the political and business elite, instead of generating public benefits and social equity.

According to a finding in the global study “Edelman Trust Barometer”, which analyzes the degree of trust in companies by countries of origin, the Brazil brand, in 2015, ranked 13th among 17 surveyed countries, with a confidence level of 38 on a scale of zero to 100, ahead of China, Russia, India, and Mexico. In the following year, 2016, Brazil dropped two spots, but still surpassed India and Mexico. In 2017, the Brazilian index fell to 32, tied with India and only ahead of Mexico. It would not be a surprise if we fall to last place in the 2018 edition of the study .

An interesting side note is South Korea, which for years lagged at the tail end and now approaches the middle ranks, alongside countries such as Italy, Spain and the United States. The perception of value of brands like Samsung, Hyundai and LG among the global community certainly plays a role. With Brazil’s provincial soul and endogenous vocation, the global presence of Brazilian brands is scarce. Yes, we have Havaianas and Embraer, but as the saying goes, two does not a trend make.

Considering this context, I believe that today Brazil could have two good stories to tell.

The first would be real-time narration of the effective modernization of Brazilian society. This necessarily requires radical changes in the country’s public-private relations. To do so, we need to move from outrage to changes in legislation.

The Ethos Institute has been conducting a long-term study of the issue for years. Now, it is inspiring to engage society in the “National Plan for Integrity, Transparency and the Combating Corruption”, a study based on Transparency International’s methodology that allows for a systemic analysis of the conditions in the country. In a recent article published by Veja magazine, entitled “Here, a Proposal,” Caio Magri, president of Ethos, and Jorge Hage, former Minister of the Comptroller General of the Union and coordinator of the plan, make it clear that corruption is not a cultural issue for which there is no escape, but a regulatory one.

The evolution of Brazilian legislation, starting with the 1988 Constitution, allows us to clearly view the scale of the problem and to punish some of those involved. But much remains to be done: effective political reform; changes in the rules for privileged forum for senior politicians and officials, and for selection of members of the Court of Audit; probity requirements for the appointment of state ministers and reduced political appointments; changes in the criminal proceedings and classification as crimes the use of slush funds and illicit enrichment; increased transparency in all powers; revision of bidding rules;  regulation of lobbying; expansion of incentives for business integrity; and improving regulation and the business environment.

If Brazilian society built and implemented such an agenda, it could share with the world an incredible saga of improved citizenship.

The second story we could tell is about our natural heritage and opting for conservation and sustainable management, with high socioeconomic and environmental potential.

With 8.5 million km² of territory, almost half of South America, Brazil is home to six biomes as unique as they are rich in diversity.

The Amazon, although subjected to uninterrupted devastation, still accounts for more than half of the remaining tropical forests and boasts the world’s largest tropical rainforest biodiversity. The Cerrado is also the largest savanna in terms of biodiversity and comprises much of the Brazilian territory. The Caatinga is the only exclusively Brazilian biome and prevents the region from becoming desert; much of its biological heritage cannot be found elsewhere. In the Atlantic Forest, there are thousands of native and unique plant species. The Pantanal, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and Biosphere Reserve, is the largest floodplain in the world, bringing together one of the richest faunas on the planet, with hundreds of butterfly, bird, mammal, fish and reptile species. And the Pampa, a vast green carpet of flat and homogeneous landscape, is considered critical for controlling erosion and preserving biodiversity.

If that were not enough, Brazil also has 3.5 million km² of marine coastline, featuring ecosystems such as coral reefs, dunes, mangroves, lagoons, estuaries and marshes.

Today we are well aware that this natural heritage is much more valuable if conserved rather than destroyed. Radically putting a stop to its devastation and broadening and diversifying sustainable exploration of its biological assets, products and tourism would position us at the forefront of the planet’s efforts for environmental equilibrium.

I haven’t included among the narrative options mention of Brazilian art, the fruit of another one of our riches: our ethnic-cultural diversity. It is a fact that Brazilian popular music is recognized and appreciated worldwide – bossa nova is the best example. We also have a robust production in visual arts, literature, theater, dance and cinema, with artists frequently touring on contemporary international circuits. Not to mention the Globo channel soap operas make their way into homes in nearly one hundred countries.

It is crucial that our symbolic heritage continues to expand and express our identity both here and abroad. But given our historical circumstances, I believe that what the world most wants to hear, and what Brazil should most expect of itself, is the story of us overcoming our social inequality and the productive conservation of our natural assets.

Yacoff Sarkovas
Originally published at the “International Brazil Reputation Seminar-Paths for Tomorrow”, held October 25, 2017 at the Museum of Tomorrow in Rio de Janeiro.
* Data from the NGO Todos Pela Educação.