Who Has a Disability?

by Andrés T. Tapia

(This article was originally published in Talent Management Magazine: http://www.talentmgt.com/articles/7235-who-has-a-disability)

 

At the height of the economic inequality protests that rocked Brazil before last year’s World Cup, Mila Guedes—a human resources professional at the media agency Fischer, who also has multiple sclerosis — drove her Honda. The car was retrofitted to accommodate the limited use of her left leg, and she drove it to meet me for dinner.

The streets were chaotic with stranded commuters who could not board the hundreds of buses abandoned along São Paulo’s streets as drivers walked off the job and joined the strike. But Mila would not be deterred. She made her way through horrendous traffic because she had a vision to make Brazil more accessible to people with cognitive and physical disabilities.

Brazil has one of the few laws in the world that mandates employment quotas for people with cognitive and physical disabilities — from 2 to 4 percent depending on company size — but there are no laws to provide accessibility. Basically, people have access to jobs but little access to get to them.

In contrast, the U.S. has plenty of ramps and handicapped spaces because it is illegal not to provide accommodation for new hires. However, there has been no systemwide mandate to hire people with a disability. Basically, they have access to places of employment, but little opportunity to be hired for the jobs within.

Through our networking, Mila landed an internship in Chicago at Access Living, a stellar organization that focuses on all aspects of accessibility, housing, transportation and jobs. In exchange for her marketing expertise, Mila is learning all about access policies, politics, and processes. She will take her learning home and add fuel to a nascent movement focused on access in Brazil, but it will be a steep, uphill battle. Disability is one of the most forgotten, avoided bastions of pervasive exclusion globally.

Some 15 percent of the world’s population has some form of disability. This number will rise as people everywhere live longer. Research shows that compared with people without disabilities, people with disabilities experience less legal protections, higher rates of poverty, lower educational achievements, poorer health outcomes, and less political and cultural participation, among other things. This is especially true in developing countries, where 80 percent of people with disabilities live.

Humane values should be enough to counter this extreme form of marginalization, but there are economic incentives: the global disability market controls $4 trillion in spending power. Include family and friends of people with disabilities, and the numbers double to 2 billion people controlling more than $8 trillion.

Whether human values or currencies instigate change, we also must rethink how we think about ability.

We now have athletes with no legs competing for gold in the Olympics, not the Paralympics. I met a blind proofreader who outperforms her peers in quality. I’ve interviewed leaders of a distribution warehouse employing 40 percent of people with disabilities who outperform their peers by 20 percent or more. Their disabilities are not detriments — they drive high-impact effectiveness.

Most of us need accommodation. We need chairs to give us stamina, lights to see, amplification systems to hear, climate control for comfort, weekends to unwind, and so on. Our physical and mental limitations are accommodated every day at a great deal of cost that no one questions. Yet when it comes to access and opportunity for those with disabilities around the world, we hear business leaders balk because it’s deemed too costly and too difficult.

Think about it. Who is disabled? All of us.

Race and Colorism Alive and Too Well

by Andrés T. Tapia –39748906GlobalForum_50_150dpi

(The following article was originally published in Diversity Executive.)

Today, after nearly a decade of denial that race still makes a difference in
the United States, the #BlackLivesMatter movement that emerged in response to the shootings of unarmed black men Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Eric Gardner and Walter Scott is not letting the country sweep race back under the carpet.

But the United States is not the only country that must reckon with the unfinished business of racism. Despite protestations by locals, race and colorism continue to play an inordinate role in social exclusion in Europe, Latin America, and Asia where people are unwilling to admit that skin color still plays a role in marginalizing those of darker hue.

Europe

Europe struggles with a dearth of darker skinned leaders in the corporate world. In various European countries I have worked in and visited, Europeans’ self-image of their own egalitarianism flies in the face of deep housing and social segregation.

This is evidenced by the low-income neighborhoods of North Africans and Muslims surrounding Paris who in the past decade have erupted in violent protest against racial inequality. The Council of Europe just this year released a report titled “France: Persistent Discrimination Endangers Human Rights.” But race is difficult to talk about not only qualitatively but also quantitatively since a law was passed in 1978 that specifically banned the collection and computerized storage of race-based data.

In 2014, according Spanish advocacy group Movement Against Intolerance, of the 1,285 hate crimes reported to police across Spain, 37 percent were motivated by race. In the United Kingdom, the amount of those who self-report that they have some prejudice has risen to 30 percent in 2014 from 25 percent in 2001, according to an article in The Guardian titled “Racism on the Rise in Britain.”

These headwinds must be in play when considering a report by an organization called “Business in the Community,” which focuses on specific aspects of campaigning on diversity. It shows that less than 1 in 15 ethnic minority workers in the U.K. hold a management position.

Asia

According to the 2013 World Values Survey, 43.5 percent of Indian respondents said they would not want a neighbor of a different race and, according to 2014 survey by the National Council of Applied Economic Research and the University of Maryland, 27 percent of Indians still practice caste untouchability, the practice of ostracizing a group by segregating them from the mainstream by social custom or legal mandate.

In a 2013 study by the Institute of Policy Studies and OnePeople.sg, 1 in 2 Singaporean residents do not have close friends from another race, and only 71 percent of Singaporean Chinese believe it is a good thing that Singapore is made up of people of different racial groups. This correlates with the fact that 1 in 10 Indian and Malay respondents (the largest minorities in Singapore) perceived being treated worse than other races when using public and other services.

Latin America

Various Latin American countries will bristle at the notion that racism may be at play in their societies. Yet, there is an unmistakable pattern: The darker one’s skin is, the lower they tend to be on the socioeconomic ladder.

In Brazil, which is about 50 percent black or mixed race, there is a lack of black representation among executives, senior managers, and managers. Spend time in the business district of Faria Lima, and they are not evident. Even at a recent corporate diversity conference by a reputable global diversity and inclusion organization, the highly committed participants from major corporations could not muster racial diversity even in the most token of ways.

Despite protestations that skin color does not matter, why does Brazilian Portuguese have a Crayola-like color scheme with 134 different terms to capture different skin color gradations? These gradations don’t just make for interesting conversation; they make an economic difference.

According to a BBC report, “on average, white and Asian Brazilians earned twice as much as black or mixed-race Brazilians … black Brazilians are much more likely to be poor and rarely reach the top levels of business or politics.”

The Work Ahead

Between the realities of racial profiling on the streets, to rising prejudice and distrust of those of darker skin, and the continued dearth of people of color in leadership positions, where does this leave diversity practitioners? That even as we rightly broaden the definitions of diversity to be about myriad dimensions of difference, race wherever we look — whether we like it — still matters.

World Cup Hangover: Brazil Coming of Age Through Heartbreak

by Andrés T. Tapia – 2124370_large-lnd

As the World Cup crowned Germany champion while host Brazil was left out of its own party, this South American nation was left to contemplate if something good can come through heartache in the wake of its World Cup devastation.

It’s been a hard fall for Brazil’s seductive romance — fueled by capirinhas, shaken by samba, and heated up on the beach. Soccer, that got its moniker as “The Beautiful Game” in large part due to the legacy of Brazil’s elegant and flowing style of play that led to their Seleção becoming the all-time greatest winner of World Cup titles, has also been an integral part of the Brazilian mystique. Then ten years ago the tropical paradise of leisure also buffed up into an economic superpower.

So when FIFA awarded the 2014 World Cup to the land of eternal beaches, Brazil’s seeming ability to have it all – economic prowess and joie de vivre – it captured the world’s imagination. Soccer fans couldn’t think of a better setting for the greatest sports event on the planet. “The World Cup in Brazil has a whole other different ring to it than the World Cup will have in [2018 host] Russia,” says Chris Quinn, a Canadian expat who is owner of an English language instruction academy in Natal whom I met in Salvador over a moqueca fish stew hours before the Costa Rica – Holland quarterfinal.

And to boot, what a marvelous opportunity this was to be to finally exorcise the ghost of the Maracanazo, Brazil’s debacle in 1950 when it lost the lead minutes before it was about to win the title the last time it hosted the World Cup.

But it was not to be. The moment of the announcement that Brazil had been awarded the 2014 tournament ended up being the peak of the Brazilian on-top-of-the-world mood. The rest of the story is now the well-known tale of the rising discontent expressed through many loud and visible protests and strikes on the eve of the games. Too many in what Brazilians identify as socioeconomic Class D began to resent the feeling they were being left behind as FIFA and the Brazilian government spent $18 billion on infrastructure and the staging of the games during a time when too many Brazilians still don’t have enough health care, education, and housing.

The protests went on pause during the global festa. It was futebol after all and Brazil had Neymar, Jr. And then came his injury and even worse, The Great Humiliation of the 7-1 loss to the German squad in the semifinal.

But as distraught as Brazilians looked on TV and splashed across newspapers around the world, this heartbreak could be the catalyst for a coming of age as an economic superpower.

Rather than assuming that they could just sashay their way to easy economic prosperity as the rest of the world boomed and raw materials exports surged, the current economic slowdown preceding the tournament was already forcing Brazilians to face the high cost of their inefficiencies and lack of adequate infrastructure.

The protests have also been forcing the government and many of those very Brazilians who have indeed benefitted from Brazil’s emergence as an economic superpower to take more seriously the destabilizing consequences of growing inequality.

Sure, a World Cup fairy tale ending crowning Brazil a sexta-champion at the very Maracana stadium of their ignoble defeat a generation ago would have spilled over into a mass endorphin and testosterone induced euphoria that would have invited breathless commentary about how Brazil was capable of anything.

But in the gloom of defeat, a more sanguine assessment can be made that even a glorious World Cup championship is no substitute for the unsexy work it takes to address deep social inequities or being able to build the right infrastructure to support a burgeoning economy.

And there is plenty of evidence that Brazilians are doing just that. For all the stereotyped fear mongering by the foreign press that the Brazilians were not going to be ready to host, they pulled off staging 54 games in twelve different cities not only through the stadium venues but also through the FIFA Fan Fests that catered to tens of thousands of soccer partiers on famed beaches and open areas with 100-foot-HD screens and where games were bracketed by first class live musical acts.

And what in the past has been Brazil’s notorious dysfunctional domestic travel in whose Kafkaesque ways I myself had gotten myself lost in, it successfully got millions of foreign and domestic fans crisscrossing the country efficiently and effectively to follow their favorite teams. Transportation to and from the stadiums was also well organized and the stadiums and the fields were top shape.

As for the still serious issue with violence in certain areas there has been significant progress. In the Rio favela Vidigal where I stayed, the pacificão, as the army incursion and occupation of the neighborhood has been called, has yielded results. “Drug gangs used to walk up and down this street in front of my house brandishing huge weapons,” says long-time resident Sonia Gallo whose B&B I stayed. “But now they are completely cleared out and have been pushed to the very top of the favela” which sits on elevation of one of many mountains surrounding Rio. “There’s a code here now in this part of the favela where we don’t hurt each other.”

This hard-earned progress with still much more to go may provide some hope of why Brazil’s 2014 World Cup humiliation may not endure as much as the pain of the Maracanazo. As an example of how things may be evolving, the New York Times quoted Celso Lacerda an employee from the national oil company Petrobras, as saying, “The game was kind of shocking, but I don’t think there’s much else to say. If this had happened in previous eras, there would be a bigger impact on Brazil.”

So yes, the shame, the embarrassment. But this time the realism. Brazil could actually come out stronger through its heartache.

With World Cup Over, Brazil Faces Its Toughest Opponent

by Andrés T. Tapia –  fortaleza2-300x198

FORTALEZA, Brazil – Nearly three thousand kilometers north of São Paulo sits the city of Fortaleza, the commercial capital of Brazil’s phenomenal, if sputtering economic boom. In this city of two and a half million, fronting the Atlantic and host to five World Cup games, tales of boom and bust jockey for position as the overriding narrative of the nation.

Despite the official outcome of the games, this is the game to watch.

For Fortaleza’s residents, Brazil’s economic ascent has meant that hundreds of thousands have been pulled out of poverty. They are the basis of a new and aspiring middle class. The signs of their presence are everywhere: the latest in fashion trends adorn city streets, as do dogs on leashes, shopping as therapy, and the latest fitness craze.

The transformation is notable for a city that was once seen as a sleepy beach town attractive to adventure tourists and not much else. The city center today is awash with commerce. A stroll down the main boulevard, Praia de Meireles, offers views of the hip and kitsch. Trendy restaurants and hotels look out over the hourly parade of the Trem da Fantasia (the Fantasy Train) being rocked by local Mickey and Minnie Mouse knockoffs.

Even the foreign tourists in town for the World Cup are outnumbered by Brazilian tourists, from cities both near and far and flush with disposable income. Many come to claim their stake in the booming real estate market along Fortaleza’s shores, or in places such as tradition-filled Morro Branco and Canoa Quebrada, two hours to the north and south of the city.

“People have money to spend,” says one cabbie who goes by the name Derry. “Especially the poor. Education has made the difference.”

Like many in Fortaleza, Derry left his rural home to come to the city hoping to tap into the rising economic tide. Later, over a cup of tapioca gelato, he points out that even Americans are beginning to discover the place, noting that he’s begun taking English so as to better communicate with potential clients.

Still, not everyone in the city takes as rosy a view.

As in other major cities thousands here took to the streets in the days and weeks prior to the World Cup to protest the billions spent on infrastructure for the games, money they say came at the expense of more pressing needs. For these, the pageantry of the World Cup only served to reinforce a collective feeling of neglect.

Edson (who only gave his first name) works as a waiter in Fortaleza’s main square. We talk as he clears the table before me. He says he can’t understand how people can pay $750 for a scalped quarterfinal ticket or $450 a night for a hotel while his whole month’s rent is $250, leaving little room for his wife and two kids.

“It’s only for the outsiders,” he says resentfully of the beefed up security presence accompanying the games. “Once the Cup is over we will face the same dangers on the street we always have faced daily.”

Outside, street vendors, cleaning ladies, and the homeless rub elbows with swanky urbanites ready for a night on the town. It was one thing to be poor when the entire country was not prosperous, I muse. Quite another to see it get rich without you.

And so it is, back and forth in Fortaleza and much of Brazil, between the newly well off, those who have always been well off and are doing even better, and those who are being left behind.

One Brazil can proudly say that as much as this and other large cities were electric during the World Cup games they hosted, a place like Fortaleza is long past needing a World Cup boost to put it on the map. It has at its shores the Praia do Futuro (the Beach of the Future). There are now direct flights to Miami and Lisbon. And if Fortaleza’s name was originally derived from it being a fortress to protect Portuguese colonizers from the indigenous natives, it is now an economic fortress that has come into its own and is extending its reach.

At its foundations, however, lie the corrosive effects of inequality, the other Brazil. As FIFA took its ball and went home in July, it is not the nation’s sad national soccer seleção that residents must reckon with, but themselves.

World Cup Fervor Shows How USA Has Assimilated to Immigrant Cultures

by Andrés T. Tapia 

Watching the World Cup in Brazil got me to thinking about how World Cup fever has exploded  in the States. From sports bars and airports to public arenas, a cross-section of Americans have joined with the rest of the world to watch in rapt attention.  It just goes to show how assimilation has turned into a two-way phenomenon. Check out my recent Huffington Post piece on how World Cup Fever Shows How USA has Assimilated to Immigrant Cultures.”

 

 

The Metamorphosis of Global Diversity

iStock_000012215038XSmall.globeflags.purchasedby Andrés T. Tapia –

In recent months, I’ve given in to my global wanderlust. In November, it was immersion in São Paulo, Brazil for our Diversity Best Practices Global Member Conference. In December, it was homecoming, visiting family in my native Peru.

There’s nothing like jet lag, the cacophony of different languages, new and childhood taste experiences, and newspaper headlines not about fiscal cliffs and sequesters to freshen up one’s perspective—and prompt these few thoughts on the state of global diversity today.

Global diversity continues to accelerate its rise in importance and, with that, it’s metamorphosing into something much more multidimensional and unexpected than the first wave of exported Made-in-USA diversity.

Take, for instance, three different invitations I have received in the past six months. The U.S. subsidiary of a Belgium-headquartered company calls asking for help on building out its diversity strategy. Then, a German company calls seeking help with getting its American affiliate to come up with a U.S. response to their global diversity imperative because they are behind their counterparts in Europe and Asia. And last year, a Korean multinational asked me to present to 500 company leaders from all over the world on how they can be more inclusive in the various countries it is expanding to, from Vietnam to India to the USA.  

This is all part of a trend of non-U.S.-based multinational companies making diversity an imperative—not only in their countries of origin but throughout the globe. Now Not-Made-in-USA diversity accountabilities are adding to the rising calls-to-action that an increasing number of American business leaders are facing regarding diversity and inclusion.

This is just one way in which diversity is changing globally. A few others:

  • To be a woman is to be rising in opportunities. Women’s advancement is the most frequently cited diversity issue today. It’s the one global diversity issue that arises on all continents as the common and urgent issue we must address now. The challenges are often the same regardless of country. From Chicago to Shanghai, women are pressing to fulfill their ambitions for leadership positions and a growing number in profit and loss roles. And women, at all levels of the organization, no matter where in the world, yearn, fret, and fight for work life flexibility.
  • Socioeconomic disparities are masking the realities of colorism. The United States isn’t the only country facing race and class disparities. In a host of countries, societies are stratified based on one’s economic status. Yet, in countries such as India, Brazil, and Peru those with darker skin are more likely than their fairer counterparts to be members of the lower socioeconomic classes. This is far from a coincidence. While there’s a great deal of denial about this reality, it’s true that in many countries a preference for those of a lighter hue is blocking access to educational and employment opportunities for a significant percentage people. Until countries where colorism prevails recognize the impact of this form of discrimination, companies in these countries will continue to struggle to have true diversity in the workforce.
  • Millennials are civilization’s first global cohort. Whether they grew up in South Africa, Egypt, Romania, Laos, or Venezuela, many members of this generation shared the reality of growing up digitally and interconnected to the rest of the world. Global terrorism, global recession, global warming, and global social media have meant a common experience in many formative ways of how the world works. When a billion go “Gangnam Style” around the world in a matter of weeks, when the Arab Spring inspires Occupy Wall Street (and not vice versa), and when the Twitter-nation transcends all borders with 500 million users (making it the third largest population in the world), an unprecedented shared upbringing across the world’s 24 time zones is in the making.
  • Employment gains for people with disabilities. While in the United States the Americans with Disabilities Acts made it the law to make workplaces physically accessible to those with disabilities, there is a growing global trend to actually make it the law to employ those with disabilities. Brazilian law stipulates that depending on the size of your employee base, 2 percent to 5 percent of your workers must be people with disabilities. On Christmas Day 2012, a similar law went into effect in Peru. And in the United States, the Federal Government has put into place guidelines that those doing business with the government must have 7 percent of employees be people with disabilities.
  • LGBT rights on the march. The wall of resistance around LGBT rights is tumbling in countries across the globe. In 2009, the high court in New Delhi, India struck down the law that made same-sex sexual activity illegal. In 2010, Mexico City and Argentina legalized same-sex marriage while Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, and Uruguay all started to recognize same-sex relationships, such as civil unions. This is an enormous gain for the LGBT community in Latin America, which has long been characterized by its strong Catholic roots and machismo undertones. And putting an exclamation point on the importance of worldwide LGBT rights, in 2011, President Barack Obama and then Secretary of State Hilary Clinton announced that LGBT rights would be a criteria for whether a country will receive U.S. foreign aid.

Just a few examples of how diversity and inclusion are playing out globally. This trend is unstoppable. Next generation diversity practitioners would be wise to track and then ride these trends for the good of their organizations.

When’s your next trip to another land?

Now, More than Ever, Diversity Work is Global

by Andrés T. Tapia –

Shanghai.istock.xsmallAs part of part of an annual global initiative conducted in partnership with Working Mother Media (our parent company), Diversity Best Practices recently hosted a Best Practice Session in Shanghai, China. The November 2011 event was just one of the ways that we are actively pursuing, capturing, cataloging, and disseminating best practices from around the world and ensuring that our members get exposure to global issues firsthand. Previous events featured diversity and inclusion sessions in countries such as India, South Africa, and Brazil.

In Shanghai, participants had the chance to experience China’s culture and diversity. It’s one thing to read about the country’s boom in the headlines; it’s another thing to be on the ground and feel the pulse of a nation that is seizing the opportunity of a developing global marketplace. While there, we experienced the reverence of walking through the serenity of the Yuyuan Garden and minutes later being in the center of one of the most modern skylines in the world.

Diversity is a hot topic in China right now and the work in this area is as urgent there as it is in the United States. There are big questions around the advancement of women, work life, and managing multiple generations in the workplace. Like in the United States and other countries, there are things that are clearly visible around diversity and inclusion that companies are ready to engage in and there are some things that leaders are not in tune with that are very real. The Chinese will often say that the race issue is not relevant to them because they all share the same race. While China may have little racial diversity, the country is not removed from the tensions that can come from having a diverse population.

I had an interesting insight during my visit to the Shanghai Museum. There was an exhibit about China’s ethnic minorities. When I looked at the exhibit map, I noticed that the eastern part of China, which is where China has been developing, it’s all Han Chinese. The majority of the other ethnicities are in the west. It struck me that as China expands westward, companies are going to run into diversity issues with Han leaders trying to engage and manage a non-Han workforce. It was very evident from the exhibit that people who come from these various ethnic groups have different histories and experiences and they likely have different world views that will be apparent in their preferences in what they look for in talent management and engagement.

Currently, this aspect of diversity is not on Chinese business leaders’ radar screens, but it’s going to hit them sooner rather than later. One of my takeaways from my experience in China is that we, as diversity practitioners, regardless of the country we come from, have a lot to learn about how diversity and inclusion is playing out in other countries. Because of our previous experience in the United States, we have a unique perspective to offer employers in other parts of the world.

At Diversity Best Practices, we’re expanding our relationships with thought leaders, government officials, and local leaders that will allow us to be more insightful about the reality of business and diversity in China. These relationships give us access to resources to enrich our research and hold a position at the forefront of thinking in the field.

However, China is not our only area of interest. India and Brazil are ripe with diversity challenges and insights and we’re already making plans to host events in Bangalore and Sao Paolo in 2012.

In the meantime, I hope you will take the opportunity to learn more about diversity and inclusion in China. We will be hosting a teleconference in which we will share our learnings from Shanghai on Thursday, January 19. A white paper from the event will be published shortly after. Additional information about diversity in China is available in our recently published Global Diversity Primer

The more we learn about diversity and inclusion around the globe, the more effective we will be as practitioners at home and abroad.

Adelante (onward) in the work!

The Senses of It All: New Insights on Disability Diversity (Sidebar)

accessibilityMy visit to Serasa Experian  that prompted the blog post, “The Senses of It All: The Blind Proofreader and Other Remarkable Stories of Normalcy,” led me to some new insights on disability diversity:

  • The Best Advocates for those with Disabilities Are those with Disabilities
  • Until There Is a Compliance Mandate, Nothing Moves
  • Everyone Needs Accommodation

The Best Advocates for those with Disabilities Are those with Disabilities
It’s so easy for sensitive and inclusive diversity practitioners to not forget to include “disability” in the laundry list of diversity issues that must be addressed. But how well do we, plus business and HR leaders and managers, truly know how to best meet their needs? My sensory disorientation during my lunch time conversation with Felipe, Diego, and João was indicative of my being blind to the subtle needs of those who couldn’t see and unable to truly listen for the needs of those who couldn’t hear.

For the organizational gyroscope on disability inclusion to be properly calibrated it’s vital to have a leader or change agent involved who also has a disability to ensure the readings of the visible and invisible oscillations are true and helpful to navigate through them. It’s no surprise then that under a diversity leader with a disability such as João, that Serasa Experian’s has become a benchmark for best practices for creating inclusion for salaried professionals with a disability.

The Environment Has to Be Deliberately Nurtured So All Can Collaborate in Creating Inclusion for those with Disabilities
To break bread over a meal is always a choreography as we sit, serve, chew, talk, listen, gesture, sip, swallow. Food is cut, drink is poured. Plates, cups, silverware, napkins come and go throughout the various courses. Our hands and arms poke, slice, bob, weave, undulate as we intermingle conversation with consumption. The choreography then becomes much more complex as a deaf, blind, quad, and clueless guy sit down to for white bean soup, sole, and filet mignon.

And here’s where waiters in the Serasa Experian dining room sprung into action. Without missing a beat, they joined the dance in anticipatory ways as they put placemats, salt and pepper shakers, glasses within the reach of the one who has blind, at times guiding his hands toward the desired object, ensuring line of sight with the one who was deaf so he could read their lips, cutting the meat into bite size pieces for easy access. Conversely, as tuned in as the waiters were to the special needs they needed to tend to as part of their job, the executives at the neighboring table carried on with their business, not in a oblivious or neglectful way, but rather in a casual way that indicated that the extraordinary choreography nearby was an ordinary part of life at the company.

This scene did not happen by happenstance. It is the result of an explicit, deliberate strategy that has been well communicated and where all employees have been properly oriented to best create an inclusive environment for those with disabilities.

Until There Is a Compliance Mandate, Nothing Moves
As much as Serasa Experian is a values-driven organization that believes in diversity, inclusion, and the financial power of having an engaged workforce, the catalyst for their extraordinary story around disability diversity was the law that set a quota for the percentage of people with a disability that should make up Brazilian companies’ workforces. It was in response to this that they brought in João who then had the powerful combination of a compliance mandate plus a leadership team that wanted to go beyond doing just enough.

And here’s a telling contrast between disability-related laws passed in Brazil and in the US, not only how compliance brings about change, but also on how the law is framed impacts the outcomes. The Americans with Disability Act (ADA) focused on accessibility and accommodation. But unlike Brazilian law, it did not address representation. At its core it was about mandating that companies be appropriately proactive in creating architectural accessibility to anyone who may show up on public sidewalks, lobbies, hallways, and restrooms so that those with disabilities could get around. It also mandated that reactively accommodations be made to enable someone with a disability to do their job.

So with this compliance framing, the US ends up with wheelchair accessible buildings and handicapped parking sprouting up systematically throughout the country yet not with very many people with disabilities in the workplace.

Conversely, through compliance Brazil chose to emphasize representation but not so much accommodation in public spaces. And guess what? Brazil ends up with a much better workplace representation story but poor accessibility of public spaces.

Everyone Needs Accommodation
As I heard the stories of Nancy, Diego, Felipe, Lais, João and observed their working environment it reinforced for me that in this upside down world we need to redefine what we need disabled and accommodation and instead talk about being differently abled.

Before I elaborate, let me insert this caveat: In making the point that follows, I do not intend to equate all limitations as being equality difficult or easy or equally costly or painful. Rather I suggest that instead of looking at this as being an either/or of being able bodied or having a disability that we instead look at the issue as a continuum.

So back to my point. I see organizations and society resisting proactive and reactive accommodation because of cost and inconvenience, But let’s get some perspective about what accommodation really is. Because don’t we all, in one way or another require some form of accommodation? And are there are myriad ways in which society, the workplace, those around us accommodate our needs without question? So why should we suddenly question request or needs that may be less common but are just a serious and important as those we address without question.

Walk with me through this thought process. We can’t be in two places at once so we need telephones. We are limited in how much we can handwrite so we have devices with keyboards.. We are limited in how many tasks we can tend to so we need administrative assistants. We don’t work very well when its too hot or too cold so we need heating and air conditioning. We can get physically I’ll so we need healthcare coverage. Most of us aren’t inheritors of wealth so we need retirement savings benefits. We can’t work without resting so we need breaks during the work day and weekends every 5 days, and vacations at least once a year. We need to find babysitters so we get childcare referrals on the web. We have bodies that get fatigued and need the proper support so we have ergonomically sound chairs.

So how is this any different from the reality of a having some form of disability? In essence all things above have to do with an element of limitation of the human body and mind. We are always providing accommodation to all types. Those with disability at some level have the same need to address some physical or mental limitation that may be less prevalent than, say. our susceptibility to hot or cold. Addressing disability is simply providing what workers need to be as efficient and effective as possible and with their talents have the best chance to come out flush for the sake of the organization and the individuals.

The Senses of It All: The Blind Proofreader and Other Remarkable Stories of Normalcy

by Andrés T. Tapia

The author surrounded by remarkable stories of career normalcy. (Left to right) Engineer Felipe Trigueros, Journalist Nancy Galvão, Marketing Assistant Diego de Castro, Proofreader Laís Kari, Psychologist Priscila Neves, (seated) Anthropologist and Diversity Leader João Ribas.

The author surrounded by remarkable stories of career normalcy. (Left to right) Engineer Felipe Trigueros, Journalist Nancy Galvão, Marketing Assistant Diego de Castro, Andrés Tapia, Proofreader Laís Kari, Psychologist Priscila Neves, (seated) Anthropologist and Diversity Leader João Ribas.

SÃO PAOLO — My synapses were crossed. In the executive dining room, engineer Felipe Trigueros could not hear me because he is deaf, so I turned to face marketing assistant Diego de Castro who could. But it was Felipe who needed me to look at him so he could read my lips while Diego couldn’t even tell which way I was facing. Then Diego turns to Felipe to say in Portuguese what I had just said in a combination of English and Spanish. But why was Diego soundlessly mouthing the words rather than speaking aloud? Oh, yeah, duh, Felipe is deaf!

A little later a sign language interpreter comes in to further facilitate the conversation for Felipe’s benefit, particularly as I am asking questions of my new acquaintances. But after a few communication gestures he stops and Diego picks up again with the silent mouthing. I don’t get it. Oh, yeah, duh, the interpreter is a Brazilian Sign Language interpreter and we are all mostly talking in English!

So let me back up. I’m at Serasa Experian, a leading Brazilian global information services company, at the invitation of their diversity leader, João Baptista Ribas. I had met João and his boss, Tomás Carmona, the head of Sustainable Development, on a previous visit. On that trip I learned how Serasa Experian’s holistic diversity and inclusion strategy had the its start in disability due to the need to respond to a law passed in 2003 that required companies in Brazil to have, depending on their employee size, anywhere from 2-5% of workers with disability.  How different to the genesis of holistic diversity in the US which has had its start in race and gender.  João, who has paraplegia due to a congenital malformation and is in a wheelchair, was hired to lead that effort. Once he had implemented what is a truly groundbreaking approach with salaried professionals with disabilities he has been building out the more comprehensive diversity and inclusion efforts.

The first time around João and Tomás had shared their holistic diversity strategies with me and sought my reactions. On this visit we were going to dive specifically into their disability diversity work by, most importantly, meeting and having in-depth discussions with the talent with disabilities Serasa Experian had hired. Joining João, Felipe, and Diego in the conversation were Nancy Galvão who is a journalist and whose right hand withered when she contracted polio, and Laís Kari, who is a proofreader and blind — yes she is, and is among Serasa Experian’s best doing that kind of work.

These individuals were not the token representatives of disability diversity. As I walked the hallways later I met and saw dozens of employees in wheelchairs, dozens who were blind, dozens who were deaf, carrying about the business of accounting, programming, writing, marketing, etc. It was extraordinary in its ordinariness.

What unfolded during the conversation was a narrative about the intersection of disability with identity, prejudice, humanity, career, autonomy, freedom, and ambition. Some highlights, first about their own experiences and beliefs and then some new thoughts they triggered for me:

THEIR EXPERIENCES AND BELIEFS

Autonomy and Independence Is the Greatest Desire; Freedom the Greatest Outcome
Whether in words or in their stories, Felipe, Diego, Nancy, Laís, and João said the same thing: for those with disabilities, autonomy and independence which lead to freedom to pursue their goals are their greatest desire and what they pursue relentlessly.

Of course, they avail themselves to technology such as the cochlear implant, the screen reader that magnifies text on computer screens, the TDD telephone, as well as other support mechanisms such as the sight dog, the translators, ramps, and doors that always open outwardly. Explains João, “People say ‘poor you, confined to a wheelchair.’ But they don’t understand. I’m not confined. Rather, my wheelchair means freedom.”

“When my hand withered due to polio,” says Nancy, the writer, “my mom wanted to kill me and herself. But I wanted to be a journalist. People said that I couldn’t, because I was the one with the disability, the poor little one. Today I earn more money than any two-armed person in my family and I think I can say I am one of the happiest.”

Laís picks up on this narrative, “The attitude on the part of society is ‘No walk. No study. No work.’”  But each of these professionals has ambitions as big and mundane as any able bodied person’s. Felipe has sought career advancement and gotten it, having been promoted three times in 2009 and 2010.

“One of my dreams has always been to go to university,” says Diego who started to go blind just five years ago. “I wanted to have a house and a family and I was not going to let my going blind stop that.” He can now scratch these three items off his to-do list and he’s ready to add a couple of new ones: go to business school and become a leader within the company.

Work Is Empowering and Humanizing
“When you don’t have a job you don’t feel like a human being,” says Laís. “And it’s not just about the money. It’s also about making friends, and discovering things about yourself you did not know you could do. And it’s also about our families changing their view of what we are capable of.”

And it’s in this last statement that the key to disability diversity lies. Family members and co-workers stop seeing the disability and start seeing the person. “The best moment,” says Felipe, “is when my co-workers don’t see me as deaf but rather as a very good engineer.”

Work also allows each of these individuals to pursue their inner passions and to now make a living off of them. When I ask Laís how she ended up being a proofreader she tells me enthusiastically, “I have always loved to read. I love the Portuguese language.” And with the help of a digital replayer which is software that reads aloud what is on the screen, Laís and Priscila Neves, another blind employee I met who is a psychologist, crank up the replayers to read back to them at 10 times normal speed — so fast that it sounds like gibberish to my untrained ear. Laís zips through the document she is proofreading and, like finding a needle in haystack, plucks out the typos and misspellings.

Their stories make clear how affirming and dignifying it is to have a job, not just for those who have a disability but, when seen through their eyes, really for all of us. Think about the power of the following statement by Laís: “Now I can buy a new refrigerator for my Mom.”

As I wrap up, let me give the final word to one of my newfound friends at Serasa Experian: “Disability is not a problem,” says the blind proofreader. “What’s a problem is convincing others that it’s not a problem.”

In the battle of the senses, this makes a lot of sense.
___________________________________________________

Sidebar: New Insights on Disability Diversity
My visit to Serasa Experian led me to some new insights on disability diversity:

  • The Best Advocates for those with Disabilities Are those with Disabilities
  • Until There Is a Compliance Mandate, Nothing Moves
  • Everyone Needs Accommodation

Click here for sidebar.

Peru Election 2011: Peru’s Poor Make Their Voices Heard

by Andrés T. Tapia –

This article was published by the New America Media

PeruElection_humala_500x279

No to trickle down economics. No to corruption. No to human rights abuses.

These were the electoral reasons why the Peruvian public elected Ollanta Humala, 49, as their 94th President, marking the sixth consecutive peaceful transfer of power since 1980.

In sending Keiko Fujimori to defeat, a very narrow majority of Peruvians indicated they were more troubled by her filial links to her father, former Peruvian president Alberto Fujimori who was imprisoned for corruption and human rights abuses, than with Ollanta’s two failed insurrections against democratically elected governments.

In fact, for many voters, these rebellions were seen as bona fides for his willingness to take matters into his own hands to bring about change. Those more ambivalent about this recent past were able to put their fears at bay either through wishful thinking, hope, or real belief that Humala’s radical, Hugo Chavez-like ways from five years ago were merely a phase, and that there was real substance to his recast image as a reasonable non-radical who could address the needs of the destitute poor without pitting them against the rich.

This is the first time in 40 years, since the Cuban-Revolution-inspired military coup of Gen. Juan Velasco Alvarado under which I grew up, that a leftist president will be ruling Peru. The big question is whether it will be in the mold of Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez, or that of Brazil’s Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva. The first would deeply and destructively divide the country. The second, which simultaneously and successfully made the poor a priority, while stimulating the economy, would be transcendent.

Key to Humala’s win was the full endorsement of Alejandro Toledo, former Peruvian president, who was originally one of the first round candidates in the presidential election. True to the twists and turns of Peruvian politics, one of Humala’s insurrections was against then-President Toledo.

While the recurring story lines of the election campaign were the Fujimori family’s disgrace and the radical past of Humala, the most profound back story was that Peru’s poor — heavily represented in the rural areas and outside the power center of the capital in Lima — decided Peru’s new President.

Despite the fact that in the last five out of six years Peru’s GNP grew at a steady 8% annually, making Peru a much richer country that could invest in infrastructure that brought in foreign investment, nurtured local industry, and helped make Peru a global tourist magnet, many of Peru’s poor have been left behind.

While it’s true that the poor of Peru have seen their numbers drop, from 50% of the population to 30% during the economic boom, Sunday’s vote declared that it is still unacceptable that one-third of the country is below the poverty line of $2 a day in earnings. Peru’s prosperity should be beneficial for all Peruvians, their vote proclaimed.

They believed Ollanta Humala, the maverick outsider with no links to the elite in Peru, the United States, Europe, or Japan, would be the one who would deliver. But there are jitters that his nationalistic, populist ways will derail the Peruvian economic miracle of the past few years.

His immediate top priority between now and his inauguration on July 28th, Peruvian Independence Day, will need to be calming nervous investors and markets, assuring them that his promises for the poorest of the poor can be fulfilled, while still nurturing the long Peruvian boom. This should not be difficult to do, at least rhetorically.

Already, some of those who did not support him are working on reassuring themselves that Humala will do right by the markets. As a commentator said on Panamericana TV, “There is no appetite to mess around with prosperity. Not even Humala is going to want to do that.”

Still, there is a significant amount of apprehension about whether he has a hidden agenda against the powers that be. And so when the stock market opened on Monday, it dropped 12.5%, the biggest one-day drop in its history, before regulators closed the market down.

Keeping a close eye will be his defeated rival. At 36-years-old, and having won nearly half the vote (she lost by just a few percentage points), Keiko Fujimori will remain a force to be reckoned with for some time to come.

But for now, this is Humala’s moment. As he addressed his supporters in his victory speech around midnight in rolled-up shirt sleeves and no coat and tie, on a stage that jutted out into the crowd at Plaza 2 de Mayo, he laid it out plain and simple. Without thundering against the elite, and without specifics, his message was all about the poor’s plight — lack of potable water, electricity, education, nutrition, health and living wages.

The poor have spoken. This is their man.

Keiko Fujimori Loses Peru’s Election, But Diversity Message Struck a Chord

by Andrés T. Tapia –

This article was published by the New America Media.KeikoFujimori_500x279

Keiko Fujimori lost Peru’s presidential election Sunday. But don’t expect the dynamic, if difficult, Keiko–age 36, female, Gen Xer, of Japanese descent, mother of two toddlers, spouse of an American and daughter of a former president, who is now incarcerated–to fade into the shadows of Latin American politics.

Keiko–as she’s known universally in Peru–has been the candidate of the unexpected and a force that likely altered Peruvian national politics for years to come.

At the presidential debate last week with her second round opponent–and Peru’s new president–Ollanta Humala, her opening statement had a greeting in Quechua–the language of the descendants of the Incas in the Andes of Peru. And her closing statement concluded with sign language.

What’s more, Keiko appealed to the youth vote by laying out her “Mi Primera Chamba”–My First Gig–scholarship program and to the Mom vote by promising to create nutrition programs and quality education for children.

This is not just typical political pandering in Peru, but stem from who Keiko is. She allowed TV hostess Magaly to come to her home. After they chatted like two girlfriends, she gave Magaly a tour of her middle-class home. Along the way she showed off Peruvian Andean landscape paintings her imprisoned father has done in jail, and then the pair ended up in Keiko’s kitchen, where she expertly chopped vegetables for that evening’s dinner.

Defying Expectations
Keiko–as everyone calls her–has become adept at presenting herself in visuals that defy traditional expectations.

When her parents split up in a bitter divorce during her father’s presidency, Keiko, then age 19, officially became First Lady to fill in for her exiting mother’s responsibilities.

Despite ample opportunities to go anywhere for college, she headed to Boston University to earn a degree in business administration. She returned married to Mark Vito, an U.S.-born IBM consultant, who did not speak Spanish.

Without a hint of self-consciousness, Keiko projected her Japanese visage on big screens at political rallies surrounded by a sea of dark-skinned indigenous Peruvians. Though her roots are Asian, she appealed to them as one of them, her racial minority physical features presenting a kindred-outsider status to the marginalized people of Peru–just as happened when her father ascended to power.

The elements of her biography don’t merely translate into images defying the status quo; they drive her fusion of a right-of-center and a populist political platform. Her ease with crossing socioeconomic and racial barriers has influenced a right-brain/left-brain, left-wing/right-wing heterodoxy that is both pragmatic and passionate.

Despite deeply held reservations by many Peruvians about her filial links to her father, jailed for corruption and human rights abuses, Keiko’s implicit and explicit diversity and her messages of inclusion, helped propel her into the second and final electoral round having beat out another former president, Alejandro Toledo, and a successful former minister of finance and economy, Pedro Pablo Kuczynski–a graduate of both Oxford and Princeton Universities, no less.

Presidential Candidate Mom
Keiko was also nearly the first Latin American female president with young children and, therefore, the first high-profile role model for work-and-family flexibility. As is typical of middle-class Peruvians, she has live-in childcare help. But her fluid movement in and out of her roles as leader and mother seems remarkably seamless.

After the first-round election results were announced and Keiko was declared one of the two finalists, Keiko handled her press conference with ease.

Afterward as she exited through the phalanx of journalists, her 18-month-old, Kaori Marcela, straddled in her left arm, Keiko took impromptu questions shouted out by journalists. As the child began to fuss, she switched from potential president of Peru to attentive Mom. With a smile, Keiko said, “Ok, it’s time–got to go.”

And with no apology, she left. Whatever else may come for Keiko, that’s what her multicultural country folk will remember. Keiko–young, centered and, without apologies, very much herself.

Now in her loss, she must plot out her next career move while Dad sits in jail with no chance of a pardon and her children continue to make their toddler demands. Meanwhile, she will watch as her rival takes the reins of the future she had been so certain was destined to be hers. 

She has time – a lot of it – to let things play out. Five years from now Keiko’s Magical Diversity Tour still likely to be fueled up and waiting for her to lead the way.

Peru Election 2011: Keiko Fujimori’s Magical Diversity Tour

by Andrés T. Tapia –

This article was published by the New America Media.

KeikoFujimori_500x279Keiko Fujimori–age 36, female, Gen Xer, of Japanese descent, mother of two toddlers, spouse of an American and daughter of a former president, who is now incarcerated–may be Peru’s next president.

If chosen in Sunday’s election, Fujimori would be Peru’s first woman president and one of four today in Latin America—and one of only seven in the region’s history. Like Laura Chinchilla in Costa Rica, Cristina Kirchner in Argentina and Dilma Rousseff in Brazil, her gender will influence her agenda. But so will her youth.

At the presidential debate last week with her second round opponent, Ollanta Humala, her opening statement had a greeting in Quechua–the language of the descendants of the Incas in the Andes of Peru. And her closing statement concluded with sign language.

What’s more, Fujimori appealed to the youth vote by laying out her “Mi Primera Chamba”–My First Gig–scholarship program and to the Mom vote by promising to create nutrition programs and quality education for children.

This is not just typical political pandering in Peru, but stem from who Fujimori is. She allowed TV hostess Magaly to come to her home. After they chatted like two girlfriends, she gave Magaly a tour of her middle-class home. Along the way she showed off Peruvian Andean landscape paintings her imprisoned father has done in jail, and then the pair ended up in Fujimori’s kitchen, where she expertly chopped vegetables for that evening’s dinner.

Defying Expectations
Keiko—as everyone calls her—has become adept at presenting herself in visuals that defy traditional expectations.

When her parents split up in a bitter divorce during her father’s presidency, Keiko, then age19, officially became First Lady to fill in for her exiting mother’s responsibilities.

Despite ample opportunities to go anywhere for college, she headed to Boston University to earn a degree in business administration. She returned married to Mark Vito, an U.S.-born IBM consultant, who did not speak Spanish.

Without a hint of self-consciousness, Keiko projects her Japanese visage on big screens at political rallies surrounded by a sea of dark-skinned indigenous Peruvians. Though her roots are Asian, she appeals to them as one of them, her racial minority physical features presenting a kindred-outsider status to the marginalized people of Peru–just as happened when her father ascended to power.

The elements of her biography don’t merely translate into images defying the status quo; they drive her fusion of a right-of-center and a populist political platform. Her ease with crossing socioeconomic and racial barriers has influenced a right-brain/left-brain, left-wing/right-wing heterodoxy that is both pragmatic and passionate.

Despite deeply held reservations by many Peruvians about her filial links to her father, jailed for corruption and human rights abuses, Keiko’s implicit and explicit diversity and her messages of inclusion, helped propel her into the second and final electoral round having beat out another former president, Alejandro Toledo, and a successful former minister of finance and economy, Pedro Pablo Kuczynski—a graduate of both Oxford and Princeton Universities, no less.

Presidential Candidate Mom
Keiko would also be the first Latin American female president with young children and, therefore, the first high-profile role model for work-and-family flexibility. As is typical of middle-class Peruvians, she has live-in childcare help. But her fluid movement in and out of her roles as leader and mother seems remarkably seamless.

After the first-round election results were announced and Keiko was declared one of the two finalists, Keiko handled her press conference with ease.

Afterward as she exited through the phalanx of journalists, her 18-month-old, Kaori Marcela, straddled in her left arm, Keiko took impromptu questions shouted out by journalists. As the child began to fuss, she switched from potential president of Peru to attentive Mom. With a smile, Keiko said, “Ok, it’s time–got to go.”

And with no apology, she left.

Peru Election 2011: Democracy’s Faustian Choices

by Andrés T. Tapia —

This article was published by the New America Media.

peru_election_500x279

On Sunday, June 5, I will join thousands of expat Peruvians at St. Agustin College in Chicago to vote in the second and final electoral round in choosing the next president of Peru.

The collective mood of Peruvians is highly apprehensive about what’s next, despite–or perhaps because ofthe country’s substantial eight percent growth in gross national product in five of the last six years. That is among the highest in the world.

Sunday’s election is where the red-hot issues of race, gender, age, imprisonment, insurrection, poverty and economic boom will be shaken in a volatile political cocktail.

The choice between Keiko Fujimori and Ollanta Humala has come down to two candidates with a lot of potentially problematic baggage. Keiko is the daughter of former President Alberto Fujimori who is serving multiple multiyear sentences in a maximum-security prison in Lima, convicted of corruption and human rights abuses.

Ollanta led two failed insurrections in the Andes against democratically elected governments, and his father espouses an indigenous nationalistic ideology that borders on reverse racism.

These are not the kind of pedigrees that inspire change Peruvians can believe in.

Below the Surface
Yet…Yet, as is often the case in surrealistic Peru, what is on and below the surface, confounds logic. And unexpected turns of events can be equally damming or redemptive. Both candidates are exercising considerable effort to cut the binds of their political past.

In the final debate last Sunday between the two, Fujimori did her best to paint Humala as a destabilizing force, but he held his ground as someone who has recast his persona–aided by Brazilian political consultants–as a man of reason, rather than as a firebrand revolutionary.

And try as Humala did to link Fujimori to the corruption that had led to her father’s imprisonment, she stopped him in his tracks by asserting that Humala had spent most of his time debating the wrong person. “I am the candidate, not the man who is sitting in prison.” The sins of the fathers, she insisted, should not be visited upon their offspring.

While many Peruvians are willing to give Fujimori this pass–as she leads in the polls by about four percentage points but with a very large percentage of undecided voters– many are not.

Bitterness still surfaces at what many consider betrayal on the part of Alberto Fujimori, who arguably could have gone down in history as one of Peru’s greatest presidents after he tamed hyperinflation, defeated two terrorist movements, and laid the foundation for Peru’s sustained economic boom.

His downfall?

Whether it was willingly or coerced, Fujimori entered a Faustian pact with Vladimiro Montesinos, his head of DINCOTE, the Peruvian secret service. Montesinos bribed politicians, generals, TV station owners and journalists with bundles of cash, while he lead a brutal, no-holds-barred war against terrorism.

After separate fugitive escapes to other countries both men were dramatically captured and ended up in the same prison convicted by Peruvian courts on multiple counts. As befitting of a Latin American novel, they were initially incarcerated in  the same jail holding Abimael Guzman, the Peruvian Osama bin Laden. Through his Shining Path movement, Guzman had unleashed real and psychological destruction on Peruvian society. He had heroically been captured under the leadership of his current prison mates.

Terrorism, Torture and Human Rights
So it is that Peruvian society is highly polarized about Keiko Fujimori’s father in a way echoing the U.S. debate around whether torture– along with its the suspension of human rights– is justifiable when facing nihilistic terrorists willing to kill anyone and everyone.

But it wasn’t the human rights debate that sunk Peru’s first president of Japanese descent. Most Peruvians, who lived the sheer terror of Guzman’s Shining Path, with its car bombs and massacres, were willing to make their own Faustian deal by looking the other way as Fujimori’s regime put an end to the Shining Path’s madness–but only by responding in kind.

No, what did Fujimori in for many Peruvians, was the blatant bribery conducted in the name of a leader, who had established a new pragmatic, non-ideological paradigm for bringing about change.

It was under Fujimori that the longstanding practices of massive disregard for paying taxes came to an end, as he prosecuted many of the nonbelievers in paying state tribute.

Even as people were pissed off at having to pay taxes, grudging respect became growing respect for a president, who made it clear that there were rules all–with no exceptions even among the elite–had to follow.

As Peruvians got in line with the country’s new path, state revenues grew and were put into transformational use, building thousands of schools, kilometers of highways, electrical grids and water systems.

That the exemplar of rectitude had under his nose one of the most blatant bribery campaigns the country had ever seen was unforgivable.

It’s forgiveness, however, that’s on Keiko’s mind–or more accurately, a pardon. It’s no secret that she does not believe innocent people should be in jail and since she insists her father is not guilty, she would likely pardon him.

While Peruvians debate the limits of forgiveness, Ollanta offers another test.

His first presidential campaign five years ago when he lost to Alan Garcia was partially bankrolled by Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez. His policies are antithetical to the free market economic programs that have reduced extreme poverty in Peru from 50 percent to 30 percent. Massive foreign investment in Peru has fueled the economic transformation.

Still, that leaves one-third of the country in abject poverty, a damning metric. It is this proportion of the population that has declared trickle down a fiction and see in Humala someone who will plead their cause regardless of his history of insurrection or suspect influences. They are willing to make this Faustian tradeoff.

For Ollanta, though, Chavez’s well documented ambition to extend the Cuban Revolution into modern day Venezuela–and his eagerness to influence other parts of South America via Bolivia’s Evo Morales and Ecuador’s Rafael Correa–are the very things that may make enough Peruvians turn away from him and look the other way, yet again.

If so, they in turn will cast their own Faustian vote that may indeed free Alberto Fujimori, as the price for hopefully preserving the economic boom.

Brazil’s Economic Future Depends on Education and Diversity

by Andrés T. Tapia —


Brazil_kids-recifeSAO PAOLO – As the focus goes to the implications of  Dilma Rousseff’s election on Sunday, as I left Brazil a few days ago I thought about how much of its promising future depends not only on macro and microeconomics and globalization, but also on the education of its children.

With a growing economy, increasing political stability, and a renewed national sense of hope, Brazil now faces one of its most pressing challenges – educating its youth. A World Bank report concluded that unless the country addresses its current state of education, Brazil will likely fall behind other developing countries, threatening its plans to be a dominant player on the world’s economic stage.

The numbers are, indeed, troubling. Brazilian students score among the lowest on international tests for basic skills in reading, mathematics, and science. They trail other Latin American countries like Chile, Mexico, and Uruguay. Brazilian 15-year-olds tied for 49th out of 56 countries on the reading portion of the Program for International Student Assessment. And more than 50% scored in the bottom reading level of the test, performing even worse in math and science. And according to the Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics, Brazil has one of the highest high school drop out rates for students in its region.

Underneath these stats exists a yawning gap between more-affluent Brazilians and the country’s poor citizens. The educational achievement of students who are descendents of Indigenous people, Africans, or youngsters from poor rural areas is even worse than the national stats indicate.

To its credit, the Brazilian government has taken aggressive steps to address this situation, most notably the Bolsa Família initiative, a subsidy program that, among other things, requires school attendance. More poor students are in school and staying longer, as a result. And according to a New York Times article, education has become a burning issue for departing President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, who sees the issue as an important part of his legacy. But is it enough?

Let’s overlay the education statistics onto a peek at Brazil’s economic situation. The Brazilian GDP is more than $2 trillion and, according to Forbes Magazine, continues to grow thanks to new oil discoveries and its exportation of minerals and raw materials. The government is investing heavily in its IT sector and the national infrastructure. And yet, companies are facing the challenge of finding workers with enough basic skills to fill even manual labor jobs, exacerbating the country’s extreme gap between wealthy citizens and those in dire poverty.

All together – the need for skilled workers at all levels, a growing economy, and a struggling educational system – this situation represents a formula for future troubles. There simply won’t be enough adequately educated youth prepared to take their rightful places in the Brazilian workforce to sustain its national goals. And that’s the real threat all the crianças ( kids) I see on the streets of San Paulo represent.

This scenario cries for a diversity intervention – one that enables the entire Brazilian society, particularly its elite, to put as much effort in educating its marginalized and poorer citizens, not simply because it’s the right thing to do, but because it’s an economic necessity. As I suggest in the Inclusion Paradox, it will take Brazilians understanding the differences within their country’s various ethnic and marginalized social groups, building on common cultural touchstones, and then, finding the Brazilian way to navigate those differences. A tall order, but one, I believe that Brazil which has shown the energy and political and social will to address its earlier challenges, can certainly accomplish.

Brazilian Particularism – The Ying and Yang of Going With the Flow

by Andres T. Tapia —

Brazil_-_Rio_de_JaneiroMilton really had me. As my driver in Rio for a full day of sightseeing, attending a futbol match, and then taking me to the airport, he had me fully enthralled by his stories, carioca philosophy, humor, and ability to tap into my Latin sense of solidarity. And by the end of the day he also had me in that he cheated me out of an extra $50.

Or maybe he didn’t. And it’s in the ambiguity of what happened that doing business in Brazil is often like.

So, to understand the rest of the story, a rapid explanation of two contrasting worldviews in how fairness is interpreted: Particularism is a worldview that is comfortable determining what is fair based on circumstances vs Universalism which believes that what is fair is based on rules that apply to everyone equally.

The day had unfolded in a comfortable particularistic way for this Peruvian who also comes from a spontaneous society. On a whim here and there, I had Milton stop there and here. The beaches of Ipanema and Copacabana, Pão de Açúcar (Sugar Loaf Mountain), Corcovado (Christ the Redeemer). We stopped to see a samba school practice on a side street. I got out and walked on the malecon along the coast with azure waters to the East and lush green mountains to the West.

Near Copacabana he convinced me to check out an exclusive jewelry sale where, if he dropped off someone he had “recruited,” he would get a “drop off” commission. I was willing to help him get some extra cash because I saw it as a good opportunity to journalistically experience one of those exclusive sales where smartly dressed women and men pull out thin drawers of the most exquisite and expensive jewelry. Half a million dollars worth of jewelry were paraded in front of me with the salesperson’s promise that my wife would love me forever if I succumbed to their rubied and topazed enchantments.

After extricating myself from the hard sale hiding behind a veneer of upper class feigned detachment, I found Milton waiting for me, engine running to scoot me over to that famed soccer temple, Maracana Stadium, where two of Rio’s archrival soccer teams were playing against each other. The elite’s favorite, Fluminense, and the passion of those living in the impoverished favelas, Botafogo. Thanks to his connections he helped me get last minute tickets to the sold-out game where the torcidas, fan sections, shashayed for 90 minutes to the samba rhythms drummed out of the baterias.

As he dropped me off, the easy camaraderie that we had developed was reinforced as he pumped me up with fascinating stories of the long standing soccer rivalry. He gave me explicit instructions about leaving the game 5 minutes before the final whistle no matter how exciting the game was to ensure we would not get caught in the sea of jubilant and dejected fans from the two different teams and where to find him so he could whisk me off to the airport to catch my flight in time.

And true to plan, there he was in the designated spot. I hopped in, he shook my hand, and we celebrated the eventful game. He had listened to the game on the radio so we easily shared in the replays of the great moments.

The day had been fun and joyous, and I gotten to do all that I had hoped for during my last day in Rio. As we neared the airport and I was pulling out the cash to cover the agreed-to fare for the full day with multiple stops, he had “unfortunate” news to share with me. While waiting for me outside the stadium, he had had to take a risk and had parked in a no-wait zone and a policeman had fined him $50 and could I include that in my fare since he had risked it just for me? Hmmmmm…..

One of Brazil’s greatest assets, as well as challenge, in consolidating its position as the fifth largest economy on the world stage, is a cultural trait of being able to flex to whatever gets put in front its people. Whether it be unexpected events, laws, circumstances, Brazilians are adept at going with the flow, a trait caricaturized by the brilliant soccer metaphor of joie de cintura, game of the waist, full of flourishes, feints, dips, knee bends, and hip throws.

What Is Right?

For Americans and other cultures that are more universalist, this can be challenging. I realized then that Brazilians were even more particularist than the particularist Peru I had grown up with. But was this truly a particularist situation where Milton was asking me to partake of the risk and rewards of going with the flow that sometimes included bending the rules? Or was this a con?

I was conflicted. I felt the twinge of this being a set up, but on the other hand Milton had truly provided me with an extraordinary day. Was this a way of him making sure I tipped him? Was it an indirect way of recoupping the low ball day fare he had offered me before he realized how many places I would ask to go to? Was there a real fine in the mix or a bribe he had to offer the police officer to get his driver’s license back? I had no idea. And there I was in the back of the seat of Milton’s cab, door open, next to the TAM Airlines departures entrance.

So I split the difference and said, l didn’t ask you to park illegally but since you did it for my benefit, I’ll pay for half of that fine. I added $25 to the total agreed to amount for the day. Milton’s mood darkened as he took the money. We said our tchaus (goodbyes), and I had many obrigados (thank yous) to shower on him, but the spell had been broken. And so with my carry-on to my side, I lingered standing on the curb, as I watched Milton drive away. The Brazilian saying, “to a friend, everything; to an enemy, the law” scrolled through my mind.

As I have written in The Inclusion Paradox I believe that every culture has the virtues of its worldview plus the shadow side of that worldview that, when left unchecked, leads to less than ideal behaviors. Is the shadow side of particularism that with ever changing rules others can be more easily manipulated? Is the shadow side of universalism mercilessness when not considering individual circumstances in the imposition of the law?

To this day I don’t know what Milton had intended, if anything. I just know that I was uncertain in the moment of the ask, and in my response. I simply did not know what was below the waterline. I just knew that I could not rely on what I felt.

And that did not feel good.

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