Tales from the Lockdown #7: a conversation with Antonio Batista, Fundação Dom Cabral

18 May 2020

In this series of conversations, our guests talk to Senior Consultant Claudia Monteiro about what they're learning during the pandemic and what future they're imagining.


Antonio Batista da Silva Junior, President, Fundação Dom Cabral

Has your school’s mission shifted in any way with this pandemic?

Our crisis taskforce came up with three areas of focus for this pandemic and community was one of them. Our mission has been deepened through those activities.

Brazil is such an unequal society with enormous gaps between those at the top and those at the bottom of the social pyramid, and that got us talking about how we could support those informal, small, often one-man-band businesses that make such a significant proportion of our economic fabric. I’m talking about people like the street seller, the hairdresser and the café owner, so many of them operating from favelas. How could we offer knowledge to this community of people who are going to be hit so hard in this downturn? Employment was already at 11% before the pandemic and it’s going to get worse.

And so we came up with EM:FRENTE [Straight Ahead], a movement to capacitate, mentor and offer micro-finance to one million businesses across Brazil. The programme utilises three tools. The first one is made of entry-level financial management tools and personal development delivered online. The second tool is a programme of mentorship and at the last count we had more than 1,000 people registered to offer mentorship, from teachers to alumni and executives. The third is about offering micro-credit, in partnership with lenders in various regions, and awarding money prizes to those who are doing well in the programme. We’re calling it a movement and we’re bringing lots of partners in. It’s the first time an initiative of such scale and reach launches in Brazil.

The other programme we’re offering as part of our community mission is leadership development for NGOs, who are going to be even busier to lift Brazil out of the economic crunch that’s coming. We’re currently training 50 NGOS pro bono.

What aren’t we talking enough about during this crisis?

We’ve all been aware of how much our lives need changing and the pandemic has accelerated the debate around conscious capitalism and sustainability. I believe now is the time to go back to the ideals of the French Revolution: liberty, equality, fraternity. We must do better, no person or organisation can look after themselves alone and this crisis is telling us that we must look after each other. Back in the 20C companies were defined as agents of economic growth but in the 21C they’re being asked to become agents for social good.

There is a growing crisis of political leadership around the world and higher education must respond to that, our job is to nurture good citizens. We need to understand the shift in political influence too and how that impacts our lives – who is most powerful, the president of Brazil or the CEO of Google? Do we have a say in how those leaders are chosen? How do we hold them accountable?

That means business schools must model good leadership. An array of skillsets like marketing or finance will always have a place but now more than ever we must seriously look at our curriculum and pedagogy and support students and organisations to become agents for social good.

What partnerships and collaborations really came into play when it came down to it?

We are in a robust position and, in some ways, we flipped that coin and asked who should we be supporting at a time like this. Several companies in our supply chain are small to medium businesses whose revenues have all but disappeared and we decided to contribute with payments to our taxi drivers, bus operators, restaurant suppliers and to our part-time faculty whose income depends on the teaching load.

And we’ve teamed up with local councils and regional state offices (we have campuses in three federal states) to deliver knowledge and services that keep those fragile supply chains going.

Name one change that you or your organisation has been forced to take that you’d like to carry into the future?

Technology and distance learning are here to stay, and we’ll be looking at new methodologies and content. Two years ago, we setup an AI lab with IBM and only last year we started an online programme joined by 7000 executives, so in some ways we were prepared for this. I still think lots of people – both students and faculty – will resist online learning and call for real experiential learning, which no machine can ever replace.

What have you learnt about yourself?

I’m learning about what’s essential every time I look at my closet, open my fridge or walk past my bookshelves. I think we’re all going through this internal tidying up of our lives, a realignment of what’s important.

This crisis has brought on more of who we are into the workplace – the daily clutter of our home life is lurking in. How are you experiencing that?

We’ve all been looking hard in the mirror and it hasn’t been easy to manage the stress that comes with being homebound. In Brazil you hug your relations, you get together with family and friends all the time and that’s been taken away.

It’s been a bold time too; colleagues are throwing in ideas that previously might have been taboo. People are being open and coming up with creative solutions to these challenging times.

And wellbeing has become a focus. We created I’m looking after myself, an initiative to crowdsource tips and good experiences around mindfulness, exercise, house chores, books and films. It’s like we’re consciously investing in getting to knowing the self and managing our wellbeing. I hope that stays with us.

Any final thoughts?

Every time humanity gets tested something good comes out on the other side, and I believe that can happen again. Solidarity and collaboration are the only way out of this crisis. 

Photo: Suzy Hazelwood from Pexels


Read more Tales of the Lockdown with

Kai Peters, Coventry University, UK

Molly Ihlbrock, ESMT Berlin, Germany

Dil Sidhu, Coursera, USA

Sarah Lethbridge, Cardiff Business School, UK 

Ivan Bofarull, ESADE, Spain

Rob Angell, Southampton University Business School, UK

Yusra Mouzughi, Muscat University, Oman

Kate Kearins, Auckland University of Technology, New Zealand 

Daniel Traça, Nova School of Business and Economics (Nova SBE), Portugal


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