Update on Innovation in Brazil, with a Highlight on Education

My recent visit to three beautiful regions of Brazil included opportunities to learn more about the economic climate and the future of innovation. Entrepreneurial opportunities are tremendous for innovative and bold Brazilians, in spite of the challenges that come with extremely expensive capital, high taxation, and occasional bureaucratic barriers. Brazil continues rising rapidly, on its way to be one of the world’s great superpowers. The spirit of Brazil was contagious!

The opportunities from the agricultural potential of Brazil are mind-boggling. The biodiversity of the few parts I saw was overwhelming, and that was only a minute sampling. By strengthening the airport system in Brazil, there are many opportunities to move away from supplying bulk commodities like fiber and coffee to providing value-added consumer products shipped directly to consumer markets. A nationwide effort to enhance transportation is needed (and is underway). One product area where I eagerly await further progress is in the field of beverages. For example, all over Brazil there are drinks based on the guarana berry from the Amazon, including the wildly popular Antarctica brand carbonated beverage. These are more popular than cola beverages and frankly, they taste much better. This one of many Brazilian flavors waiting to emerge into the US market.

Brazilian businesses have also evolved a variety of interesting business models, including efficient methods for managing buffets where you pay by the kilo. I would welcome that approach here.

The business area that most impressed me for its innovation was in the field of education, and distance education is particular. I had the privilege of meeting with the CEO of POSEAD, a remarkable company offering distance learning service to Spanish and Portuguese speakers. They have drawn upon 40 years of experience in a non-profit educational organization, CETEB, along with many years of commercial experience, to create a rapidly growing business that solves some of the real problems of education and training in emerging nations, where the cost of commuting to a school or training center may exceed monthly incomes. They have developed advanced diagnostics and delivery systems to really understand what a student is doing, what they need, and how to get them to move forward. There are so many mistakes that can be made by newcomers in this area, especially in meeting the needs of Spanish and Portuguese speakers, but they’ve figured out how to avoid them and have created a remarkable efficiency in their systems that results in extremely low cost.

Some of the innovation in education goes back to a remarkable woman, Rosa Pessina, who long ago recognized that the pressure to build more schools to accommodate burgeoning classes in the earlier grades was treating a symptom, not the cause of the problem. Her analysis showed that class sizes were suffering because too many students were failing to advance in school, resulting in low graduation rates and high class sizes as kids went back through the same grade more than once. She then developed programs for accelerated learning to help these kids quickly get back to the right grade for their age, making the students feel better about the class they were in and enhancing motivation. This was the beginning of the non-profit organization CETEB, and those who participate in its accelerated learning programs have a 94% success rate, if I remember correctly–an extremely high percentage that go on to graduate. CETEB’s services include distance learning tools to help Portuguese and Spanish speakers. There is a huge opportunity here for the United States, where we have the children of many Spanish-speaking immigrants doing poorly in the schools. If they do not gain an education, the risk for ongoing poverty and crime is much higher. By accelerating their progress and helping them gain education at low cost, remarkable social good could be achieved here in the U.S. Governors, CETEB awaits your call!

There are layers of innovation in other areas in both CETEB and POSEAD, including how they quality and prepare content, how they form alliances, how they manage the challenges of certification and regulatory burdens, and in general how they identify and meet the needs of students and communities. There are brilliant minds at work here, and I feel that it’s time for US schools, companies, and governments to explore collaborative efforts. I’d be happy to help make a connection.

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