Continuing our series of women entrepreneurs and sustainability change makers, meet Mariana Madureira. Mariana tells us about the current state of sustainable tourism in Brazil, how social entrepreneurship is benefiting local communities, and the main challenges Brazil faces as tourist destination.
- Community-based tourism in Brazil;
- The current state of tourism sustainability in Brazil;
- The main challenges Brazil faces regarding sustainable tourism development;
- Tips for female entrepreneurs on how to succeed with a social enterprise.
Mariana, your home country of Brazil is widely admired for its breathtaking landscapes and rich cultural traditions, but also pitied for its social inequality and large-scale environmental degradation. Do you remember when you first thought about the sustainability of tourism? What got you interested in the topic?
I’ve started thinking about tourism as a force for good when I traveled to the USA for an exchange program during high school. I had the chance to live with a family totally different from my own and to experience a different view of the world. When I came back, I noticed I was a much more open and tolerant person than most of my acquaintances. I realized then how important traveling is for self-consciousness, and the potential tourism has for teaching us about people, history and the environment, as well as connecting us as human beings. So, at the age of 16, I decided to study tourism.
At university, I had the opportunity to think about the wide impacts of tourism on destination communities and the environment. I became particularly interested in the topics of gentrification, heritage and authenticity – on which I focused my master thesis.
Reinforcing the importance of local people and their culture, and valuing simplicity, seems to me a great tool to fight standardization and culture loss. If we add up the income generated through tourism as a stimulus for keeping people in their original places, community-based tourism [CBT] can really help sustainable development.
With Raízes we developed a five year project in the Jequitinhonha Valley that we are very proud of and which we consider a successful case of CBT.
I’m also a volunteer for Projeto Bagagem, an NGO that supports Turisol (Brazilian Network of Solidarity and Community Based Tourism) and promotes CBT in Brazil.
And I’ve decided to keep studying to better understand the potential of tourism for change: I’m currently a PhD researcher in psychosociology of communities and social ecology.
You are involved with Raízes Desenvolvimento Sustentável since 2006. Can you briefly explain what this is about and how (as a social enterprise) your approach is perhaps different from that of more conventional tourism advisors?
Being a social business is a double challenge: we must, at the same time, deliver to the needs of the market (as a company) and effectively support a cause (as NGO).
Our approach with Raízes is different from that most conventional tourism advisors. Although there are some very committed ones, the majority tend to consider “result” a report very well done with attendance list, photos, explanations of the methodology and justification for the action delivered.
Of course, reports are important and we do work with them. But for us, result is the actual change in the reality of the communities we work with, and the effectiveness of the actions in the mid to long-term. This means that we often spend our own resources on monitoring community projects that are “considered done” by the clients.
Which are the most common issues communities in tourist destinations in Brazil face linked to tourism and sustainability? Do you have examples?
Unfortunately, we still have many issues to overcome to properly develop tourism in Brazil, especially sustainable and community-based tourism. We can see issues related to all tourism actors: business owners, employees, local inhabitants, NGOs and even tourists. I’ll focus on some of the governmental issues here, as they seem to me the most pressing nowadays.
Brazil still lacks many public policies, such as one that supports small business and community-owned properties in tourism, and prevents international chains to take home a substantial part of the income generated in Brazil.
Although Brazil has some very well written policies (that could even serve as examples for other countries), many of them end up failing at the time of implementation – be it because of technical incompetence, insufficient inspection funds or corruption issues.
Our indigenous policies are a good example. In 2015 Funai (the government agency for indigenous matters) launched a policy for tourism in indigenous lands. The implementation, however, is now delayed by the resignation of Funai’s president (for obscure reasons), and frequent land invasions due to lack of proper protection.
With its focus on fossil fuels, mining and soy (among other agroindustry products), the Brazilian government has never paid much attention to tourism. Our tourism ministry was created only in 2003. It had a good start, producing valuable short-term plans, but implementation is lagging due to corruption charges against some of the ministry’s executives in 2011. Since then the Ministry of Tourism hasn’t done anything really relevant.
And right now we are facing an economic, political and moral crisis across Brazil. This slows down tourism activities and developments. We know that many changes are necessary and we hope that we can use the momentum created through this crisis to tackle them.
In 2016 you were involved in the “Green Passport” initiative. What was this project about? And your key insights/lessons learned from being involved?
It’s about time people realize that tourism is not a “clean industry”. To the contrary, it is damaging our natural environment in many ways, especially through greenhouse gas emissions and excessive waste production.
Some of our choices can make our trips much more environmental friendly, but we need to acquire a deep understanding in order to make the right choices and to convince others to consume differently – and less.
For the Olympic Games in Rio, the UNEP joined forces with the Olympic Committee for the Green Passport initiatives. I was very happy that they invited Raízes to support the initiative. It was an opportunity to take advantage of the Games’ enormous audience to talk about sustainability in tourism. We tried to make it as fun and interactive as possible.
Brazilians were our main target, since we realized that their consciousness about the impact of travel was low – probably because the sustainability theme is still being associated with big companies and industries or considered an academic term that doesn’t refer to our daily routine. Transmitting the sustainability message through simple actions was our strategy to help Brazilians recognize the role their own actions play regarding tourism sustainability.
As a female social entrepreneur in Brazil, which 3 aspects of starting, running and growing a social enterprise do you find the most difficult?
Starting: creating the business model for a social enterprise is a big challenge. You have to match the needs of the community, people or cause you want to benefit and the interest of the clients that might want to pay for it.
Running a business in Brazil require us to be flexible and to multitask. Hiring is expensive and in the beginning entrepreneurs usually deal with all the areas of the company.
Growing a social enterprise can be easier if you develop a scalable model. There are some funds especially designed for social business scalability in Brazil: Artemisia, Vox Capital, Sitawi, Quintessa and others.
Which trends do you observe in tourism right now, which might impact (positively or negatively) the sustainability of destinations in Brazil – and the well-being of communities?
Globally I see the “2017 International Year of Sustainable Tourism” declared by the UNWTO an opportunity to think about and discuss tourism and its (un)sustainability. Unfortunately, I don’t think that these discussions will lead to real change or transformation, because the necessary changes for a more sustainable tourism might be very inconvenient for some industries, and even for consumers/tourists.
In Brazil, community tourism is a trend. Brazilian tourists are just starting to be interested in community destinations sold to them as “experience tourism”. Overseas visitors have always been keen to explore different cultures and to visit indigenous tribes and traditional communities such as quilombolas, sertanejos and ribeirinhos – or favelas.
Growing interest in community-based tourism experiences is a great potential for economic development, but also a risk to their way of life and the environment in which they live. We need to be very conscious about this and careful.
Reflecting on the lessons that you have learned so far through your professional work, what 3 bits of advice would you give to women in Brazil keen to start their own responsible tourism business?
1 – Be very conscious of your purpose (why do you want to start a business?), your abilities and resources (what and how). Make sure they match the expectations or needs of the territory/market you are planning to work in. Finding the right balance between what you like to do, the needs of the planet and what people are prepared to pay for is a big challenge. Chase it.
2 – Don’t think too small. We, women, tend to leave the big achievement for men and content ourselves with crumbs. It’s about time we show presence in the higher positions. Not because we need to compete with men, but because the world lacks feminine energy. Women in leadership tend to embrace causes, care for the people and the planet much more than men.
3 – Be persistent. It takes time and a lot of patience to achieve your goals. Be financially prepared because it might cost you some money too. I assure you’ll learn a lot by running your own business, but sometimes you’ll literally have to buy this knowledge.
Thank you, Mariana.
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