Note from BBT: Salvador, Bahia, is one of those places that will always provoke memories. After a fascination the history of black Brazilians hit me on Christmas Eve, 1999, I knew I had to visit the country, specifically Salvador, Bahia, for my first trip to the country. It didn’t disappoint. Being there for three weeks on that first trip was a life-changing experience as I never stopped visiting the country from that point on.
As I explained in memories of that first trip, Salvador, and Bahia as a whole reminded me of my own family whenever I would “go down south”. Walking the streets of Salvador had a certain feel that I would only get when I would visit states in the US such as Georgia, Florida or Alabama. I swear, hanging out there I felt almost as if I would run into somebody from my own family. To understand what I mean, if you’re African-American, you just need to put it on your plans to visit the place someday.
Even as I have such nostalgic memories of Salvador, there are also those things that remind you of the city and state’s colonial past connected to the free labor of the Africans that were shipped to this city, Brazil’s first capital. As you walked around the downtown and take steps around the region known as the Pelourinho, once you know the history, you can almost feel the presence of African ancestors being tortured in this area that literally means “whipping post”.
The memories of the ancestors hits you even more when you venture below famous Mercado Modelo knowing that this empty area is where newly arrived Africans would await their turn to be auctioned off. As flooding from the sea would enter the location, the water would rise and some of those people would end up drowning.
It’s a history that cannot be forgotten once you know it and visit these spots. Yes, reminders of colonial Salvador are everywhere, especially in the downtown region that attracts so many tourists nowadays. But some baianos (Bahians) would like to give a facelift to the image Salvador and its people. And these changes they seek are a huge leap forward from the time when I first visited and most of the people I met didn’t know or have access to the internet and e-mail.
I haven’t been able to visit Bahia since probably about 2009 but I feel the changes the renovations that are being through the news as well as contact withone of the baianos that is making these changes happen. I’ve talked about the entrepreneur Paulo Rogério in previous posts and the visions he has for the Salvador of the future. I haven’t seen Paulo in probably 3-4 years or so, but it’s clear that he’s making things happen.
The next time I’m able to visit Salvador, I definitely want to visit his new venture which he hopes to make into the Silicon Valley of the northeast. Sound exciting? Check the story below and learn how Rogério and his partners are want to explore the full potential of Bahia and its inhabitants and bring them back to the future along the way.
Vale do Dendê (Dendê Valley) combines innovation and ‘Bahianess’ to transform Salvador into the Brazilian Silicon Valley
By Kauê Vieira
Next to Brasília, Salvador is the third most populous city in the country. With about 3 million inhabitants, the capital of the State of Bahia is characterized by being one of the most important tourist routes in Brazil.
The beaches, the abundant heat, the effervescence of the carnival, the gastronomic diversity, the conservation of fundamental elements for the Brazilian history make the capital of Bahia an inexhaustible center of creativity.
After these important elements, a question hangs in the air: to what extent does Salvador take advantage of all its tourist potential? In fact, is the potential for tourism and attracting business and investments restricted to Carnival and the sea? No!
To change this reality. Or rather, make a slight correction of course, but without leaving aside historical markers, the accelerator Vale do Dendê was born with the proposal of becoming the cradle of Bahian creativity.
Innovation involves decentralization of thinking
Launched in November 2017, Vale do Dendê joins the efforts of experienced Bahian professionals to offer consultancy for the development of innovative and creative projects. Based in the financial center of Salvador, the company maps the economic potentials to seek the best partnerships with the public and private sectors.
“We operate on three fronts. One is through a business accelerator that has been accelerating 10 companies and supporting another 30 ventures. The accelerated companies are having access to mentoring, consulting, facilitations, and immersions to scale their businesses, in addition to connecting with potential investors. The network has access to networking events, courses and workshops at our innovation school, our second institutional arm. And finally, we act as a consultancy to help companies, foundations and the public power to understand the potential of innovation and diversity”, explains Paulo Rogério, an advertising executive and entrepreneur known for seeking to implement communication that…. exterminates….. the diversity of the Bahian people, in an interview with Hypeness (website).
In fact, it is in this diverse sense that Vale do Dendê is one of the most interesting new developments of recent times. Thinking of creativity, but without leaving aside the importance of profit, Vale is looking for professionals traditionally excluded from the main Brazilian radars. The motto is to keep away from stereotypes. Once again, it is not about excluding elements that form the “Soteropolitan” (native of Salvador), such as music and the arts, on the contrary. Paulo and his team are careful to embrace the intellectual, academic, entrepreneurial, and artistic manifestations of a historically excluded part of the city.
“Our programs focus on peripheral regions and, in the case of Salvador, the Historic Center, which has great economic potential, but is still far from private investment, which means that many century-old mansions are empty. We always make a parallel between Salvador and historic cities like New Orleans (US), Barcelona (Spain) or Cartagena de Indias (Colombia), cities that invested in the creative economy as a fact of income generation. We are the Brazilian capital of music, according to UNESCO, an architectural ensemble unique in Brazil and we still have a great international asset that is the African culture. That is why we believe in Salvador’s potential to be recognized as Brazil’s capital of creativity and innovation”, he points out.
The Bahian Silicon Valley is being generated
To better understand this, here are some subsidies. Salvador is the city with the largest number of black people outside Africa. Among its 3 million inhabitants, more than 85% are black people. Now, is this dominance reflected in the so-called spaces of power?
Because of the shadow of systemic racism, black men and women, especially those living in peripheral neighborhoods, remain outside the umbrella. This majority population still has to fight to enter spaces that are considered exclusive. The problem is that, as mentioned, we are talking about the majority of the inhabitants of the capital of Bahia. In other words, Salvador ends up leaving aside an immense creative potential, income and investment generator.
“We are one of the cities that most bears the sad legacy of slavery, for having been, like Rio, a major port for the sale of human beings during slavery and for having been capital cities at different times. Here, the numerical majority does not translate into economic power. Different from cities like Atlanta or Chicago, here there is no black middle class from the economic point of view. We are looking for ways to reverse this, betting on the qualification of local entrepreneurs and creating vectors of income generation by analyzing productive areas such as tourism, entertainment, fashion, gastronomy, and technology. That’s why we are betting a lot on the internationalization of the city to attract, for example, the African-American capital that represents 1.5 trillion dollars and that seeks ways to invest in black communities outside the US. Salvador is the ideal place for this strategic investment”, points out Paulo Rogério, who in recent years has been present at meetings with people like former US president Barack Obama.
Besides Paulo Rogério, Vale do Dendê includes the presence of three other managers. They are Itala Herta – entrepreneur and cultural producer, with more than 10 years of experience with social innovation projects; Rosenildo Ferreira, a journalist with experience in the newsrooms of major media outlets in the country, such as Jornal do Brasil and IstoÉ Dinheiro. The team is completed by none other than Hélio Santos, a PhD in administration and Master in finance from the University of São Paulo. One of the greatest specialists in diversity management.
You know, representation matters, so the careful look of four black people, with diverse backgrounds, puts Vale do Dendê as an example of successful entrepreneurship.
In less than a year there have been more than 100 projects monitored by the company.
For some time now, black men and women have been on the front lines of the entrepreneurial market. According to a survey conducted by Sebrae and published on the Correio Nagô portal, between 2002 and 2012, 50% of micro and small entrepreneurs declared themselves pretos ou pardos (black or brown). While 40% said they were brancos (white).
However, business management conditions are still different. In the case of black people, the barrier that prevents them from moving into more profitable sectors is directly related to financial education and qualification. When it comes to the Northeast, the urgency of a change in scenario is even greater, since, according to Sebrae, 41% of preto and pardo entrepreneurs are concentrated in this region.
“We have a great diversity of experiences in our team of managers and collaborators. I co-founded some social initiatives in the field of diversity, such as Instituto Mídia Étnica and the Correio Nagô website, and today I am a professor of advertising at the Catholic University of Salvador, besides being affiliated to a Harvard research center. Rosenildo Ferreira is a journalist who comes from a great experience in newsrooms, where he is already considered one of the most admired in Brazil. Professor Helio Santos is a great guru on the subject of diversity, being one of the pioneers in talking about economia negra (black economy) in Brazil decades ago, and Itala Herta comes from a great experience in public relations in working with quilombola and peripheral communities, and has also owned a cultural production company. The mix of skills that we bring certainly makes the organization grow and can fulfill its mission of promoting companies that have innovation and diversity in their DNA,” acknowledges Paulo Rogério.
For Hélio Santos it is precisely through entrepreneurship that one can mitigate the effects of racism and social inequality as a whole. Attentive to new creative methods, the professor, who finds time to collaborate with projects such as Baobá – a fund for racial equity, says that “innovation is the fuel that gives sustainability to the peripheries, which have always developed antidotes to defend themselves from institutional racism. The periphery is gold, but the elites like jewelry,” he recalled during the event to launch the Academy of Political Innovation, in Salvador.
Vision shared by Paulo Rogério. Winner of the Troféu Raça Negra (Black Race Trophy), the businessman is categorical when pointing out social inclusion as the only possible path for the development of Brazil. After all, how does a country made up of 54% preto/pardo men and women intend to ascend without thinking about the resolution of historical problems caused by a slavery system?
“By generating income and improving the quality of life of African descendants in Brazil. The Afro-Brazilian community has never participated in any economic cycle in Brazil as protagonists, but the time has come for this to happen now with the cycle of the creative economy and technology. The problems with violence and genocide continue to take many lives, and through politics we must continue to fight for this to end. Political power must come alongside economic power.
Let’s explore our creative potential?
Let’s leave aside for a moment Nelson Rodrigues’ famous statement about the Brazilian ‘complexo de vira-lata’ (‘mongrel complex’)? Now, does this statement still make sense? The reasons and data cited in this report throw the meritocracy discourse to the ground. If we are to insist on hackneyed terms, let’s opt for the line that Brazil has no idea of its potential.
Not convinced? Well, after a little over a year of operation, Vale do Dendê has already received a demand that has far exceeded the expectations of its board of directors. In a conversation with Hypeness, Paulo Rogério highlights some of the companies he has managed to reach in this short but fruitful period.
Paulo Rogério was one of the few Brazilians in the meeting with Barack Obama
“We were expecting 50 applications in our call for proposals, and we received 107. Besides, the quality of the companies is way above average…there’s Go Diaspora, a company that is selling exchanges to African countries for the price of an LCD TV; Abebe Cosméticos, a cosmetics company that creates products based on Afro-Brazilian religiosity; Afrobox, which is creating a totem for semi-virtual sale of black fashion to be sold in barbershops, salons and concert venues; Interack, creating a car sharing system for the Historical Center of Salvador; in short, we are very happy with the result.
There is more, the city of Salvador is a winner in this story. We mentioned that besides peripheral neighborhoods such as Periperi and Castelo Branco, Vale do Dendê also proposes to revitalize the Historic Center. However, it is based on an inclusive approach that values local residents.
One of the most significant spaces in the world, the Pelourinho has its architecture listed by the Historical Heritage of the UN, but still suffers from segmented attractions. It’s common to see its streets and alleys empty on mid-year nights or to come across reports of historic merchants doing their best to stay active. There’s no way, the economy needs to turn, but not only because of the presence of tourists.
“The Historic Center, especially Pelourinho, is a place with many possibilities not only for tourists, but for local residents as well. There you have an open-air museum about the history of Brazil (the first street, the first piped water service, the first college, etc), that is, it is a place of incalculable importance for Brazil. Besides this, its colorful houses, its relaxed atmosphere and the musicality typical of this district of Salvador should be greatly exploited for business generation. It would not be absurd to think of a theater circuit there with fixed plays, like on Broadway in New York. But instead of the Lion King, we would have plays that talk about the Revolta dos Malês (Males Revolt), the history of Capoeira, the birth of Samba…musicals that would attract locals and tourists. Of course, all this together with the empowerment of the local residents who are very creative and with the attraction of more people to live in the surroundings. No historic center can be sustained only by commerce, there must also be housing that mixes the profile of the residents. We, from Vale do Dendê, strongly believe that Pelourinho can once again become the heart of Brazil when it comes to creativity and innovation,” concludes Paulo Rogério.
Creativity for heritage conservation
Of course, for all this to be possible, the involvement of sponsors is necessary. Unfortunately, the Brazilian reality still concentrates the economic power in Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo. There is a stubborn vision that the Northeast has ‘only’ natural beauty to offer. A big mistake, since cities like Recife, Fortaleza, and Salvador itself, are metropolises that, with distinct characteristics, harbor creative minds. A multiplicity of voices.
“Because we are outside the Rio-São Paulo axis, things are more difficult, due to invisibility. Unfortunately, investors still, due to prejudice, look little at the potential of the Northeast, which has “Caribbean” beaches, a culture of easy internationalization, and a very pleasant climate all year round. I think that we need to break through these bubbles more. Most people from the Southeast come to Salvador only during carnival, but the city does business all year round. However, we were lucky to find partners who believed in our project and are having good results, because Vale do Dendê is growing every day. Not long ago we were featured on the largest public radio station in the United States, NPR, which reaches about 40 million Americans every month. Today we have the support of the Itaú Social Foundation and the Alphaville Foundation as sponsors. We have received contacts from other companies interested in investing in Vale and also in the companies we are accelerating,” concludes Paulo.
The emergence of this Silicon Valley in Bahia is further evidence of the new times. Paraphrasing rapper Mano Brown, “will you cross your arms and complain or will you be the revolution? I believe in you! The careful performance of names like Vale do Dendê and its enthusiasts reflects that yes, our steps come from far away, but a new future depends on the present.
“I believe that part of the new generation of Afro-Brazilians is well positioned to take advantage of the new skills of the 21st century, which include the idea of collaborative economy, the use of technologies, and innovation. Which public has the greatest need to innovate every day? It is precisely the young black people or those who live in the periphery. “Bater uma laje” is analogous to crowdsourcing, the “kitties/raffles” are forms of crowdfunding, and there is nothing more “maker” than the guy on the corner in the slum who fixes computers or TVs. If we point them in the right direction and empower them they can certainly create amazing things. In the case of Salvador, add to the conversation the fact that we have a very strong black culture that made Bahia known all over the world. What is the best known Brazilian band in the world? It is precisely Olodum, an innovation created by young black people in the 1980s.
If you got excited, then visit Vale do Dendê’s official website and be part of the innovation. The revolution will not be televised, dear Gil Scott-Heron.