Adriana Barbosa is founder of is the founder of Feira Preta, the largest Afro Brazilian entrepreneurship fair in Latin America and she was named one of the world’s 51 Most Influential People of African Descent (MIPAD) in 2017. I was prepared to be impressed by Adriana Barbosa after reading about her in preparation for our meeting and watching her performance on the TED stage and she came through in person.
I am not sure how much we can call this an exchange success, since we made connections with Adriana after her success was manifest, but she is a friend and our São Paulo post has a history of support. She participated in a Mission-funded “Voluntary Visitor program “Social Inclusion During Olympic Planning” in May 2010, and two years later, PAS covered partial travel expenses for her to attend the Global Women’s Leadership Network, Women Leader’s for the World program at Santa Clara University in California.
Our post in São Paulo has supported Feira Preta for several years with participation of American experts.
I had the chance to have lunch with Adriana, along with São Paulo Cultural Affairs Officer and Cultural Affairs Specialist.
Adriana talks about the need to reinvent yourself. This sort of belief system is common in all successful people I have encountered, and it is strongest in those who had to climb the farthest. To know that you can do is the key to doing.
Adriana came to the idea of Feira Preta while bouncing back from a “setback.” She lost her job. Instead of seeing this as a problem, she re framed it as an opportunity to do something new. She does not take the credit for this great achievement (another characteristic of successful people), but rather thinks of it as an outgrowth of her family and local culture.
Adriana comes from a long line of hard-working women. Her mother came from the interior of São Paulo state and found work as domestic. Her mother had a lot of entrepreneurial instincts, but she needed to use them just to survive and give her daughter a better chance at life. Adrianna understood that if these forces of enterprise were freed, people like her mother would flower. Like flowers, however, the vital seeds needed a nourishing environment. Feira Preta helped create that. Adriana created the idea of Feira Preta when she was just twenty-two years old. She didn’t know how to organize such an event, but she had participated in many and so got to work.
The first Feira featured 40 exhibitors with products aimed at the African-Brazilian market. She got Unilever as a sponsor, as they were at that time launching lines of skin care products aimed for African-Brazilians. Red Bull and the City of São Paulo were the other first sponsors. Today there are more than 900 exhibitors and 27 thousand people attended last years event.
Feira Preta has two aspects. On the one hand, it is a place to demonstrate and validate cultural products of Brazil’s African descendant community; on the other hand, it had a more commercial purpose of providing a place to display and sell products – things like clothes, accessories, jewelry and items of art. One of the most successful class of products have been health and beauty products designed for the African-Brazilian market segment. By both measures, it has been a great success.
We talked a little about profit and sustainably. Adrianna does not do all she does to make profit but recognizes that profit is necessary for sustainability of this great program. She just wants to make sure that the small entrepreneurs and artist get their fair share. This means that they have to get “regularized”. A big problem for new entrepreneurs in Brazil and elsewhere is that they know how to make products, but they do not know how to do business. Adriana is working to help with workshops and classes on mundane but crucial topics like accounting, planning and getting legally incorporated. There is also a problem of credit. Small businesses may need only a small amount of money, but it is hard to show credit worthiness when you have little history on paper. It is encouraging that banks are now heavily represented at Feira Preta, but also a little frightening. Interest rates in Brazil are high and there is some danger that new business owners, unfamiliar with borrowing and building capital, might make bad deals and lose their initiative.