What does religion have to do with Entrepreneurship?

Well, why is all of that religion discussion so important to me? Because you can’t understand most of the underdeveloped or developing economies of the world – and be able to dialogue with people living there – if you don’t consider under which social standards or value systems their logic are based on (I’m assuming you were raised in a western developed country).

What motivate their/our efforts? (I include myself here in the group of developing nations) What makes people to start profit-based or non-profit-based ventures there? If you simply rely on the fact that they/we are as capitalist as you, you will be incurring in a tremendous initial mistake. You won’t get their/our trust, and if you don’t get their/our trust you won’t make good business with them/us.

Here I show few superficial differences in starting ventures in emerging economies. Please, remember that these entrepreneurs were raised in the countries they started their ventures and therefore they were embedded in their local social systems. As an out-comer you would have to interpret their realities, something they did more naturally:

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Do you believe in God? Part II: The unexplained does not justify blind faith.

Like anybody that enjoys thinking, I like to talk about polemic things like religion, football or politics. Especially because when there is no right or wrong, I can exercise my brain with fellow humans. Unfortunately we can’t talk to dolphins, whales or chimpanzees yet, to get their opinion about it. I’m sure someday we will be able to do so.

Always when I talk about this God issue, some people tell me that I’m dumb because there are many unexplained things around us, and therefore God exists. Well, I definitely believe that there are many unexplained things around us, but what’s the connection between those things and God? I don’t see it. Let’s take just a simple example: the “recent” case of Ram Bahadur Bamjan (the “Buddha Boy”, from Nepal). Discovery Channel could not explain how he can keep alive after being completely immovable for days:

Another constant question: Is it possible that spirits or souls exist? Definitely. Actually, I think that when a person or an animal dies, part of their energies stays present around us and even talk to us or influence us. Can that be called soul? Yes, why not? Spiritism, Voodoo, Yoruba or Candomble are really amazing and powerful things and I do think that they are based on natural phenomena that can be perceived by many of us in different ways but still can’t be explained.

“I’ve got you!” many believers then tell me, “so, you believe in God!”. What the heck! Does that justify the existence of God? Of course not. If God(s) exist(s) just because we can’t explain something, then we are screwed: there is no reason then to look for new discoveries whatsoever. Penicillin? What for? Lets all gonna die at the age of 35 due to a group of stupid bacteria just to make our God(s) (and priests) happier!

Surviving the Ramadan in Iran

This is the last post my wife wrote during our trip to Iran in August-September 2010. She wroted in Portuguese at the time, to publish in her blog, so I translated it to English.

Ramadan is the month in which Muslims are fasting, including abstinence from any kind of food, drink, including water, and any kind of smoke. This is a ritual of cleansing the body and soul. The duration of Ramadan is a month, and some people do not do it for the whole period. Elderly, sick, women during menstruation, and travelers need not practice this ritual. The non Muslims can eat or drink, but not in front of people who are fasting.

Traveling to an Islamic country in the middle of Ramadan can be an experience somewhat difficult. For those who are not accustomed, make a meal at 10am and another one at 20pm, spending the entire day under a blazing sun walking everywhere and not drinking hardly anything, may be sacrificing more than it seems. The problem is that in this period, tea houses and restaurants are all closed, as there is no demand, and people spend more time praying. So the only place where you can eat are in hotels, which are also not many. And when you’re doing a walk in the other side of town, it is not very exciting to go back to the hotel, eat and start over. On our second day in Teheran, we were waiting for the taxi outside the hotel with a bottle of water in hand, when the receptionist came to warn us that we could not drink or carry the water on the street and if we wanted to drink water we should enter the hotel.

The way we found to circumvent the hunger and thirst was to pack a bottle of water and some potato chips (our favorite was the Vinegar with salt) in our bag. And the trick was to eat well hidden, behind a tree or something, so nobody would get offended and we did not starve!

But after all we had a lot of fun eating potato chips around the country feeling that we were consuming something illegal.

Entrepreneurs and perspectives in emerging markets

In our lives we are always dealing with the future, with perspectives: will my football team win? will my project to succeed? my sector to perform well? my country to grow? Entrepreneurs, in the other hand, tend to think most about: will my service/product to succeed? will people accept it and see the value I see in it? But entrepreneurs are very fortunate people in emerging markets. Regular citizens of emerging markets do not have time to spend in those quasi philosophical questions about the future. Simply because they first have to survive. I have a restaurant in Sao Paulo, Brazil, a humble restaurant for day-by-day lunch meals. Four years ago, I asked to whom my employees would vote for president and why. Some of them told me they would vote for Lula simply because before Lula was elected they tended to eat eggs, beans and rice everyday at home with their families and after Lula was elected, with the same salary, they were able to add meat to their diary with higher frequency. That was the “huge” change in their lives: their ability to buy more with the same salary, to live better after all. For people that get survival salaries like my employees, a huge part of the population in emerging countries, dealing with long-term perspectives is a privilege for few. Money to invest in an idea is even scarcer. They have to worry with the basics before.

Yet, there is another important variable in that issue, the importance of religion. It is true that religion is losing power in some regions of the world but definitely not in large parts of the emerging markets. Do you know what happens after we die? I am sure you don’t. However, most of the religions of the world claim they know. This is purely an issue of perspective, I think. If you believe in a religion that tells you you’ll go to heaven if you do good things this means something, but if it tells you you’ll come back to Earth as another person or another animal, this means another thing. This issues impressed me a lot during the time I spent living in India and traveling to China and Africa because that kind of beliefs changed the perspective of millions of people, including the way they consume, of course. In China, for example, religion is almost forbidden. In Russia, it used to be. What is the impact of that to local entrepreneurs? And to foreigners? In Brazil, Christian Evangelists are building a market-friendly Protestant kind of religion. Big thing. What is the impact of that in people’s perspectives? How does people start a small business in each one of those places? If they are born there, they will know, almost intuitively, what social norms they will have to deal with in order to increase their possibility of success. If they are not from there, they will have to study or to learn about local social norms either to build something in accordance with local perspectives or to question, to change, to modernize those perspectives. This may represent either a great innovation or a pitfall. Definitely a complex issue in a world getting global.

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