São Paulo, Brazil / October 5-8
Hotel Tivoli

A Chat with Luciana Aguiar

Screen Shot 2015-09-23 at 9.40.52 AMWe’re delighted that Luciana Aguiar, PhD, Private Sector Partnerships Manager at the United Nations Development Program, will bring it all together with the EPIC2015 closing keynote address. We asked her about what industry needs to know about the “bottom of the pyramid,” the ethnographic gaze in finance, social innovation, and her favorite haunts in São Paulo:

What are “bottom of the pyramid” populations and why do businesses need to understand them better?

BOP refers to the population that lives at the base of the socioeconomic pyramid. This segment earns less than Us$ 8 per capita per day, representing almost 4 billion people in the world. In Brazil, they totalize almost 100 million people earning less than 1.800 reais per month as a family income, representing almost half of Brazilian population. This large number of people live in vulnerable conditions. They are not integrated into the formal economy, having a very limited access to basic services and products. For UNDP, it represents a growing inclusive market that demands distinct marketing approaches for being served and included.

What’s it like being an anthropologist within UNDP? What are your strategies for communicating the value of anthropological approaches to coworkers in other disciplines as well as partners in the private sector?

It requires the ability to create a dialogue with other disciplines such as economy, human rights and government. It provides a constant exercise of bringing the anthropological perspective in areas not very familiar to this discipline.

What is your definition of the “ethnographic gaze”? What does it tell us about BOP populations that traditional statistical data doesn’t?

The ethnographic gaze provides the context to the statistical data, reveals the soul of the public and unveils the meaning of social practices. Despite the gaps in the access to basic products, services, it tells that low-income population create daily strategies to have access to consuming, and productive goods. In addition, it reveals that BoP have very ingenious entrepreneurs. In synthesis, it deconstructs preconceive ideas about the low-income population.

Social innovation is a trend in many “emerging markets” for addressing the needs of the poor. Is it working? How ethnography can improve social innovation?

It is a very efficient approach. It requires more than finding marketing opportunities. It demands to be a patient listener, an active observer and a skilled interpreter. The challenge is in pairing social issues with economic opportunities. In many situations, it is important to differ needs from demand.

What are the most exciting, promising, and challenging aspects of your work building relationships between governments, multilateral organizations, nonprofits, and the private sector?

The main challenge is to give voice to the low-income population, keeping their perspective from fieldwork investigation until the definition of final strategies.

What are your recommendations for ethnographers who want to work on social innovation and improve the lives of the poor, whether they are employed by universities, nonprofits, or for-profit businesses?

Never lose the ability to learn and be surprised with the dynamics of social practices. Keep the mind open to deconstruct your “certainties”.

A hoard of ethnographers are hitting São Paulo for EPIC2015. What are a couple of your favorite places in the city that they shouldn’t miss?

They shouldn’t miss:

  • Museu Afro Brasileiro (Afro-Brazilian Museum) at Parque do Ibirapuera
  • Museu da Lingua Portuguesa at estação da luz
  • Have pastel and caldo de cana (sugar cane juice) at Pacaembu or vila Madalena farmers market on Saturday mornings