The latest Forbes magazine features a cover portrait of Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff, along with the headline “A former Marxist stokes an entrepreneurial engine.” The accompanying article highlights the benefits of entrepreneurship in Rousseff’s country.
“We are wagering,” smiles Rousseff, sitting in her minimalist, art-filled office in the Presidential Palace in Brasília as she recalls that conversation, “that people will be able to stand up on their own feet and walk by themselves.”
Her wager–Brazil’s wager–is on entrepreneurship. The past two decades have been formidable for her country: curbing inflation (by creating the real and pegging it to the U.S. dollar), privatization (notably, the state-owned telecommunication and mining companies) and a commodities boom (soybean and iron ore). Twenty years ago Brazil’s GDP was at $358 billion and ranked 11th in the world; today, at $2.5 trillion, it’s between sixth and eighth, depending on who’s counting. No other BRIC balances democracy and widespread wealth nearly as well. Half of Brazil’s population now occupies the middle class–their output alone surpasses the entire economy of neighboring Argentina. “There has been a shift, a change in the way we are [perceived],” says Rousseff, 64, whose position atop this shift now makes her the third most powerful woman in the world, according to FORBES’ annual rankings.
Brazil has become one of the most entrepreneurial countries in the world, with one in four adults self-employed in some manner. Small businesses create two out of three jobs in Rousseff’s private sector–Brazil’s unemployment rate is an envious 5.8%–and 49% of entrepreneurs with companies less than 42 months old are women; the global average is 37%. In bustling São Paulo alone, 1.8 million small-business owners ply their trades, wares and ideas.
Roy Cordato would likely agree that another president could use a few lessons about the benefits of entrepreneurship.