Algar’s American Dream

Algar, a company based out of Uberlândia, just keeps making news. These days I’m seeing more and more news articles online in both languages about this company. A recent article in ISTOÉ (in Portuguese) is particularly noteworthy as it reports on Algar’s ambitious “American dream.” I thought it would be useful to the wider world if I were to translate some highlights from that article to share here.

The article begins by describing Algar’s humble origins in the Brazilian Midwest, centered particularly in the “Minas Triangle” region around the city of Uberlândia. This relatively small company should not be underestimated, however. As the current CEO of the company,  Luiz Alexandre Garcia. puts it:

“We operate in a global market. To compete, we need to be where our customers are." 

ISTOÉ goes on to elaborate:

Since last year, the technology services arm of the group, Algar Tech, operates with offices in Colombia, Chile and Argentina – the last two were included with the acquisition of Asyst, specializing in technical support services, for R$103,000,000 (about US$42688993) in November of 2013. Now, Algar prepares to enter the largest market in the world: the United States. "It’s a natural path,” said Jose Antonio Fechio, president of Algar Tech.

“If we want to have a global presence, we need to be present on the American market.” Plans are to start an operation in Florida, probably in Miami, focused on selling consumer service in Portuguese for multinationals operating services in Brazil. To take the name Algar beyond the hills of Minas Gerais, Garcia plans to invest R$2,000,000,000 (US$828,263,800) in the technology and telecommunications arms by 2018. Besides these markets, the group operates in agribusiness, the aviation industry and controls the network of resorts Rio Quente. Part of the funds can be used for new acquisitions.

Algar’s big plan is to expand into the U.S. market by focusing on supporting Portuguese service for multinational companies operating in Brazil. My concern for Algar’s strategy is twofold. First, Brazil’s economy is not clearly out of the woods yet. Despite the boom years centered around 2006, the country’s economy is now reportedly in a recession. Business growth will continue, though it may be slower that could be desired. It’s uncertain whether international investment in this market will expand at a rate making such a venture in the U.S. worthwhile. Secondly, Brazilian Portuguese is spoken by over 200 million people, yet that doesn’t change the fact that it’s the 6th largest language in the world. Supporting a less significant language group in a faltering economy is far from ideal. 

Then again, I do believe that Brazil continues to have a great deal of unexplored potential, and that there’s a genuine possibility that things can turn around for the better in the next few years. Additionally, Algar has done quite well over the years, first biding its time and maintaining its autonomy while other major businesses were nationalized, then expanding as new opportunities presented themselves with the return of democracy. Algar has shown a certain savvy with its expansion efforts within Brazil over the past couple of decades.

According to Luiz Alexandre Garcia, who is the grandson of the founder of the group, Alexandrian Garcia, seeking customers outside the Triangulo Mineiro was, from the beginning, the strategy to boost revenues for CTBC (now Algar Telecom). The customer service area was the way found to bring connections to the carrier network in the late 1990s. Since then, with the emergence of broadband and later of cloud computing, the opportunities multiplied. Last year, sales for Algar Tech were approximately R$750,000,000 (US$310,842,187). The total Group revenue was R$3,800,000,000 (US$1,574,933,750). For someone who is discovering the world, however, this is only the beginning.

It will be interesting to continue watching this company find its way forward in a tricky but promising national market and challenging global environment. 

See Also:

Sunday Assembly: Beyond Happy-Clappy

Sunday Assembly virtually exploded onto the scene in January 2013, seemingly taking the world by storm with its “godless” approach to church-like activities. Some, like David Breeden, have rightly noted that religious humanism has been doing this for quite a long time. The difference now might simply be in the philosophy and approach. Rather than focus on ideology and lectures, Sunday Assembly tries to be like the “happy-clappy” Christianity co-founder Pippa Evans knew in her youth, before she became an atheist.

With the motto to “live better, help often, wonder more,” Sunday Assembly tries to focus on the positive. It really isn’t even an “atheist church.” Instead, it’s what I recently referred to in a tweet as “nontheistic happy-happy-joy-joy.” People from any perspective regarding faith and religion are welcome to take part, only with the understanding that there will be no mention of God. Therein lies what I consider the first potential weakness (although arguably also a strength) of Sunday Assembly.

Consider the following from the Sunday Assembly FAQ:

There are so many exciting things about life. Stars, chocolate cake, love, dreams, tunnels, Greek mythology etc. Sunday Assembly is about finding these things that we can all share.

“Greek mythology”? Suddenly I’m wondering…would it be acceptable for someone to read from Greek mythology at a Sunday Assembly gathering? If so, would it also be acceptable to read from the Bible? I tend to suspect that the answer to the former would be “yes,” and the latter “no.” The Bible remains a dominant cultural influence in Western civilization and it’s possible that many in attendance would be put off by its inclusion at a Sunday Assembly. At the same time, there’s a distance from Greek and other ancient mythologies outside of the Bible that would allow their use. However, is that really right?

My doubt is whether it’s best to allow the length and breadth of literature and culture to be included as sources of wisdom or just good stories, or else to close the canon in a manner of speaking, keeping out that which might offend the sensibilities of some. Perhaps there’s an answer for this from Sunday Assembly, or maybe it’s just too early to expect anyone to know how to approach the question.

A second area of concern that comes to mind is that life is hard. My late father often said this in gentle sarcasm whenever someone in the family complained too much for his liking. “Life’s hard.” The trouble is that for some, life is indeed very hard. There are parts of the world where parents watch their children die of preventable illness or starvation, and where children are left orphaned and defenseless when parents die. There’s hunger, war, disease and heartbreak. Even in the developed world, you don’t have to live long to know someone close who dies. Suffering and death shadow us as long as we live.

Sunday Assembly encourages looking on the bright side. Indeed, it isn’t all misery, and there’s much good to see, experience and share in this world. Sooner or later, though, the group is going to need to figure out how to deal with pastoral issues like divorce (and not from a legal perspective, but in terms of emotional consequences and support) and death. Will the group simply borrow the language of humanist funerals, or create its own? Will there be Sunday Assembly chaplains, wedding officiants, etc?

The challenging business of day in and day out real life needs to be embraced by Sunday Assembly.

Everything I’ve written here is from the perspective of a friendly outsider (though I’m helping Sunday Assembly Detroit with its social media). There is no Sunday Assembly where I live and I depend on online sources for information. What I’ve said here is, therefore, definitely not intended as negative criticism or implied to hold some authoritative insight. It simply seems to me that these are matters that Sunday Assembly will need to address as it continues to grow throughout the world. I welcome comments from those involved who can “fill in the blanks” for me, explaining how these issues and other challenges are being approached. I think Sunday Assembly has a bright future, providing wise decisions continue to be made.


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Scenes From Back Home

St. Joseph’s – Edina, MO – 1876

It’s been 9 months since I arrived in Brazil, and 1 year since I made my last visit to my home state of Missouri. So, I hope you’ve forgive a little sentimentality on my part. I’d like to share here a little about where I come from.

Although I haven’t considered myself Roman Catholic for over 21 years, I was raised in that faith. What’s more, 7 generations of my mother’s family worshiped in the same building, at Saint Joseph Catholic Church in Edina, Missouri. I attended with my mother and brothers through my childhood. We were there for every Sunday and “holy day of obligation.” Last year, shortly after doing some long-overdue renovation work, an electrical fire threatened to destroy the building. Quick action on the part of local volunteer fire departments saved the building, but a great deal of repair was required. 

This past Mother’s Day (2014) the first mass since the fire was held in the building. The following video covers this special occasion. It’s nice to see this community of shared beliefs and values celebrating the renewal of the place where they’ve gathered for over a century. 

Every year the town nearest the farm where I grew up, Hurdland, holds a celebration on July 4 in honor of U.S. Independence. This is the only such event on this day in that immediate area, and so it tends to attract a fairly decent crowd. Some of my best childhood memories are of loading up on cotton candy, shooting off fireworks with friends and playing in the town park all day. Some years it was rainy all day, and others it was insufferably hot, but that didn’t stop my fun. One year my father had bought several raffle tickets from one of my friends prior to the event, putting my name on all of them, and for some reason I kept winning time after time. Most years in early adolescence I looked forward to the evening, when my girlfriend would arrive and we’d walk around the park all evening talking. The big final event was always the fireworks show which to someone from a big city would have seemed underwhelming. In those days the local volunteer fire department shot off only one or two at a time, stretching out the show a little by making their small supply of fireworks go farther.
In 2011 one of my brothers took my kids to Missouri on vacation and they got the full 4th of July experience. My son played in all the competitions for his age, and my daughter met a boy she liked enough to walk around with for a while. 
The 142nd celebration was held this year, and the following video shares some scenes.
Earlier this month (September) the annual Knox County Corn Festival was held in Edina, Missouri. This even came into being when I was a child and has continued through the years. Class reunions are often scheduled to coincide with this event, including my graduating class of 1994. For obvious reasons (I’m in Brazil!) I didn’t make the reunion, but it was nice to see pictures posted to Facebook of those who did show up. To be entirely honest, I don’t have a lot of fond memories of high school and promised myself I’d never attend a class reunion, so it’s just as well I have a convenient excuse not to go.
In any event, the following video shows what the Corn Fest looks like. Music is folksy and the fun and games are the sort you’ll see in similar festivals throughout the Midwestern United States. I’ll admit, this made me feel nostalgic.

A final video is one of my own making. As I mentioned above, last year I made a quick trip to Missouri. It was what I considered part of my “victory lap” before moving back to Brazil. It was a beautiful, memorable time for me, one in which everything went surprisingly according to plan. I visited both family farms, paid respects at the graves of various ancestors and family friends, met up with an old friend who I’d commissioned to make a wooden silverware box (he did a fantastic job), got a flu shot from another childhood friend who is now a nurse and administrator of the local health department, and generally satisfied my need to get in touch with my roots. I even preached on Sunday for the first congregation I served while in college, what has turned out to be my final sermon.
This is where I’m from, though I’ve been away for so very long and now feel more at home in Brazil. I doubt I’d be able to live there again without feeling restless, and yet I know I’ll always feel a little homesick.

The Loop USA Has Launched!

 photo thelooplaunch.pngGood news, everyone! Australian-born The Loop has launched in the United States. What’s The Loop? It’s site/company that allows creatives to make portfolios of their work, get headhunted and connect with others for inspiration. It began in Australia and is now available in the United States as well. What’s my part in it? I’m the Brazil-based product manager for The Loop, providing language and logistical support to the company as it explores other international market options.

// The Loop Explainer Video from The Loop on Vimeo.If you’re a designer, developer or other creative professional, why not check out The Loop?



Facebook in Brazil Ordered to Reveal WhatsApp User Identities

WhatsApp is ridiculously popular in Brazil at the moment. Prior to moving here I’d only ever used it to message my teenage daughter. Now, aside from having most of my phone contacts there, I am also part of groups for my wife’s family, local project managers and also manage a group for my English students. With an abundance of users its no wonder that the app is becoming involved in alleged criminal activity. The following is my translation of the report from iG:

In a decision released on Wednesday (24) on the site of the 8th Chamber of Private Law Court of São Paulo determined that Facebook Brasil, owner of the WhatsApp application, must disclose the identity of those involved and the content of the conversations of two groups that contained messages and pornographic pictures involving a São Paulo university student.  

During the process, the company argued that it could not release application data because they have not completed the acquisition of the company and that the information requested would be on the platform of WhatsApp Inc, a company based in the United States and without representation in Brazil.  

However, the judicial group held that the measure is liable to compliance. In the decision, the rapporteur of the case, judge Salles Rossi, says that “the WhatsApp service is widespread in Brazil and, once acquired by Facebook, and this latter alone having representation in this country, must keep and maintain their records, providing means for identification of users and content of conversations inserted there -. a determination, in fact, that rule finds support in Article 13 of Law 12,965 / 2014 (known as the Internet Bill of Rights). 

According to the decision, the company has five days to display all required information relating to IP’s of profiles indicated in the initial and the content of the conversations of groups between days 26 and May 31, 2014.  

Contacted by iG, Facebook Brasil stated that it "does not comment on specific cases, but clarifies that the acquisition of WhatsApp is not yet complete and that both companies operate independently.”

The reluctance on the part of Facebook to release the data seems a little strange to me, given that the court has decided that it is this company’s responsibility to take action, and as a crime under Brazilian law is involved. Perhaps Facebook is attempting to avoid liability in other global territories, or is restricted under U.S. or other laws from acting on behalf of a company it has acquired before the transaction is complete.

In any event, I expect the students involved in sharing the pornographic images of a classmate will soon be answering in court for their behavior. I just hope no innocents get swept up in the process. It’s very easy to be added to a group and there’s no way to choose what someone else opts to share. At the same time, the alleged victim needs action on the part of all parties involved to help make this right, insofar as that is possible.

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The UUA Represented at the People’s Climate March

Last week I could tell from my Twitter feed that the People’s Climate March in New York was going to be big. People from all walks of life were talking about their plans to be there, and organizations like the AEU and the UUA were really talking it up. I’ve heard that around 310,000 people were there, and as you can see below, an estimated 1,500 of those were Unitarian Universalists. A consensus is building that action is needed from the highest levels, yet I wonder how many people have a clear idea of what that would entail and what the cost will be. In any event, nice to see faith groups and humanists at the forefront.

See Also: The People’s Climate March in NYC