Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Inspiring anecdotes

A group of entrepreneurs from Morelos presented us last week with a six-day extravaganza. We had film, dance, theater, music, and a book fair in downtown Cuernavaca. Streets became pedestrian malls hosting exhibits of the products of Morelos’ factories as well as crafts and cuisine. The event was sponsored by Morelos Único, an association of Morelos’ entrepreneurs who have come together to enhance Morelos’ reputation and pride in its achievements.
The keynote talks were quite inspiring.

Astronaut José Hernández, dressed in NASA overalls, described growing up in a migrant farmworkers’ family. Following the “California circuit,” he planted and picked vegetables weekends during the school year and 7 days a week during summer vacation. Christmases were spent in La Piedad, Michoacán. Though born in California, he didn’t learn English until he was 12.

He lived in many houses, attended many schools, but a constant was his parents — both with a third-grade education — accompanying him and his siblings around the kitchen table while they did their homework on schoolday afternoons.

After a particularly hot and difficult day Hernández remembers his father telling him and his three brothers, “Don’t ever forget how you feel at this moment. Realize that if you don’t study this is how you’ll spend your lives.”

Philippe Cousteau Jr. described working with Greenpeace and the community of Cabo Pulmo in Baja California Sur in order to save and restore Mexico’s last healthy hard-coral reef. Realizing that through preservation it can enjoy higher income than through fishing, Cabo Pulmo has banned fishing. Cousteau said “tourism has generated the biggest transfer of wealth from rich to poor in the history of humanity.” However, he said for that to be successful the transfer needs to be directly to the communities.

We heard from Felipe González, president of the Spanish government from 1982 to 1996. He told us about negotiations he carried out with Spanish President Suárez when he was leader of the opposition party. He said that on some issues it was easier for them to negotiate with their political enemy than with their allies.

Well aware of Mexico’s constitutional Article 33 which prohibits foreigners from participating in politics, he said “I don’t want to be confronted with article thirty …” González paused to let the audience shout back “tres!” Nevertheless he spoke about Spain coming out of decades of dictatorship and the reforms that were needed. Those of us in the audience understood we only needed to change the word Spain to Mexico to understand what he was telling us. He pointedly told us about engaging a young career diplomat in a conversation about why she chose to work in Finland’s foreign service. He was stunned by her reply — “Because my grades weren’t high enough to be a school teacher.”

Like Cousteau, González praised the benefits of tourism. However he said, “promoting tourism involves much more than airports, hotels, museums and beaches. It involves roads, health services, potable water and sixty-four other components,” that he had once listed in a national tourism plan. Most of them benefit the local population as well as foreign tourists.

Another Felipe, Felipe Sánchez, former worldwide director of Microsoft Windows, talked about “digital natives” and “digital immigrants.” Born after 1980, “digital natives” grew up with computers in their surroundings. The rest of us are “immigrants.” This year is the first in which “natives” are the majority in the information technology consumer market. Businesses offering services need to take into account that their customers are accustomed to using their cellphones and tablets to do two or more things at once.

The former director of Google in Mexico, Gonzalo Alonso, also spoke. He described Google as one of the first companies to let its users create its brand logo. He talked about loyalty to brand names giving way to recommendations from users of services and supplies that are available online. Though he speaks like a “digital native” he’s old enough to consider it bad manners when his 12-year-old son doesn’t raise his eyes from his electronic device when greeted by an adult. Marvelous to watch him cross the generational boundary speaking to an audience that was more native than immigrant.

Rosario Marín, former Treasurer of the United States, brought down the house. Daughter of a seamstress and a janitor who moved from Mexico to the U.S. when she was 14, she talked about three of her seven guiding values instilled by her parents — always do what’s right, do the best you can, and live by the Golden Rule. She wouldn’t tell us the other four because then we wouldn’t buy her book, “Leading Between Two Worlds.”

It was a wonderfully refreshing week not only in its content but also in seeing business people rooted in Morelos giving back to their community. The choice of speakers might imply they recognize that the reservoir of human potential in Morelos has nothing to do with social class.

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