Uruguay’s sustainability innovation potential is the main focus of our conversation with Giselle Della Mea. It is the last of our series of interviews with some of the country’s leading brand managers, film producers, policy makers, investors and entrepreneurs.
A country’s sustainability – the extent to which it manages its resources well for the benefit of current and future generations – is a meta topic now, which affects every place in the world. Extreme weather events caused by changing climate patterns further add to the urgency of putting sustainable development criteria high up on government agenda.
As Giselle tells us in the interview, Uruguay is well positioned within the region, as a proactive nation when it comes to climate friendliness and generation of renewable energy. But she also points out that much still needs to be done and improved.
Giselle, The Economist recently referred to you as a “Changemaker” – someone who will likely become influential over the coming decades. How does it feel to receive such a recognition?
It was all a surprise. Two people from The Economist wrote to me from England and still I don’t know how they came to me. It struck me that very mainstream and traditional media are observing who is behind the new economies in the global sphere.
You are among the leading “design thinkers” in Uruguay. Briefly, can you tell us what this is about, and how design thinking can help to solve complex problems – economic, environmental or social?
Design Thinkers Group is a network of professionals around the world that facilitate processes in businesses and the public sector. Belonging to that community is a source of inspiration, success stories, and exchange of the latest trends and tools in methodology.
Design is not an exact science. It has a systematic approach based on experimentation, trial and error. It is guided by patterns and connects elements that were disconnected before.
Design thinking is the methodology behind the design process, and it focuses on the solution of problems, partly from the origin of problems, and promotes simplification and efficiency.
Empathy is the key to being a good designer and for that, we need to know the true problems to solve, such as poverty, social inequalities, scarcity of resources, climate change, etc. But if we go to what lies underneath it all, it can be simplified to two types of problems: social and environmental, and the rest are subcategories of these two.
As serial entrepreneur based in Uruguay, do you experience the country as particularly entrepreneur-friendly?
We are in the best country to start-up with purpose. We have problems far and wide in Latin America, but this time Uruguay stands out globally for the steps it has taken at a social level. It also has an ideal scale to prototype triple-impact business models.
What should be improved to make Uruguay more attractive as location for start-ups focused on design and sustainability?
A countrywide move toward a model of development based on new economies and generating favorable conditions is already happening. What we need more is innovation in public policies, inspiring and stimulating the youth, forming new leaders, agents of change, and speaking with the world from a disruptive place.
With sustainability a key focus of your work, how would you assess Uruguay’s current state, as tourist destination?
In terms of sustainability, all countries are emerging, therefore Uruguay has to do everything. The essence of Uruguay as a destination goes to that side, and perhaps what we are missing is a greater awareness that we have the opportunity to lead. And for that, it’s necessary to review industrial processes, and redefine industries toward a circular economy model.
Why should overseas entrepreneurs or start-ups choose Montevideo, instead of (for example) Buenos Aires?
Because Montevideo allows you to live in a less stressful, friendlier pace and to focus on what is essential in life: LIVING
How strong do you consider Uruguay’s brand and reputation at the moment?
Uruguay has a good reputation as a touristic destination and also leads various rankings in social issues and renewable energies.
I believe that if you innovate the economic model, you can attract and retain not only talent, but also the investments needed to work on the objectives of sustainable development.
How does a government-led country branding initiative like Uruguay XXI help your work?
For me, Made in Uruguay has an incredible, intangible value. Finding something “made in Uruguay” in the world means that it came from small processes, on a human scale. The same with services: being a small country, we export, we want to give the best, give a small piece of Uruguay in each project.
Can you tell us a bit about your role as Founding Curator, Montevideo HUB – Global Shapers Community (an Initiative of the World Economic Forum) – what’s this all about?
Global Shapers was a wonderful experience. First learning about leadership, and later awakening the seed in young people to be agents of change gave me much more than what I gave. Going to the offices of the World Economic Forum, understanding that world (coming from a small city in the interior of Uruguay) was a great lesson in my life. Today it seems incredible to see young people who we selected as “shapers” to be in great leadership positions and traveling the world.
Your five bits of advice to international start-ups or entrepreneurs considering Uruguay as location to work and invest in?
- Slow is the new innovation
- Circular is the new economy
- Big dreams have small beginnings
- Changes happening in the transitions
- Live with purpose
When abroad for work or vacation, what do you miss the most from Uruguay?
The rambla – river boulevard – of Montevideo.
Thank you, Giselle.
With thanks to Austin Clayton for translating the interview from Spanish to English.
Our interview with Giselle Della Mea is part of our special report on Uruguay. More info about the country and its appeal as place to visit, invest or live in, here.