Note from BW of Brazil: I was really impressed to hear about this company that I had never heard of until a few weeks ago. Needless to say, the reasons why this young lady started this initiative couldn’t be more necessary. We all know the image the African continent continues to have in the minds of most people worldwide and without a doubt, Brazil, that was the recipient of the most enslaved Africans sent to the Americas, has frowned upon all things African every since.
But another thing that is quite intriguing is the number of black university students I’ve discovered in the past decade who have done their masters or doctorate studies on some facet of African culture, history or influence and came to spend a significant portion of their time on the continent gathering pertinent information.
Go Diáspora, like the travel agency Diaspora.Black, are important new companies because they both offer the possibility of building bridges to the African Diaspora. Nearly 20 years ago, I began my travels to Brazil after learning about people such as Abdias do Nascimento, Benedita da Silva, Lélia Gonzalez, Carolina de Jesus, as well as the history of African descendants in the country. And over the years, I’ve come to know dozens of other people that came to know Brazil, as well as other countries, after having their interest in the experiences of other African descendants around the world sparked after having coming across certain information.
In an upcoming piece on the importance of being able to speak English, we will also come to understand how this other aspect Go Diáspora is perhaps even more important to opening doors to opportunities for black and non-black Brazilians, not only in terms of broadening one’s horizons, but also their livelihoods, as being able to speak the English language can have an enormous influence on the possibility of being able to secure gainful employment in an increasingly globalized Brazil.
Businesswoman creates exchange agency that values black culture
Sauanne Bispo is the creator of Go Diáspora, which leads clients to learn English by paying less in countries in Africa, the Caribbean and South America
By Bruna de Alencar
Taught as a child to value black history and culture, the Bahian entrepreneur Sauanne Bispo, 33, did not understand the low demand of Brazilian students for knowing the black culture of these countries.
To broaden the horizons of the public and offer cheaper exchange packages, she created the Go Diáspora, an exchange agency specializing in destinations of the so-called diáspora africana (African Diaspora), made up of countries in Africa, the Caribbean and South America.
The timing is perfect for exchange agencies. In spite of the economic crisis of the last years, in 2017 Brazil reached the unprecedented mark of 302 thousand students doing some educational program worldwide – 23% more than in 2016, according to a survey made last year by Belta (Brazilian Educational & Language Travel Association). More than half of these Brazilians chose Canada, the United States, Ireland and England.
For Sauanne, the Brazilian avoids traveling to Africa for fear of crime – even when this fear does not find support in the indicators of violence. Despite facing various development problems, the African continent has islands of tranquility.
According to a report from the World Forum in 2017, Rwanda ranks 9th in the ranking of the safest nations – ahead of countries of the dreams of the Brazilian tourist, like Portugal (11th) and Canada (23rd). “It is not the tranquility that is taken into account by the Brazilian, it is the popularity of these destinations. Otherwise, Egypt, which ranks 130th in the security ranking, would not be one of the most visited African destinations. What makes the Brazilian not visit other countries in the African continent is misinformation,” says Sauanne.
By combining cheaper tourism and affirmation of black culture, Go Diáspora seeks a niche with few alternatives – one of them by a very similar name, the Diáspora.Black shared home service.
In February, the amount of similarities increased. In 2018, Diáspora.Black was one of the ten startups chosen to participate in the Estação Hack (Hack Station), the acceleration program made by Artemísia with Facebook, for six months. Now, in 2019, Go Diáspora managed the same feat, after overcoming some 1,200 competitors.
Change of course
Sauanne is a citizen of the world, who has lived in the United States and India. She has an impeccable pronunciation with more than 30 stamps on her passport. But it has not always been that way. The experience with exchanges came about in a timid manner and without the ambition to turn it into a business.
The first time Sauanne considered studying and working outside of the country was during her grad courses in statistics, at the Universidade Federal da Bahia (Federal University of Bahia). After returning from a trip to the United States, a teacher commented on a project that recruited young people to work at Disney. The possibility was welcomed not only for the opportunity to be in the park on a daily basis but also to practice English – one of the prerequisites for the master’s program in econometrics she dreamed of doing.
Without money for the exchange, Sauanne’s mother requested a loan of about R$4 thousand at the bank to finance her daughter’s trip. More interested in students of tourism, hospitality or communications, Disney dismissed the girl.
But the girl did not dispense with the idea of gaining fluency in English, and opted for a company that would accept her. “I was hoping to work at Disney, but I ended up at a McDonald’s in Louisiana,” Sauanne jokes. “I ended up opting for the restaurant not so much for the company, but for the American state, which has a strong black culture. That is why I say that Go Diáspora was born with my experience, because in different moments of my life I always tried to be close to my origins. I think it is very important that you identify with others. Being in a place where I was the only black woman would not give me that,” she says.
The season in Louisiana was the first of Sauanne’s experiences with exchange. Back in Brazil, she sought programs that would take her abroad again, such as working as a passenger servant on a cruise in Europe for nine months or an internship at Africare – an NGO that promotes the development of African countries with headquarters in Washington, USA.
What just seemed like a chance to leverage the career with an academic experience became the first great insight to setting up the company.
In Washington, Sauanne found herself surrounded by blacks who not only knew their roots, but were dedicated to fighting prejudice and misinformation about Africa and the descendants of Africans scattered throughout the world. “I remember looking surprised and amazed as I thought: people need to see this.”
As a scholarship student overseas, Sauanne studied cultura negra (black culture). “I remember looking amazed and thinking: people need to see this”, says Sauanne (Photo: Kátia Lessa)
Trial and error
The first attempt to take the idea from paper to reality came in 2015 with Go Intercâmbio, in the region of Feira de Santana, Bahia. The initial investment, of R$ 10,000 (US$ 2,527), had no financial return.
The agency fought against big names in the industry, without offering any striking difference. “I had no preparation for the undertaking. None. I believed so much in what I was doing that, despite being all wrong, I thought that one day it would work,” says Sauanne. “A lot went wrong at the Go Intercâmbio.”
The company did not survive the second year. In addition to the innumerable debts that accumulated, the young entrepreneur found herself in the midst of multiple tasks that, alone – and pregnant – could not be realized. “When I saw that [the accumulated debts] could compromise the payment of employees, I decided to put an end to it,” says Sauanne.
The end of the first company boosted the birth of the second. When she headed up Go Intercâmbio, Sauanne concluded that the low demand for African countries was tied to two prejudices: considering that the 54 countries of the continent formed one thing, and thining that the region is reduced to poverty or safari.
Go, Diáspora, Go
With just over six months of creation, the new company takes advantage of the lessons she learned in the old. The identity in front of the competition is more defined: Go Diáspora presents itself as a service platform for the exchange with language programs – six months of intensive English in Namibia cost approximately R$ 13,000 (US$3,285), almost half of the R$ 22,000 (US$5,559) charged for three months in Boston – airline tickets, health insurance and even visa advice in 28 destinations, of which 16 are of black origin, located in Africa, the Caribbean and South America.
For the sake of clarity of purpose – foreign language learning – the agency offers packages to places where they speak Portuguese, such as Angola. “Less than 5% of Brazilians speak English. We want – and can – leverage language learning,” she says. The team, once composed of six employees with essentially sales functions, has now expanded and diversified: there are lawyers, administrative consultants and journalists.
A major attraction is the price of packages offered compared to North American and European countries. According to Sauanne, factors such as the low cost of living and the devaluation of the local currency against Brazil’s currency, the real, contribute to a student’s ability to travel to the African continent at half the price they would pay in traditional destinations.
Since its inception, Go Diáspora has closed 18 contracts and aims to reach R$780 (US$197) thousand in sales by the end of 2019 – six times the amount of gross revenues of the previous year. It was born of orgulho negro (black pride) but open to all ethnicities. “Really because, speaking of business, I cannot, in any way, deprive myself of any public,” she says.
Source: Revista PEGN