Investing in women: ApexBrasil’s commitment to gender parity

Investment promotion agencies have a huge role in shaping the future of their place. Instead of chasing growth for growth’s sake, economic development agencies can shape a more resilient and equitable future by targeting the businesses they attract and support. Ana Paula L. A. Repezza, Business Director of ApexBrasil, talked to us about how her team are making a clear commitment to gender parity, as well as steps they’re taking to develop a positive working environment within the organisation.


ApexBrasil is making a new commitment to gender parity in the agency’s activities. What has been the biggest change you’ve implemented to support this commitment?

In March 2023, ApexBrasil established its commitment to gender equity and pledged to develop a programme focused on women who are engaged or want to engage in the international market. In June, we officially launched the Women and International Business Programme (WIBP), aimed at bringing together various partner entities in an effort to enhance the participation of Brazilian women-led companies in exports, internationalisation, and investment attraction. Entrepreneurs from all sectors, whether business owners or in executive positions, who are interested in expanding into the international market are invited to participate.

Among the planned activities are market intelligence actions, training, and commercial promotion, as well as events and business rounds. The goal is to provide both technical tools for the global engagement of these entrepreneurs and to build a network of women, contributing to the development of socio-emotional skills crucial for negotiations with foreign partners. Given the magnitude of the challenge in achieving gender parity in international business, the effort needs to be collective. Therefore, the WIBP will be conducted in a cross-cutting manner.

In the investment field, we are already prioritising women's participation in the actions we develop in fairs and investment rounds. In this initial phase of the programme, our goal is to establish an initial diagnosis, and subsequently, set goals and monitor outcomes over time. Our objective is for an increasing number of women-led companies to receive investments in Brazil and for more female investors to be served by the Agency.

Since its launch in June of this year, we have already undertaken at least 18 actions such as missions, business rounds, and participations in sectoral or multisectoral fairs, all with criteria that positively assess women-led companies. Moreover, in partnership with the Ministry of Development, Industry, Trade and Services (MDIC), we have introduced a mentorship programme named "Elas Exportam" (Women exporting), where exporting businesswomen share their experiences with those who are not yet exporting.

We have also developed other initiatives, such as panels on digital entrepreneurship for women and awareness seminars that will take place starting this September in various locations across the country. Promoting gender equality has also been included as a criterion in the selection notices for participation in actions directly conducted by ApexBrasil.

As we develop our 2024-2027 Strategic Plan - which will guide ApexBrasil's efforts over the next four years – we’re working to strengthen our guidelines in this area as well. Therefore, we will soon have more actions focused on enhancing women's participation in international trade!

As the national investment promotion organisation, you obviously work with a number of regional and city investment promotion organisations too. Have you found any challenges in encouraging them to support your broader vision for Brazil? How have you overcome these?

Indeed, as a national investment promotion organisation, collaboration with regional and city investment promotion entities is pivotal to achieve our broader vision for Brazil. Even though we share a common goal of fostering economic growth and attracting investments, there have been some challenges in aligning our efforts seamlessly.

To overcome these challenges, the president of ApexBrasil, Jorge Viana, established as one of the agency's priorities the strengthening of ties with state governments. In the first semester, the President visited 18 states, attempting to implement regular communication channels that facilitate an open exchange of ideas and strategies. This has helped in harmonising our collective approach and ensuring that local objectives are in tandem with the national vision.

The local level is not only critical for the decision-making process regarding where the investment will be allocated, but it's also fundamental for economic development. It is the objective of ApexBrasil management to stimulate regional development, reduce inequalities, and promote sustainable development across its three dimensions.

Ultimately, our commitment to collaboration, open dialogue, and tailored support mechanisms has allowed us to surmount these challenges and create a cohesive framework that advances our shared vision for Brazil's economic prosperity and sustainable development.

I saw that part of ApexBrasil’s mission is to develop employees and leaders and ensure a fair and trusting work environment. What does that mean in terms of how you develop your strategies?

Developing employees and leaders and ensuring a fair and trustworthy work environment is one of the strategic objectives of our 2020-2023 Strategic Plan. In our strategic map, based on the Balanced Scorecard methodology, this objective is in the sustainability perspective, encompassing the process enablers that help the organisation achieve its goals, and it serves as the foundation, highlighting its significance for ApexBrasil.

This objective is measured by the Great Place to Work (GPTW) favourability index and also by the average hours of training per employee. To pursue this objective, we have four programmes: (1) knowledge management, which relates to managing in-house training activities; (2) positions, salaries, and benefits, focused on managing our employees' careers; (3) organisational environment, covering initiatives aimed at improving the working conditions for our employees; (4) and GPTW certification, targeting the execution of our strategic indicator.

Furthermore, we have a Leadership Development Programmes (LDP), because we recognise that leaders have the ability to influence and motivate their teams. Nobody works alone, and organisational objectives are rarely achieved in isolation. Cohesive teams that deliver excellent results are often led by individuals who inspire and motivate their teams.

Lastly, we heavily invest in our own organisational climate. We understand the importance of having a fair and trustworthy environment with motivated, engaged employees who feel a sense of belonging and justice. We understand that our organisational climate is a vital gauge for the growth and development of the Agency's strategy. This is because our employees' collective perception of ApexBrasil speaks volumes about how we conduct our business.

What would be your advice to other investment promotion agencies which are looking to build towards a fairer, more equitable world?

To cultivate a fairer and more equitable global landscape, investment promotion agencies could prioritise several pivotal steps. They should start by crafting inclusive policies that spotlight gender parity, regional advancement, and social influence. Encouraging investments that bolster women's economic agency and uplift marginalized areas is paramount. Transparency, too, is essential, with clear decision-making and investor accountability for social and environmental commitments being central. Engaging a diverse array of stakeholders, including local communities and NGOs, is crucial to align investments with societal needs. Rigorous Impact Assessments that consider social, environmental, and economic outcomes are a must. Supporting local businesses aids in reducing wealth disparities and driving regional growth.

Green Investments, especially those aligned with sustainability goals like renewable energy, are essential. Advocating for Ethical Labor practices and human rights upholds the fundamental principles of fairness. Collaboration across governmental, international, and private sectors is key to sharing best practices. A long term view that prioritises enduring impacts on communities, gender equity, and regional equilibrium is vital, rather than succumbing to short-term gains. And continuous learning is indispensable to stay updated on sustainable investment practices and to adapt strategies effectively. By embracing these measures with a focus on gender and regional equity, investment promotion agencies can indelibly shape a more just and equitable world.

Wonderful. Thanks so much for sharing all that with us.

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