Most women in Brazil are salaried employees, “in 2013, about 7 in 10.”¹ Many Brazilians understand a formal salaried job not only as a civil right but also as a from of security and mark of respect. However, every day more women are sacrificing such comfort to start their own businesses. “Between 2003 and 2013, the number of women business owners rose 16% in the country.”² One of those business owners is Vanessa, a 31-year-old born and raised in São Paulo. She is a partner and invisible hand behind the pioneer in natural food company for dogs in Brazil—Cachorro Verde.
In 2008, Vanessa created Cachorro Verde as a blog, with her partner and veterinarian Sylvia. They had no specific business intentions. The original idea was simply to divulge information about natural food. Even though it is now a formal business, the reason for existing remains the same. “The idea of sharing knowledge, sharing something that worked for us, so that others can have access, is still the main goal. (We) offer consultations so that people can do this as well, (we) offer the material on-line so that people can do it themselves and all (our) other plans (a book, online courses) are still based on that (motive) too. Everything we do is based on the intention to share information because we have this information because someone else decided to share it.”
The motive to share and the collective spirit yielded more than they imagined possible. Cachorro Verde is a very successful company. The site receives 100,000 visits and about 200,000 pageviews per month. On Facebook the company has 120,000 fans. They conducted 20 courses last year, with an average of 50 people per class. This year they’ve held 8 courses, meaning that at least 1,400 people have participated in a workshop provided by Cachorro Verde. They receive over 100 emails a day. Vanessa is responsible for the organizational and informational issues, and about 70% of emails are for her. She works about fifty-five hours a week, but “working from home does not seem like so much, because I do everything at my own pace.”
The main role of Vanessa is to keep Cachorro Verde running smoothly. Scheduling appointments, planning courses, organizing material, updating site content, the newsletter—it is all her responsibility. She identifies this as her talent: making information accessible. Given the number of people that the company reaches, she is obviously very good at what she does.
Few people realize how important Vanessa is in the operation of Cachorro Verde. Sylvia is the face of the company; she attends to the medical needs of the animals and presents the content. In addition to her training, Sylvia is dynamic and charming and fulfills this role well. Vanessa does not mind not being recognized publically for her work. However, the reality of owning a business forced her assume her importance in the company. “I don’t like to draw attention to myself, so until recently we didn’t say much about me being a partner in the company, I just attended people and such, without mentioning it. But recently I started to need to present myself more as a partner, because I realized that people do not respect employees, you know? If the customer thinks you are “only” the receptionist, or “only” the secretary, they don’t pay attention to you, mistreat you, insult you.”
For other women thinking of opening a business her main advice is to be patient. “Know that people have expectation and you will not always deliver something that matches their expectations. That’s one thing you have to take into consideration, how you will respond.” Her work is mainly done on the internet. This creates other demands. “People on the internet are paying a lot of attention to how companies and professionals position themselves. The whole time you are being watched—your attitudes and everything you comment or what you say—on the Internet.”
When asked if she corresponds to the expectations that society has for women she replies, “I correspond to my expectations of who I would like to be, but I think not to society’s.” It is this lack of respect for who a woman is, just as she is, that she sees as the biggest current challenge for Brazilian woman. She understands equal rights for women as the ability to choose and act in the way that each woman determines. “If it’s important for her to be a professional, be the professional that she wants to be, without any impediment from machismo or a family that imposes a role on her that she didn’t choose. If she wants to be mother, to be a mother her way. If she wants to be a wife, to be one her way, without the expectations of society. Have our rights respected, whether they are the most basic rights of our bodies or our intellect, or our time. To have our rights and freedoms respected is a big challenge.”