In 2006, Lourenço Bustani and Igor Botelho founded Mandalah based on a deep convinction: The future of business, they believed, was based on the notion that profit and purpose go hand in hand. Since then, their consulting firm has helped clients such as Nike, General Motors, and Anheuser-Busch InBev develop strategies that help them grow while generating social value. For instance, Mandalah has been instrumental in helping Nike engage with locals in Rio de Janeiro as a way to build brand loyaltyleading up to the 2014 World Cup. I recently met with 33-year-old Bustani to find out how other companies can bridge profit with purpose.
Your company was created using the idea that doing good can increase profits. How?
First, I would be cautious about using the word “can.” Doing good does increase profits. More than that, it allows you to withstand the test of time as an organization. When you use the word “can,” you are making it optional, which means you are still willing to accept that there are businesses that are not doing any good. I am fundamentally resistant to this idea. In this day and age, doing good should be the default way businesses are conceived and managed.
The general idea around doing good is improving lives, and in some way, tending to peoples’ unmet needs. When you do that in an organization, or even among your friends, you are generating empathy. It’s strong because it’s a genuine connection between two people or two entities. Over time, that translates into a preference regarding your relationships with people or organizations. It creates loyalty, which is what allows you to maintain and increase your sales over time. At the heart of doing good is the concept of connecting to people and understanding what they need and being at their service.
Do you get resistance from your clients about the benefits of conscious innovation? Not as much anymore. There is a lot of empirical data that supports the notion that doing good pays. I don’t think people are resistant to the theory as much as they are to change. You have to re-evaluate all of your old practices. Companies are generating profits at the expense of people and the planet. Many of them take on peripheral and compensatory activities to offset that damage. But today, we know this is no longer sustainable. We know that business can be more and do more. The challenge is introducing these new paradigms and changing the way businesses are run. Companies have trouble seeing the greater context in which they operate when they are running on automatic pilot. So we help get them out of that head down type of thinking.
What did you do when you were working with Nike?
We helped create dialogue where it didn’t exist. Rather than assuming what residents of Rio de Janeiro aspired to or needed, we helped Nike engage with the community and source ideas from the bottom up. Nike’s mission states that sports are a catalyst for social transformation. They connected their brand essence with what made sense for the city. They set up an athletic training center in a city park and sponsored a surfing school. They refurbished local skateboard ramps and provided training to kids. They also sponsored a soccer team from low-income communities. Whatever commerce was generated was merely a result of an empathetic and genuine relationship the brand was able to establish. So it didn’t start as a transaction-based relationship, with top-down media exposure. It started organically.
What is your greatest talent?
Connecting with people. I have led a nomadic lifestyle. Since I was born, I have lived in several different countries. I embrace this as a blessing. As a consequence, I have developed emotional intelligence and cultural sensitivity, both of which allow me to connect with people easily and quickly.
In your experience, what has been the key to connecting purpose and profit?
It’s about finding a shared agenda and finding ways in which your prosperity can lead others to prosperity, as opposed to their demise. It's about finding those intersecting points between your needs and everyone else’s needs. It’s also about thinking long term. After all, purpose transcends a quarter, a semester, or a year. The most important thing is knowing who you are and why you do what you do. I feel this is the starting point for just about anything. You can’t be at anyone’s service if you don’t have a strong sense of who you are. Most people don’t give themselves the time to figure out why they do what they do. I like to ask people, “What gets you up in the morning?” You must have an answer. And more often than not, people don’t. Most people are going through the motions without understanding why. Having said that, I sense we are approaching a tipping point where people are stepping back and starting to reassess. It's an evolution. Our mission as a company is to accelerate the evolutionary process by helping clients stay relevant in changing times.
How do you define success?
Two things that I certainly have not mastered yet: Consciousness and coherence. Consciousness is being mindful of everything and everyone around you, and understanding how the world turns. Coherence is applying this understanding to how you live your life. There is a big difference between knowing how you should live your life and then living it that way. If I can consistently expand my consciousness and then be coherent in how I live my life, then I will have been a successful person. Underlying all of this is happiness, gratitude, and humility.