In the 1970s, before he enrolled in Johnson & Wales, Vasco de Jesus Rodrigues, J.D., ’83 had already traveled to Asia and parts of Europe, studied law in his native Brazil and medicine in Panama, and had come to recognize tremendous gaps in international development.“What Americans had in New York City or Providence in those days, Brazilians would have in their homes years later,” he says. “But today what you have in New York, may be feasible to have here almost at the same time.”Boosted in part by commodities, exports, vast oil deposits and recently tapped natural gas, the economy of Brazil has emerged as the largest in Latin America and is thoroughly involved with the global economy.
Rodrigues, a professor of international law who works as a consultant to businesses and governments, says the prosperity has brought mixed blessings for Brazil’s major cities. Brazilians are able to afford more luxury goods and automobiles, but roads have not been upgraded to keep pace. The results are enormous traffic jams with all of the associated health hazards.
Rodrigues often works with countries as a United Nations consultant and regularly travels around the globe, observing the impact of globalization. Brazil’s rise in the international economy has placed a spotlight on the weakness of its educational systems. “The changes are very fast and the pace of the universities is like a turtle walk compared to what the economy demands,” he says. “But now we are in a new century and it’s a different Brazil.”Because the educational system has lagged behind the economy’s growth, the pool of well-educated workers is relatively shallow. To compensate, Rodrigues says that many major companies in Brazil have created their own in-house M.B.A. programs. Often they recruit college professors from overseas to teach classes inside their facilities. It’s a reversal from a practice of an earlier time, he says, when the senior management of Brazilian companies would leave the country for weeks to attend classes in other countries.
Rodrigues expects the demands of industry will force universities to adapt, just as Brazilian companies seeking to compete on global turf are being forced to change their operations. Workplace conditions, labor rights, the humane treatment of workers and local responsibility are coming under particular international scrutiny, making advance inevitable.
“There is a lot of investment in Brazil,” says Rodrigues. “Now, more and more, the manager and company president need to know about Brazilian law, international law and laws applicable in the U.S. Brazil has made its way into the global economy.”