Meet Bárbara Leão, a successful Nova SBE alumna, in an exclusive interview where we shared how passionate she is about social change, how she believes in real community contribution, and that all of us can make a difference in this world.
What are you currently doing? What is the most rewarding characteristic of your career?
I am a researcher at Nova SBE and I normally say “I came back home”. I am connected to Nova SBE since I was 17 years old when I started my Bachelor’s. I always thought I would pursue a classical Marketing career but now I am at a stage where I combine academia with social entrepreneurship and experience in big corporations. When we study, we don’t know what we want to become, and back then I wasn’t aware that I was going to be a Social Entrepreneur and Marketeer who is helping develop the social innovation area in Portugal while putting this into academic terms. I dedicate myself to several tasks and several objectives to create a better world.
What do you know now that you would like to know when you were graduating?
I would love to have known that I was an entrepreneur. Things have changed a lot. Back then, when I studied at Nova SBE, nowhere in Portugal was there a culture of entrepreneurship. In the beginning, after leaving school, I felt alone despite getting my dream position at Unilever as a Marketing Trainee working for Ben & Jerry’s. But then I understood that you can do business and good for the world at the same time, which was something I wanted to do my whole life.
After that, I went backpacking around the world for one year to discover sustainability practices across the globe. I then started a PhD and created Biovilla. That experience led me to build a conscious business model that is now impacting hundreds of other entrepreneurs. When I look at my career from afar, I know I don’t have a classical career, but I understand why I took the steps that I took. It was a hard and difficult time for me, but I persisted and insisted on my own dreams and beliefs.
Who or what experiences had an impact on your career path?
There were three key moments. One of them was Ben & Jerry’s, which showed me how to work with a purpose. Secondly, building Biovilla during the worst financial crisis ever and we still managed to raise funds. Before we opened Biovilla to the public, we trained more than 500 people and we felt we could change people’s lives. With Biovilla, I have several moments like that and people still come back to us saying how we changed their lives after a Biovilla experience. Thirdly, academia provided me with a space to transform my experience into research.
Why this area? With what resources did you start?
Several years ago, there was nothing related to sustainability in Portugal and that’s why we thought we could bring practices from abroad that now are gladly more mainstream such as organic farming or permaculture. We wanted to provide a full experience of how we can change our lifestyle. We decided to apply all methods we considered efficient and inspirational in Biovilla. We built what we call a paradise, which allows people to experience how we can build a better world. We aim to inspire people and give them the knowledge to transform their own lives.
We co-founded Biovilla with people from different backgrounds, myself being a Manager, together with an Economist, also two Biologists, and a Physician. We then invited Architects, Engineers, Accountants, and so on. Many different people with the same goal. And that’s why we built a cooperative and not an enterprise. We are very proud to contribute as a social profit company.
Which skills have you acquired with your academic experience, and what are those that you think have been vital for your career?
I am still collecting the fruits from studying at Nova SBE. Studying at Nova SBE is tough, you need to study a lot, but this brings a lot of resilience and critical knowledge that allows us to grow personally and obviously technically. The curriculum back then was much more classical and focused on a classical career. I might sound a bit unfair but, in the end, it helped me to find the career I wanted. If I didn’t have had access to Nova SBE’s methodology, maybe I wouldn’t be as resilient as I am. And a lot has changed at Nova SBE since then, and we can be proud of this evolution. The new campus also brought a lot of lightness to everyone.
How did you land your first job after graduating? What steps did you take, and what advice would you give to those starting out?
When you are good in class, the company pursues you and not the other way around. I only did three interviews with the companies I was really interested in. This is Nova SBE’s gift. They prepare us so well that recruiters wait for us to enter the job market. I remember, at my first marketing class, the professor saying that the two best students of this class would get the only two vacancies at Unilever, which was the best position you could have in Marketing in Portugal. I decided I had to study hard to get it and Nova SBE inspires us to do so. When you are at Nova SBE, you understand that you can do amazing things for the world. Nova SBE inspires us to be much more than what we can think we can be.
What memories from your time as a Nova SBE student do you hold dear?
I had a professor who believed in me more than I did myself at that time, it was her belief and her perspective that totally changed me. Eventually, I became the best in the Marketing class because of her. She made me believe that I was really capable of excelling and that changed completely the way I felt. I went from being an average student at Nova SBE to top in class just because I had one professor who was really looking after me. That feeling of being nurtured was so strong that I eventually became a professor in Marketing, and I hope I can pay forward this by nurturing my current students the same way. It shows what one person at a university can do. It was amazing to have such a professor, and I still admire her, and I hope I can be as inspiring as her.
What advice can you give to our current students?
They should follow their curiosity. Curiosity brings us to our purpose, our gifts, our mission in life. There is much more than getting a job. I really believe we can, while working on our career, have an environmental and social impact. We can bring good to the world and reflect on what we are bringing. I wish they could also understand that their dreams can become careers and very successful careers. For me, my value increased and I earn more as I did previously, as I became an expert in an area I am passionate about. But this took courage and I needed to show resilience in difficult moments. Until you have a voice, you really need to give yourself into the things you believe in. Not everyone is willing to do this because it is risky. But worthy!