Meet Wellington Vitorino, Founder of Instituto Four
Levindo Santos, Senior Partner at G5 Partners
In this second article of our series on Brazilian entrepreneurs, we focus our attention on Wellington Vitorino, a young entrepreneur who, at the age of 26 is the Founder and Head of Instituto Four. We believe that, just as important as it is to recognize and learn from the examples of individuals who knew how to forge the Brazilian development dream in the past, it is important to identify and value initiatives of present-day entrepreneurs who are engaged in writing the new chapters of our national history. “There is nothing permanent except change”. This quote, from Greek philosopher Heraclitus of Ephesus (504-456 B.C.), is more than 2,500 years old but applies to our current times more than ever.
Today, we are experiencing rapid transformations that greatly impact our modus vivendi. More than just simple innovations arising from new products and services, the boundaries of our knowledge are being redefined by science and technology and are changing the profile of modern societies. Mankind, which was once stubborn against changes, seems to be dealing better with the notion that the world is in constant evolution and that the future is unpredictable.
At the center of this process are the innovative businessmen, or the “entrepreneurs”, as defined by Austrian economist Joseph Schumpeter (1893-1950). Entrepreneurs are the transformation agents which, as a rule, identify the most efficient combinations of production processes, in which obsolete products and services are replaced by better and more efficient ones. Through this “creative destruction”, different production methods emerge, often by means of new raw materials, leading to the development of markets and the redefinition of competitive dynamics.
This phenomenon occurs more frequently and intensely in developed countries, where the overall business culture and environment stimulate entrepreneurial activities. In practice, the quality of infrastructure and risk-prone business environments are important dynamics that create incentives to develop the entrepreneurial culture. In turn, lower education rates, inadequate health systems, bureaucratic complexities and frequent government interferences make this process extremely difficult.
However, the biggest challenge for developing countries is most likely on how to change the conventional perception of policy makers who, as a rule, do not understand that entrepreneurship is an engine that brings socioeconomic transformations. In general, countries that fail to empower and encourage common citizens to adopt an entrepreneurial attitude in their daily lives consequently lack to enhance their comparative advantages and to do not foster autonomy mechanisms that help them define their future.
In Brazil, for example, public policies aimed at encouraging and promoting entrepreneurship have been consistently limited, both in depth and scope. Additionally, the inadequate use the word “entrepreneur” by policy makers, which, in practice, only promotes self-employment for survival, creates two enormous disservices to the country. Firstly, it lowers expectations by establishing simple survival possibilities as a reference for success. The important support given to self-employed workers, which are often informal workers, has nothing to do with entrepreneurship, let alone with their role as an innovation and development agent. Secondly, by propagating the misconceptions that Brazil is the country with the largest number of entrepreneurs in the world, measured by the number of registered individual microentrepreneurs (“MEI”), and that the country has successfully created a business environment that encourages entrepreneurship, through initiatives such as the Simples Nacional tax system, these policy makers hide behind their own mediocrity and, in practice, suffocate the country’s entrepreneurial potential. However, the incompetence of our policy makers and the lack of infrastructure are not insurmountable barriers. As French writer Victor Hugo (1802-85) stated, “One can resist the invasion of an army, but one cannot resist the invasion of ideas”.
The current invasion of ideas underlies in entrepreneurship being the agent responsible for a new kind of revolution, which is silent and led by people who value the collective, have a privileged view of the world and, above all, think big. Very big.
These revolutionary entrepreneurs understand that complaining will not solve problems and, therefore, take actions that are driven by a strong sense of urgency.
In Brazil, one of the most extraordinary examples among this rare class of leaders is Wellington Vitorino, a young 24-year-old man, born and raised in the outskirts of São Gonçalo, in the state of Rio de Janeiro. Wellington’s personal story summarizes the inexorability of this process. By being black, poor, and raised in a violent metropolitan region, it would have been plausible if Wellington decided to just settle along an honest path and accept the best that life could offer him. But instead, Wellington wanted more and determined another destination for himself and began to take steps at a very early age. More precisely, at the age of 8, when he decided to earn his own money. At 16, in one of his most daring endeavors, he managed to enter one of the best private high schools in the city of Rio de Janeiro where, he knew, would increase his chances at getting accepted into a top university. At the age of 20, having recently graduated in Business Administration from IBMEC, he turned down job offers at some of the most admired companies in Brazil. He was in a hurry to make his “big dream” happen. He used up all the savings he earned as a college monitor to “put his money where his mouth is and undertake his big dream of transforming Brazil”, as he likes to put it.
In 2015, Wellington joined forces with two friends, Everson Alcântara and Lucas Leal, and founded Instituto Four, a non-profit institution that seeks to identify, train, and develop young leaders to think of ways to solve Brazil’s biggest problems. One of Instituto Four’s fundamental pillars is to work with young people who aim to occupy key decision-making spaces nationwide. The Institute’s key program is the Programa ProLíder which, in 2018, concluded its fourth edition and, in that year alone, received almost 10,000 applications from candidates across the country. After a careful selection process, 53 young individuals were chosen. The program is free of charge and very well structured, taking place on weekends during a 7-month period. Meetings are held to discuss the current Brazilian scenario and important national references such as Claudia Costin, Ricardo Paes de Barros, Florian Bartunek, Carolina da Costa, Renato Mazzolla and André Steet have participated in these discussions, all of whom were captivated by the Institute’s proposal. They work on a pro bono basis, exchanging time, experiences, and knowledge with future ProLíderes. The main objective of the program is to train its participants to create “transformational businesses” that contribute to the development of Brazil.
After graduating, ProLíderes return to their hometowns and take on transformational roles in their own communities. Once a ProLíder, always a ProLíder. To achieve this, graduates exchange their experiences on a permanent basis through an active and engaged community. The Institution’s first generation of graduates are already inserted in the real world, with nearly 100 ProLíderes undertaking and fulfilling the mission of transforming their communities and revolutionizing the country. And this is just the beginning.
Wellington and I were introduced by a mutual friend who believed we needed to meet each other. My first impression of the young man, almost six feet tall with a wide smile, was very pleasing. His strong accent and cool style also helped. After a quick carioca prelude, Wellington said he would need “a little time” to tell me his “story”. Always smiling, he looked deeply into my eyes and, bluntly, began to tell me how he and his army of friends were transforming Brazil. What followed was a tsunami of information and emotions.
Wellington is not wasting time: “Brazil is a poor country, which is also aging. This is a worrisome combination, so we need to act now”. With the courage and competence of great leaders, he refuses to conjugate Brazil as a third person. He discusses the country’s problems and includes himself as part of them, always explaining everything in detail without the convenience of restricting his understandings according to his limitations. He is diligent and has a detailed action plan on what he intends to do and how he will get it done. There are no shortcuts or alternative routes to substitute this objective. And lastly, he has the greatest virtue of all revolutionary entrepreneurs: he has generosity.
I felt this when, at the end of our conversation, and realizing the impact it had on me, Wellington gave me his characteristic smile once again. He knew we had connected. Even in silence, it felt as if he told me that he knew that I, one day, had also thought I could transform our country. Or that maybe that I had tried but gave up after getting frustrated. But none of this mattered now as he was showing me the way he was going to fulfill his big dream. In fact, it is not only his dream, but it is also our big dream. This “tsunami boy” from São Gonçalo already knows that true revolutions only happen when we treat issues on a first-person basis, instead of viewing them as a third person.