Vinicius Mariano de Carvalho, director of the King’s Brazil Institute and curator of the webinars, talks about the partnership between the two institutions, the Brazil-UK relationship, science, and the ESG agenda
Vinícius Mariano de Carvalho
Aberje and King’s Brazil Institute have signed a partnership in 2021 for a series of debates in an innovative format, the Blended Webinars. The proposal is to discuss the relationship between Brazil and the United Kingdom in the context of significant global challenges, such as the Covid-19 pandemic and the ESG agenda. The partnership combines the work of Aberje – in its mission to strengthen the role of communication and communicators – with the expertise of one of the most renowned institutions in the world, King’s College London.
The curator is Dr Vinícius Mariano de Carvalho, current director of the King’s Brazil Institute and a member of the Advisory Board of Aberje. The meetings’ model proposes that the debate takes place in two stages: at first, the speakers expose their ideas in recorded videos so that the subscribers have the flexibility of time to watch the content and send questions. There will be a live round table with the guests in a second step, who will debate the points raised.
The first series of debates, entitled “Brazil and the United Kingdom: Dialogues and Narratives,” will have three themes: Post-Brexit Brazil-UK relations; Vaccines for Covid-19: Actions and narratives; ESG: A new horizon for finance and business.
The first meeting will have the new UK ambassador to Brazil, Peter Wilson, and the president of the British Chamber of Commerce and Industry in Brazil, Ana Paula Vitelli, as special guests.
The direction of King’s Brazil Institute is the most recent post of Vinicius Mariano de Carvalho, owner of an unusual trajectory, who was also associate professor at Aarhus University in Denmark. In addition to being a doctor of Romance literature and a master in religious studies, Carvalho is a musician, has technical training as an electrician, studied at a catholic seminary and served as lieutenant at the Brazilian Army:
The interview was conducted by Leonardo Paes Müller, an economist with a doctorate in philosophy and a researcher at Aberje:
Can you give us an overview of King’s College London and the King’s Brazil Institute’s history?
Vinícius Mariano – King’s College London was founded in 1829 and is the second-oldest higher education institution in London. The College was a precursor in many areas of knowledge. It’s where modern nursing began, with Florence Nightingale. The discovery of the DNA double helix is also the result of Maurice Wilkins and Rosalind Franklin’s research conducted at the KCL. It was also one of the reference points in the discovery and studies on DNA. Peter Higgs – the physicist who described the particle that bears his name, Higgs boson, did all of his studies at King’s. In addition to these names, several other Nobel prizes had their training or professional life at KCL, such as Desmond Tutu and Mario Vargas Llosa. In these almost 200 years, the College has consolidated a research and teaching agenda that has made it one of the most important institutions of higher education in the world today and a reference for many academics.
The King’s Brazil Institute is relatively young in this bicentennial history. It was founded in 2010, together with other so-called Global Institutes, such as India, China, Russia, North America, the Middle East, and the African Leadership Center. The idea of creating the institutes was to consolidate the KCL expertise in these areas of the world and through these institutes, to facilitate dialogue and academic exchange between the United Kingdom and the countries in question.
In these ten years of existence, the Brazil Institute was home for a master’s program, recently added to the Master’s degree in Global Affairs, shared by all area institutes. KBI also has a doctoral program in Brazilian Studies and a Joint Ph.D. Program with the department of international relations at the University of São Paulo. In addition to this teaching portfolio, the institute aggregates diverse researches around Brazil and in partnership with Brazilian institutions and contributes to the academic dialogue between UK and Brazil.
Tell us a little about your unorthodox academic and professional trajectory.
VM – I never worried much about building a coherent career. In fact, I never worried about building a career per se. I always was focused about doing things that interested me, learning something new. These training, practices, and studies taught me to think pluraly, literally in an interdisciplinary manner. For me, this life path has also been an existential exercise that teaches me a lot about alterity – to understand that phenomena must be seen differently and that there is no discipline more important than another. And I still have this yearning for new learning experiences.
I must also say that I was lucky to find teachers, instructors, and mentors who were enthusiastic and motivated. I’m very grateful to my parents and sisters, seminar mentors, professors that I have had in my entire life, masters of music, to my doctoral supervisors, for all the patience and dedication they had towards me, teaching me to learn passionately. This lesson is the most important and unifies my trajectory so far, this passion for teaching how to learn. I try to do the same for my students, who are also my teachers. And maybe that is how I better define myself professionally as an educator.
Therefore, it was not by chance that you received the Educator of the Year Award from the 45th edition of the Aberje Award, in 2019. In your opinion, what is the role of think tanks like Aberje, in particular, in a country like Brazil?
VM – I was very touched by thi award. I took it with a mixture of pride and responsibility. A prize like this reflects a trajectory and projects into the future. It is a responsibility to continue to be worthy of having received it, to continue to be worthy of the Educator of the Year 2019 award. The prize is here at my desk, reminding me of that responsibility and what it means to be an educator.
It also seems to me the role of think tanks like Aberje, that of maintaining constantly its education commitment, through its communicational mission. For example, how can we understand that already in 2021, there are still people – educated, literate, often with higher education – who believe that the earth is flat, that vaccines are not efficient and harmful to human beings? Aberje, like all educators, has the mission of communicating knowledge, critical thinking, and curiosity.
What about communication? How do you see the current role of communication in the private and public sectors?
VM – It seems that communication is one of those fundamental vectors of education as a whole. I do not see communication only as an instrument for transmitting speeches, plans, and ideas, both in the closed environment of the private market and in governments. Communication is definitely an instrument of strategy and not (just) propaganda. Hence its immense ethical responsibility because it transmits values on which institutions, private and public, are built. In this sense, communication shares with education the task of being critical, asking questions, and looking for answers that lead to an ethical transformation of the world.
King’s Brazil Institute and Aberje closed a partnership for a digital event with an unprecedented format, called Blended Webinars. Where did the idea of the collaboration and structure come from?
VM – We have seen Aberje and the King’s Brazil Institute developing a series of ad hoc collaborations in recent years. I have been to Aberje a few times, giving lectures and participating in various activities. In 2020 I was invited to be part of the Advisory Board of Aberje, and we noticed that there was a possibility of closer collaboration between the two institutions. Hence the idea of this series of events, from conversations with Hamilton [dos Santos] and Paulo [Nassar, directors of Aberje]. We thought it would be an excellent time to discuss the relationship: ours – Aberje and Brazil Institute – and the Brazil / United Kingdom relationship, taking into account the present challenges and the future. Since we have an inevitable overdose of live online events, we developed a model in which the webinar participants would make their ideas available in videos. These would be available for a while so that those interested could watch according to their availability and convenience. At the same time, they could send questions and comments through the website, and finally, we would have a live online session with the participants, taking the questions and comments from the listeners. All of this material will make up a good repertoire available to the public on contemporary themes of interest to Brazil and the United Kingdom.
The first Event, entitled “Brazil and the United Kingdom: Dialogues and Narratives,” is divided into three parts, each with a very current theme: post-Brexit Brazil-UK relations, the Covid-19 vaccination campaign, and the reputational consequences of current Brazilian environmental policy. Let’s start with Brexit. Is it possible to draw a picture of what the future of the United Kingdom will look like at the international level?
VM – There is a quote from Mark Twain, from his book “Following the Equator: A Journey Around the World,” published in 1897, which says: “Truth is stranger than fiction because Fiction is obliged to stick to possibilities; Truth isn’t.” In fact, this trope was already in the Canto 14 of “Don Juan,” by Lord Byron, where the immoral man says:
“Tis strange – but true; for truth is always strange;
Stranger than fiction; if it could be told,
How much would novels gain by the exchange!
How differently the world would men behold!”
Forgive me for this literary detour, but I think it is interesting to keep it in mind when talking and making scenarios. Perhaps, these scenarios are much closer to a possible reality in fiction than in reality. Who, In January 2020, outline a scenario of what the year ahead would look like.
However, this does not mean that I do not dedicate myself to the exercise and study of scenarios, a necessary and common practice in defense studies, with methodological rigor and epistemic principles. Here in this interview, it is impossible to develop anything profound in the direction of answering your question. Nevertheless, the United Kingdom has a solid international trade tradition and exemplary diplomatic capacity. Even with the reality of Brexit and the pandemic – which might have sounded absurdly fictional to us 20 years ago – these factors that I pointed out above – the tradition of trade and diplomatic capacity – signal that, despite the difficulties of the negotiation processes already underway, the United Kingdom will continue to play a relevant role in the international context in the future.
Will UK-Brazil relations be affected by Brexit? How?
VM – It is clear that a process like Brexit affects and will continue to affect UK relations not only with Brazil but with the world as a whole. Changes like this are not simple and require unparalleled diplomatic commitment – both for bilateral and multilateral relations and political and economic environment. But the fact that both countries understand this new reality in the United Kingdom not as a rupture between bilateral relations, or as distancing from multilateral platforms, but seeing a possibility of increasing these relations is a very positive sign. In the same proportion as the challenges, there will also be opportunities. If well used, these can allow a closer relationship between the two countries in various sectors.
From an enormous effort that involved universities, companies, government, and other entities, several vaccines for Covid-19 were developed in record time. At the same time, vaccination campaigns have been faced with campaigns of disinformation, fake news, xenophobia, and denial on a scale that, if not unprecedented, has at least not been seen for many decades, perhaps centuries. What does this situation tell us about current times?
VM – The answer to this question is very complex and involves many historical, ontological, and epistemological aspects. I will try to summarize what I am thinking about this. I want to reinforce that I have no conclusions but questions and reflections.
In the last 50 years, we can say that the rise in the number of literate people in Brazil is notorious. There is also a marked difference in the number of those with access to higher education than 40 years ago. Many policies and mechanisms for the expansion of higher education have changed the Brazilian educational framework – and consequently the social framework, if we consider that higher education also causes changes in the very social condition of individuals. We should celebrate this as a victory. A great victory.
However, how can we understand that in 2021, there are still people – educated, literate, often with higher education – who believe that the earth is flat, that vaccines are not efficient and harmful to human beings? There seems to be a desperate contradiction in what we have managed to build with education and what society is becoming – even the “well-educated” society. What should be an almost apparent victory manifests itself as a defeat. The question is straightforward. What is wrong? Or, instead, asking myself as an educator, where did we go wrong?
The development of science and knowledge has always been done as a historical act, as a cultural act. The human being – facing the challenges of survival in the world – has forced thinking and knowledge beyond the limits of then. Human history is a history of revolutions of knowledge, of questions about the unknown, and constructions about was lived and systematized by previous generations. Be it in science, be it in philosophy, and even in theology.
What we are experiencing now, however, is a denial of the text. Or rather, the denial of the textual way of learning and apprehending the human relationship with what is called reality. If we do not focus on the diachronic act of reading, this act of organizing the experience with reality, we will have to know only the snapshot, captured by the image, an impression.
Our task as educators, as communicators, is more urgent than ever. This task is to claim the historicity of the human condition, its ability to produce and decode texts – not just images! The Neanderthal man also made images. The most significant epistemological leap for humanity, for Homo sapiens, was the ability to transform the experience into writing, syntax, text, history, culture. If, as humans, we are defeated by the image, the so-called “fake news” becomes real, the “post-truth” is consolidated as truth. And little by little, we give up what we call humanity.
In the last few years, we have seen the financial market putting pressure on the top management of publicly traded companies to take into account environmental, social, and governance issues. This is the ESG agenda, which is part of Aberje’s 2021 theme, Communication, and Ethical Capital. How do you see this process?
VM – Recently, in an article for the Financial Times, Bill Gates wrote what he called “My green manifesto.” The text reflects how the co-founder of Microsoft became a great advocate for the environmental cause, and a proposal of four ideas to help the business world incorporate that cause. Gates says: “Avoiding a climate disaster requires a different way of doing business, the courage to take on risks that many CEOs are not used to taking – and that investors are not used to rewarding.” This sentence seems to me a summary of the challenge that the ESG agenda brings today to the financial and business world. The challenge of courage to incorporate specific changes that are revolutionarily profound for an industry that needs stability and predictability. It is what I have been calling syntagmatic and not simply paradigmatic shift. The financial and business world has undergone some paradigmatic changes in the last century; however, it always follows the same syntax – the same governance model and the same perspective regarding natural resources.
This syntagmatic change calls for a new grammar, in which the ESG agenda will not only be an object but subject to decision-making in the way of doing business. The issues that the ESG agenda calls for are not just a fad for MBA programs or corporate communication campaigns. These are existential questions for the companies themselves because they are existential questions for the model of the world we live in and for us as humanity. I am saying that it is not enough to build some slogans and elect some exemplary cases to say that there is a commitment to the ESG agenda. If there is no courage now to take risks and transform the syntaxes of production, profit, and development, we will deepen the social and environmental fissures in which we plunge to a point, not far away, in which these fissures will become fractures and this social-economic building that we are in will completely collapse. Institutions like Aberje and the King’s Brazil Institute have a great responsibility in promoting and understanding what I have called syntagmatic change.
Finally, what do you expect from the year 2021 for the United Kingdom and Brazil?
VM – I hope that in both countries, we will be able to increase our dialogue, internally and externally. I hope that we will be able to understand the challenges present in our world – challenges that are existential threats to humanity – and that we will manage dialogically to comprehend that without collaboration, without cooperation, without inclusion, we will not find answers to these challenges.