Meaningful Business (MB:) Please tell us a bit about your background.
Tânia Cosentino (TC): I am an Electrotechnical Technician and have a degree in Electrical Engineering. I developed my career in the energy and automation sector, starting with projects before moving to sales. Since 2000, I have been in local, regional and global management roles. In January 2019 I decided to make a professional move. I changed sector, from Energy to the Tech industry, and joined Microsoft. Across these 30+ years of professional experience, I have worked in four multinational companies: one German, two American and one French.
Before Microsoft, I spent 19 years at Schneider Electric where I developed myself as a leader of people, business and transformation. There, I learned that Sustainability and Diversity and Inclusion (D&I) mean business. In 2009, when I returned to Brazil as the first Brazilian and first woman as Country President of Schneider Brazil, I committed to myself to be the local champion for these two important topics.
I had the privilege to run the business and help its growth, investing in programmes of skilling of underprivileged people, and programmes of access to energy – first in Brazil and then in South America more broadly. I was also fostering D&I and Sustainability programmes inside and outside the company, using the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) as the framework. I also had the privilege to be invited as speaker in several United Nations (UN) forums in Latin America, New York and Geneva, and took active participation in the Rio +20 Conference, COP20 in Peru, and COP21 in Paris.
These projects brought me learnings, connected me to my values and showed that we can do good through business when we deliver profits through purpose. I also had the privilege to receive global and local recognition on these fields. One of the most emblematic was becoming a UN SDG Pioneer in 2017. I was trying to make a difference.
MB: What Led you to start the various SDG-focused initiatives at Microsoft?
TC: I have been connecting SDGs to the business since 2014 so, it was natural. For Microsoft this is also not new.
The company has a strong commitment to improve education and to cover the skills gaps, clearly addressing SDG4. Last year, to celebrate our 31st anniversary in the country, we launched a project called Microsoft ‘More For Brazil’, based on 3 pillars:
1 – Enhancement of digital infrastructure to enable the acceleration of digital transformation of the country (SDG 9, 11 and 17)
2 – Skilling, Employability and Entrepreneurship (SDG 4, 5, 8, 17)
3 – Environmental and Social (SDG 12, 13, 16, 17)
I want to share some examples. Our skilling programme focuses on a broad range of training, from Digital Literacy to Data Scientist and Artificial Intelligence (AI). We partnered with SEPEC (Special Cabinet for Productivity, Employment and Competitiveness from Ministry of Economy) to offer more than 170 digital trainings to the School of Worker 4.0. With this programme we aim to tackle 5.5 million Brazilians. Also, in partnership with SEPEC, we are connecting job seekers with available jobs through an app, aiming to impact more than 25 million Brazilians.
Another project that I am very proud of is Women Entrepreneurship (WE). The main goal here is to provide capital, training and mentoring for tech startups founded or led by women. This is an important initiative because women access less than 3% of capital from venture capitalists. We want to develop the ecosystem of startups founded by women and to attract more girls and women into the tech world.
For the environment, we are building partnership to use AI to protect our main biomes: Mata Atlantica and Amazon Forest.
These initiatives are also connected to our commitment to be carbon net zero and water positive by 2030, to protect the biodiversity, and to promote the circular economy. We are also developing technology to build the platform that will support our customers and partners in their own sustainability journeys.
Lastly, I am also engaged inside and outside the company with human rights and diversity and inclusion agendas.
The company commitment is aligned with my personal and professional trajectory. I believe I have a mission to promote change and at Microsoft, every day, I can live our mission to empower every person and every organisation to achieve more.
MB: What are the main problems you are trying to solve?
TC: I want to give my contribution to protect the planet against global warming and to reduce inequalities. Those are big challenges, and we need to engage private sector, public sector, academia, NGOs as well as civil society. The SDGs have 2030 as the deadline to reach all 17 targets. We are late, but the good news is that technology can be a tremendous ally.
I am working to promote diversity – attracting men and women to enter the tech world. I am also working to help women grow their careers and to have more women on boards. A lack of skilled people is one of the main pain points of business leaders. So we can not afford to disregard 52% of the population who are unskilled. We need to bring them into the workforce, nurture them and help them grow.
D&I is a journey. I started with internal awareness and education campaigns, including about our conscious and unconscious bias, and how these themes connect to the sustainable development of the business. D&I enables talent attraction, employee engagement, innovation, customer satisfaction and profitability. Initially, the focus was on gender. As the company matured, I also started to talk about LGBTI +, race, and about people with disabilities, amongst other subjects.
I shoulder the responsibility, which I share with all Microsoft employees, to implement initiatives that evolve the landscape and bring equal opportunities for both women and men. Since 2011 I have participated in groups to expand career opportunities for women. In 2014 I made global commitments to UN Women, the UN chapter focused on promoting gender equality, with the HeForShe and WEP (Women Empowerment Principles) programmes. I also made commitments with respect to LGBTI+ rights and attended CEOs’ Forum for LGBTI+ rights.
I believe that every company leading in its market must deliver more than solid financial results. For me, it is imperative to generate profit, while generating a positive impact on the society and on the environment.
MB: What is your biggest challenge right now?
TC: One of my main challenges today is guaranteeing that all Microsoft employees in Brazil are safe and well, especially during this pandemic. As a company, we must provide them the best conditions to work, securing a good balance between productivity and wellbeing.
We are also supporting our customers and partners to incorporate technology to guarantee business continuity and a better experience to their employees and customers.
I believe AI can accelerate the recovery of our economy. To do that, we need to skill and re-skill the workforce, create jobs and inclusive opportunities for all, and to fight climate change. By coming together, we can build a brighter future for our community and our country.
Besides that, I must always be attentive to promote and ensure that different voices are heard. I will continue to talk about D&I. Diversity is the goal; inclusion is the strategy.
MB: What is your vision for the future of microsoft brazil?
TC: Companies need to take a position on the SDGs and connect them to their core business. There is no healthy business in a sick planet or sick society. We start with awareness, commitment and implementation, and then report back to society. It is fundamentally about leadership and people. Leaders on boards have a unique opportunity to make it central to their organisation’s culture and leadership.
MB: What is your advice to other leaders who want to combine profit and purpose?
TC: The criteria and economic models that ensure commercial success are shifting. Successful businesses will be those that meet the needs of as many people as possible, utilise as few resources as possible, and engage with – and are responsive to – as many of their stakeholders as possible.
Business cannot thrive in a world of poverty, inequality, unrest, and environmental stress. Companies should understand that they have a role to meet the needs of society and the planet by fully integrating sustainability into their strategy and operations. Companies are made by people, and as leaders we must lead this change.
MB – What’s the best piece of advice you ever received?
TC – From my parents, I always heard that I could be whatever I wanted. But they also showed me the value of discipline, learning, hard work and the importance of respecting everyone.
MB – Who inspires you?
TC – My parents, Paul Polman and Melinda Gates.
MB – How do you define success?
TC – Success is a result of a working with purpose and doing what makes you happy.
MB – What is something you wish you were better at?
TC – I used to cook only on special dates, but during the pandemic I started to cook every day. I regret that I did not leverage the year I lived in France and did not improve this skill.
MB – What is the one book everyone should read?
TC – “End of Poverty” by Jeffrey Sachs
MB – What do you do to relax?
TC – I love to travel with family and friends but today, during this pandemic, I enjoying spending time with my family and our two dogs.
Discover the other MB100 leaders recognised for their work combining profit and purpose to help achieve the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals in 2020, here.