It’s 7:30am in a big, but typical bar in a village in the Spanish countryside. Local working and business men are flocking in and out, having their morning coffee. Outside, the Guardia Civil is checking whether the guys comply with the COVID-19 imposed face mask rules, especially when driving together in a van. I’m about to meet Pedro who comes here every morning, same time, same table, same chair, same company.
Today, he is a bit late. So I meet his friends (who know me a bit) at “his table”, order a cafe con leche and a tostada and sit with them. Antonio says: “Pedro has just passed by, outside the bar [in his car].” While my coffee and the tostada arrive, a cortado is put at the place where Pedro usually sits. While I’m still puzzled about what’s happening, he arrives, smiles, takes a first sip and asks: “How are you doing?” Then we discuss the important matters of the day like football results and local stuff like the new train bridge …
Last weekend saw the opening of the 69th Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings. This year’s focus is on Physics. 580 young scientists from 89 countries and 39 Nobel Laureates participate in this year’s meetings. I had the privilege that I could join the opening events incl. the first day of presentations. Even though I’m certainly not in the target group of the event, I like to summarise some of the notable impressions that I have gathered.
On Saturday afternoon, there was an Innovation Forum on quantum technologies, divided into quantum communications (encryption), quantum sensors and quantum computing. I’m a beginner in all of those topics but my gut feeling was similar to the times when AI and neural networks were discussed in the 1980s and 1990s. Today, they have become a reality. The general tone of the discussions went into a similar direction: huge potential but quite some stuff to do in many years ahead. It has been refreshing to see that companies like Bosch are not put off by the long term nature of the investment. Apparently, having physicists as board members helps in that respect. Companies / groups to watch in quantum computing seem to be Microsoft Quantum, IBM Q and Atos.
Notable quotes from the Sunday opening speeches came from Nobel laureate Brian Schmidt (Physics 2011) when he asked the [science] community to listen and to be respectful and patient when discussing with people who are inclined towards neglecting scientific results and declaring any unwanted scientifc conclusion to be “fake news”. Germany’s Secretary for Education and Research, Anja Karliczek, pointed to the example of Alexander von Humboldt for his non-nationalistic, science-focused attitude and asked for international collaboration, especially regarding climate change. Countess Bernadotte advertised the Lindau Declaration in her opening speech.
Unfortunately, I only had time for attending 2 Agora talks on Monday morning. Still, even lacking the knowledge of university physics, it has been fascinating to follow. I especially liked W. Moerner (Nobel Prize 2014) explaining how to trap individual molecules via an Anti-Brownian-Electrokinetic (ABEL) trap.
Besides the official program, there is always the informal conversations and interactions with students and laureates. Once, someone said that a conference’s presentations are only there to trigger and inspire those conversations during breaks, over lunch, dinner, a cup of coffee. I strongly believe in that. Therefore I can only congratulate foundations like the Foundation Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings (with LINO) or the Klaus-Tschira-Stiftung (with HLF) for nourishing that fruitful dialogue.
I have recently changed jobs at SAP and have left the position as head of BW and BW/4HANA development. I will work in the SAP Data Hub (aka “Data Intelligence”) area. Consequently and naturally, I will tweet and blog less (≠ nothing) on #SAPBW, #BWonHANA and #BW4HANA in the future. I am making this transparent so that my reduced and more casual tweeting and blogging is not translated into “less activity, less progress, less novelties etc. in the BW products” or into some other negative conclusions.
I continue being interested in those topics, incl. data warehousing in general, and I will post whatever good and useful piece of information comes across my desk, obviously complementing topics that will originate from my new activities in the big data space. And as usual, I will continue blogging on blogs.sap.com and my own blogsite tfxz.wordpress.com.
After 2 weeks, meeting many new faces – including those of my fellow SAP colleagues – the social sabbatical concluded. All project teams incl. their respective hosts met in BH’s Museu da Moda and presented a final summary. It was a joyful celebration with interesting conclusions and outcomes. Besides the actual and factual results, there were two more and very evident outcomes: enormous mutual respect and admiration and many new friendships. The Brazilian hospitality was and is contagious. Simply allow yourself to immerse into whatever group you are working with and you will experience not only an unbelievable hospitality but also many, many surprising moments that leave you impressed how someone successfully tackles a problem very differently from what you expect. My colleague Oliver describes this effect very well in his blog post.
I am very grateful for the rich experience and the many things that I have learned over the course of those 2 weeks . I thank our Brazilian friends, my SAP + EY colleagues but also SAP and Pyxera for enabling all of that. Some of my colleagues have written great summaries of their experience. I can hardly add to that. You find links to their articles here.
The project climax was getting close. Wednesday’s agenda was dominated by the goal of preparing for the final presentations on Thursday (to the Prefeitura’s secretary) and Friday (to all the other teams). Slides, diagrams, RACIs, potentialities, bubble chart, … all up and down. Camilla and Joe were picked to present on Thursday, while Hugo and myself are lined up for Friday. Presentations were rehearsed, updated, polished, enhanced, rehearsed again. We ended up with version 19 of the slide deck.
On Thursday afternoon, Camilla and Joe finally presented in a Portuguese-English interleaved manner to an audience of about 20 people, mainly from the Prefeitura but complemented by Fernanda and Aline from Pyxera. Margret, Luisa, Felipe and myself contributed here and there and made it a really joint exercise. Everyone seemed to think that the result was a good one, especially as we presented a methodology and a number of associated tools for taking a set of potentialities from idea to implementation, thereby prioritising by value, feasibility and costs. The meeting ended with applause, smiles, happy faces and a lot of hugging. I’d love to see that back in Walldorf!
We left the Prefeitura with a sense of relief and thinking that we had made it. We were not aware that the day had not ended yet and that there would be more to come! We had agreed on meeting the others in Rua Sapucaí later on for a “happy hour”. However, when we tried to leave the hotel using a cab or an Uber, we realised that traffic had collapsed due to the students protests against the government’s proposed cuts for education. Taking eScooters from the hotel to Sapucaí was also considered but failed in the end. Colleagues advised us to drop our plans but we kept tenacious and walked. Near the Parque Municipal we bumped into the students’ protests. Here is a little flavour:
We still managed to end up in Sapucaí and had a great evening with Camilla and Hugo. Back in the hotel, Margret and Joe jokingly scared me with some more changes to tomorrow’s presentation. We’ll see … 🙂
Margret, Joe and I are permanently driven by the questions “How can we provide value to them?” and “What is useful and what not?”. Like in many projects, it is not clear what the questions are that we are working on. Once they become clear (or well-defined), it should be pretty straightforward working out the answers. However, the biggest struggle is getting those well-defined questions. This is where we are at this very moment.
After Friday’s project outline, we manage to narrow down the actual deliverables. We are laying out the schedule for the remainder of the week. Part of finding the questions is defining a concise vision statement for the project in Lagoinha. We agree on the following:
“Lagoinha shall be a creative, inclusive and innovative territory,
building on its rich heritage a vibrant future.”
The words in bold font are decisive:
“creative” refers to the creative industries, culture, art, music,
“inclusive” explains that everyone should feel included, nobody should be pushed out of Lagoinha due to the “rejuvenation activities”, e.g. by investors,
“heritage” recognises Lagoinha’s tradition and history, while …
“future” makes it a forward-looking effort.
Joe and Felipe make the idea a bit more tangible by using photos from Lagoinha today and suggesting how it could evolve, thereby using photos from the weekend trips to Inhotim and Ouro Preto. In our final presentation, we will be able to tell a nice story around it. Joe is particularly proud that he found the old guy from the Inhotim wall art (top left in “Lagoinha tomorrow”) when he went to Ouro Preto (bottom right in “Lagoinha tomorrow”).
Another element that we apply is to define a number of fictional personas that “consume” the result of the Lagoinha development. This is new to our project hosts of the PBH. But they like it as those personas make many things much more tangible. We agree on (1) Gabriela, owning a restaurant in Lagoinha, (2) Leonardo, a founder of a startup, and (3) Vitoria, a student attending lectures in the nearby university. Last Wednesday’s trip to Lagoinha gave us a good sense for those personas and, even if they are fictional, we can match them we some real people that we have met. Discussions become smoother and we play around with those characters. Many times phrases come up like “Incentivising social media to promote Lagoinha will immediately appeal to Vitoria and Leonardo and will be highly beneficial to Gabriela’s business.”. We continue in that way, discussing potentialities, their feasibility-value-costs and suggest a number of options for planning those efforts. I don’t think it’s necessary listing those details. We are all happy making progress. Our Brazilian hosts confess that they “have tears in their eyes”. What else can you hope for?
Getting yet another flavour of Belo Horizonte‘s rich startup scene tonight when we have been invited for a casual get-together by our colleagues from @troposlab at their @WeWork premises pic.twitter.com/X4hko6x2ZF
After a busy week, everyone felt that it was time for a break. On Saturday, everyone joined a trip to Inhotim, an outdoor museum and botanical garden at the same time. It is located next to the community of Brumadinho that suffered from a dam disaster only on 25 Jan 2019 – here is a “before-after” satellite image of the dam. I highly recommend this article by BBC News; at least watch the 3’30” video on the tailings dam problems in Brazil. SAP Brazil also supported the people of Brumadinho; before we started, we got a short presentation on that. On Sunday, the group split up. Some went to Ouro Preto, some for a hike in the Serra do Cipó National Park and a few (incl. me) stayed in Belo Horizonte for some local activities. I had registered for a 10k run, namely the Corrida da Infantaria. Find below a few impressions of Inhotim and the Corrida.
It’s Friday and after a busy week, Margret, Joe and I stayed at the hotel’s meeting room to “download” all the info and data that we had received over the course of the week. We were still struggling to find out what we could actually contribute. Probably, the questions that we asked during the meetings already helped them focusing. However, we tried to find out what are the questions that we should answer.
In an afternoon meeting, we presented our initial thoughts. We agreed that we’d work on the following items:
Lagoinha today and tomorrow
(Outline / initial draft of an) integrated project plan
SEBRAE: a government-funded agency consulting and training small businesses.
Those meetings concluded a busy series of “data collection”. By then, Margeret, Joe and myself were pretty exhausted, especially due to the huge amount and variety of information that we had received. We all struggled to understand what we could potentially contribute and to what exact goal. What are the fundamental questions to solve? Well, we would hopefully find out or define ourselves in the coming days.
Wednesday. We met Felipe who would tour with us through Lagoinha. You get a glance of Felipe and the tour in this video (13 min). Belo Horizonte’s origins can be tracked back to Lagoinha. However, the construction of highways and the railway separated and isolated the community from Belo Horizonte. That has led to an economic and social downturn. For example, around 2/3 of Lagoinha’s population is over 60 years old. Drug traffic, consumption and related violence is a problem, especially at night. Many houses are degrading and require refurbishment. Our tour took us from the train station (Estação Lagoinha) via the Passarela to Rua Itapecerica. The latter, as we learned, is an indigenous name for rolling stone, a reference to the fact that the people of Lagoinha built up Belo Horizonte. The tour was extremely rich of information and experience. It can hardly be summarised in a short blog. I’ve simply compiled a few photos below with some of the highlights.
Felipe explained to us that today’s place in front of the Estação was the entry or staring point for building up BH. Workers from Lagoinha would flock in here. The “inner circle” – actually more an “inner rectangle” – of BH has its starting corner here.
The Passarela is THE (pedestrian) connection between Lagoinha and BH. It crosses the high- and railways that created the separation. Thousands of people commute via the passarela every day. Street art, especially grafitti, have been created to make the environment more friendly, which is otherwise dominated by the noise and the concrete of the highways. In the background, the church – Nossa Senhora da Conceição – can be seen as a reference point for Lagoinha.
The Rua Itapecerica is one of the iconic streets in Lagoinha. A lot of stores, mostly selling antiques, have closed and many houses are degrading.
Grocery Store “João Banana”
A little grocery store that was highlighted in the video. We got some water and manzanos, small bananas tasting a bit like an apple (see on the left of the photo). João’s store is exemplary for many remaining businesses.
Degrading but precious houses on Rua Itapecerica
There is a number of very precious houses along Rua Itapecerica. Most of them are under preservation order which imposes prerequisites for potential investors.
Lunch at Maria Vermelha
We had lunch at a nice, small restaurant within Lagoinha. We also talked to Maria, the owner. Her main customers are people working or visiting a nearby hospital. She suggested to improve lighting within the street thereby improving security but also the ambience of the neighbourhood.
Innovation Hub Órbi Conecta
We also visited Órbi Conecta, an innovation hub for startups and located in Lagoinha. It forms part of the San Pedro Valley community, a network of startups. It provides working spaces, connections, collaboration and other opportunities. It is supported by 3 big sponsors.