In the summer of 2020, Global Fellow Adriana Barbosa launched the podcast “Superar” featuring Afro-Brazilian entrepreneurs navigating the pandemic. The title translates to “overcoming” in Portuguese, an apt description for Barbosa’s own journey battling racial injustice as a Black woman growing up in São Paolo before becoming a successful entrepreneur and champion of Black entrepreneurship and culture in Latin America.
It was her upbringing—from being raised in a matriarchal household to establishing a work ethic at a young age to discovering Black American culture—that shaped her and set her on a path of purpose. When money was tight growing up, her great-grandmother would prepare food to sell and have Barbosa hand out flyers to drum up customers. As one of the rare Black families in her middle class neighborhood, she found refuge and solidarity in Black American culture: the Black Panthers, Malcolm X, Spike Lee movies. And in the thriving music scene of the bohemian neighborhood, Vila Madalena, where she spent her teenage days, she noticed artists, audiences and everyone up and down the production chain—from ticket sellers to sound designers—were Black, but profits lined the pockets of white men. Why weren’t Black people reaping the benefits when they were the ones creating what Black people were consuming?
In 2002, she put these three elements—entrepreneurship, Black pride, and Black buying and selling power—together to found Feira Preta (Black Fair), an effort to unlock the potential of Afro-Brazilian entrepreneurs. She was 22 and had just lost her job at a record label. Feira Preta was an event by and for Afro-Brazilians—who make up more than half of the country’s population, over 100 million people. (Barbosa is quick to quote the fact that Brazil has the second highest Black population after Nigeria.) Feira Preta was a celebration of Brazil’s Black culture, from the concerts and plays to the readings, workshops and children’s spaces.
That first expo was a success, drawing 5,000 visitors. In later years, however, Barbosa struggled to keep her vision alive. She faced racism (she was refused permits to operate in certain neighborhoods); funding issues (she had to help sweep up 30,000 feet of outdoor event space because she couldn’t afford a cleaning crew); theft (once, someone stole the money from ticket sales); and debt—all of which made her almost give up. She didn’t because she saw the pride it brought to everyone who participated and attended. She began to break even with each event. Today, Feira Preta is billed as the largest Black culture event in Latin America with 700-plus exhibitors and crowds topping 50,000.
Feira Preta now falls under PretaHub, Barbosa’s latest—and boldest—venture yet. PretaHub is an effort to build a fair and balanced entrepreneurial ecosystem and strengthen the presence of Afro-entrepreneurs on a global scale. It is an umbrella for initiatives dedicated to catalyzing Black entrepreneurship in Brazil, including AfroLab, a program that helps businesses expand; AfroHub, which helps companies leverage technology to grow; co-working space Casa Preta; and Black Codes, a methodology that tracks company diversity used by the likes of Google and Facebook. Barbosa has influenced public policies at both municipal and federal levels that promote Afro-entrepreneurship—essentially getting others to recognize what she did nearly two decades ago. And she’s taking her pioneering approach to economic empowerment to other countries with large Black populations like Colombia and Bolivia.
Barbosa once said, “When you take away the culture of a people, you kill them.” In giving people an opportunity to own and showcase their culture, she is helping them thrive.