María Emilia Correa
Colombia
María Emilia Correa
  • Co-Founder, Sistema B International (B-Corp)
Born Bogotá, Colombia, 1958. LL.B, Universidad de los Andes (1982); MA Sociology (1985); Advanced Leadership Initiative, Harvard University (2019).
“If you want to engage in a realm, you need to speak and understand the language, and you need the skills required to participate in decision-making processes. But you also need to be able to assimilate other kinds of knowledge –the knowledge of nature, the knowledge of society, the knowledge of other world views – in order to translate them into the business language.”

Summary

María Emilia Correa is co-founder of Sistema B, a Latin American organization promoting new economies and B Corporations. In her interview, she recalls how after returning to Colombia in 1985 after finishing her masters in New York City, she took a job with The Nature Conservancy and the Natura Foundation where she pursued her interest in biological resource conservation. After attending United Nations Earth Summit held in Rio de Janeiro in 1992, Correa became inspired by the idea that the business sector could be a positive agent to build a balanced and sustainable society. After working with in several civil society organizations focused on helping business to become more sustainable, in 1999 she became the first sustainability vice president at Grupo Nueva, a multinational investment holding company specialized in forestry and wood derivatives. This experience enabled her to acquire expertise in many key business functions. Subsequently she joined Natura Cosmetics in Brazil. After ten years in the corporate world, she chose to step away and become a purpose-driven entrepreneur, which she defines in the interview as “someone who runs into a problem and comes up with a business-based solution. It is using market tools to launch a value proposition, product, or a service sold in the market to produce both a profit and, at the same time, a positive impact on society and nature.” In this interview, Correa focuses on the importance of companies as agents of change in societies. She reflects on topics including the value of teamwork, the importance of understanding different knowledge cultures, the search to find a way to merge the non-financial and financial interests of businesses, the impact that consumers have on society through their interactions with the marketplace, the role that public policies play by setting the rules of the game for society and those engaged with the market, and identifies three important characteristics for successful business: trust, consistency, and transparency. Correa also discusses the issue of risk aversion by investors and low confidence levels by the public in Latin America when it comes to creating change, and how legal commitment can solve this. She further explores the importance of promoting social change through education, the challenge of the “horrible level” of corruption in Latin America, the importance of hearing women’s voices on company boards, and the challenges she has faced as a woman building a career in male-dominated settings.

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María Emilia Correa is co-founder of Sistema B, a Latin American organization promoting new economies and B Corporations. In her interview, she recalls how after returning to Colombia in 1985 after finishing her masters in New York City, she took a job with The Nature Conservancy and the Natura Foundation where she pursued her interest in biological resource conservation. After attending United Nations Earth Summit held in Rio de Janeiro in 1992, Correa became inspired by the idea that the business sector could be a positive agent to build a balanced and sustainable society. After working with in several civil society organizations focused on helping business to become more sustainable, in 1999 she became the first sustainability vice president at Grupo Nueva, a multinational investment holding company specialized in forestry and wood derivatives. This experience enabled her to acquire expertise in many key business functions. Subsequently she joined Natura Cosmetics in Brazil. After ten years in the corporate world, she chose to step away and become a purpose-driven entrepreneur, which she defines in the interview as “someone who runs into a problem and comes up with a business-based solution. It is using market tools to launch a value proposition, product, or a service sold in the market to produce both a profit and, at the same time, a positive impact on society and nature.” In this interview, Correa focuses on the importance of companies as agents of change in societies. She reflects on topics including the value of teamwork, the importance of understanding different knowledge cultures, the search to find a way to merge the non-financial and financial interests of businesses, the impact that consumers have on society through their interactions with the marketplace, the role that public policies play by setting the rules of the game for society and those engaged with the market, and identifies three important characteristics for successful business: trust, consistency, and transparency. Correa also discusses the issue of risk aversion by investors and low confidence levels by the public in Latin America when it comes to creating change, and how legal commitment can solve this. She further explores the importance of promoting social change through education, the challenge of the “horrible level” of corruption in Latin America, the importance of hearing women’s voices on company boards, and the challenges she has faced as a woman building a career in male-dominated settings.
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Video Clips by Topic

Sustainability (1)

María Emilia Correa, co-founder of Sistema B, a Latin American organization promoting B Corporations and sustainability, discusses the impact of attending the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro in 1992 on her thinking, and her personal journey to become the first vice president for sustainability in Grupo Nueva (an investment holding company specialized in forestry and wood derivatives) seven years later.



Sustainability (2)

María Emilia Correa, co-founder of Sistema B, a Latin American organization promoting B Corporations and sustainability, discusses the origins of the B Corporation in the United States, and how she and her co-founders reached an agreement with the B Lab to take the concept to Latin America in the form of Sistema B. The ambition was to create a business system “where success is measured by people’s and nature’s well-being and not just profits.”



Fundraising

María Emilia Correa, co-founder of Sistema B, a Latin American organization promoting B Corporations and sustainability, discusses the sources of funding for purpose-driven companies in Latin America.



Corruption

María Emilia Correa, co-founder of Sistema B, a Latin American organization promoting B Corporations and sustainability, discusses the problem of corruption in Latin America, and her hope of an entrepreneurial solution to the issue through greater transparency and changing incentives inside firms.

Keywords: Corruption, Colombia


Gender

María Emilia Correa, co-founder of Sistema B, a Latin American organization promoting B Corporations and sustainability, discusses the importance of gender diversity on corporate boards and managements in Latin America.

Keywords: Colombia, Gender


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Additional Resources

Additional Resources

Interview Citation Format

Interview with María Emilia Correa, interviewed by Andrea Lluch, Boston, Massachusetts, U.S.A., May 8, 2019, Creating Emerging Markets Oral History Collection, Baker Library Special Collections, Harvard Business School.