Diving into the unknown: Business Anthropology in Portugal

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When one starts studying anthropology at the university, one of the first things we’re told is that it can be used in almost anything. From medicine to psychology, the multidisciplinarity of anthropology allows it to be applied to a variety of crafts. But the problem begins when you actually start looking at the real options presented to you: beneath all that talk about the applications of Anthropology, the greater focus in Portugal still resides in academia, and the facet of the area that can be applied outside of it is ignored and sometimes even shunned.

The idea of Business Anthropology is still very unknown and obscure in Portugal, being only minimally applied in some sectors of marketing and consulting. Despite some progress in the mainstreaming of anthropology as a way to help evolve and grow business abroad, indoors there is still a great hostility towards the idea within the anthropological community. Be it by the denial to utilize the anthropological tools to help private companies, stemmed from the idea that it helps capitalism, of the fear to go “into the wild” and do something new, there is a stigma in Portugal against Business Anthropology.

All of these notions sank in when the idea of opening a company that applies business anthropology occur to us two. This journey started when we were finishing our studies, and the question popped up: “What now?”. What do we do after academia?

We started to do some research into the practical application of anthropology, and we stumbled into the idea of applying it to business. After doing some research, we found out that some companies use our techniques and methods, but without employing anthropologists. We came to the conclusion that there are few Portuguese companies that actually have anthropologists in their boards, and none truly is a business anthropology company (it’s worth pointing out, although, that some Business Anthropology companies based outside our country work and do projects here). With that information in hand, we started considering the possibility of opening our own company. There were some problems, though: we had no experience or knowledge about opening or running a business, and we had no money to jump-start the project.

This is a project we want to use to help Anthropology excel in Portugal.

Our first move was to learn about running a business. For that, we enrolled in an intensive formation provided by the Portuguese Employment and Formation Institute (IEFP) at the time, focused on Entrepreneurship, design to provide the tools to create, open, pitch, and run a business. It took a few months to finish the course, and during that time, we learned about the financial, operational, and commercial sides of a company. During the course, we learned about a project that offered financial support to emerging entrepreneurs and gave help in terms of connections, incubation with a respected and successful business, and permanent guidance of the project, all provided by a governmental organization. So, we entered the public tender, submitted our idea, and waited.

About 3 months later the results came in. We were nervous, we knew how many projects tried the same we did, how many people wanted this, and that the project needed to be very good to be approved. But, we did get approved! Not only did we have the financial support to help us start, but we also had validation of our idea and our work form a national organization.

That was roughly four months ago. Since then we have been working, every day, to make our dream, our idea into reality. By the end of this project, we hope not only to have our own company running, but have success. We hope to make something of our own, to show that we can do more than just a dream. But this is not only for us. This is also a project we want to use to help Anthropology in Portugal. To show that our field can hang and contend with the business world. That people like us, uncertain about what to do after college, can do more, can use their skills in the “real world”. Show that anthropology is more than just academia. We believe that we can do these things. Maybe not today. Maybe not in a year, or two, or five. But, someday, we hope people will look at Anthropology, look at the professionals of the field, and know what we are capable of.


Co-author: Daniel Alves

Graduated in Anthropology from the Faculty of Sciences and Technology of the University of Coimbra (FCTUC), in Portugal, and postgraduate in Evolution and Human Biology by the same institution. Part-time researcher with ongoing projects in the areas of human osteology and human longevity (thesis project). Growing entrepreneur in the area of business anthropology. Founding member of the Portuguese National Association of Students of Anthropology (ANEANT) and, currently, its president. President of the organizing committee of "BeAnthropology - Coimbra 2018", the first national meeting of the Portuguese anthropology students.

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