By Mark Beresford, Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO – For many people new to town in the last two years, the Young Professionals Happy Hours (YPHH) have been the perfect occasion for opening doors to new social relationships and business opportunities.
The first event of 2010 – a Feijoada party on Saturday afternoon at the Sheraton Hotel on Avenida Niemeyer – was a classic Young Professionals occasion, with around 100 Americans, Brazilians, and expatriates of all nationalities enjoying, caipirinhas, cervejas, tucking into rice, beans and meat, and dancing to the rhythms of the batería from the Portela samba school.
“For me it’s a great mixture of business and pleasure,” said Brazilian jewelry designer Barbara de Souza, who is partly based in Paris. “It couldn’t be a better combination of people, and it’s a lot of fun.”
After eleven events, held every two months, some changes are on the horizon this year for the Young Professionals program. The major networking events will now be held on a quarterly basis, with other smaller, more focused gatherings, targeted at specific business areas, explains Camille Richardson, Principal Commercial Officer at the U.S. Consulate in Rio de Janeiro, who established the Happy Hours as an outreach program.
“We now have a really strong base and reputation from people talking about us, and we want to get enough of a ball rolling so that in May, we can make a major announcement about where the group is heading,” she says. “It’s now up to folks in Rio with a vested interest in seeing this continue to take the initiative.”
After over four years in Rio de Janeiro, Camille Richardson herself will be leaving in May, to take up a new position in the U.S. embassy in Nairobi, Kenya.
Before Camille leaves though, she hopes to see a steering committee established for the Young Professionals, composed of interested people from consulates in Rio and from other organizations, who are involved with the YPHH events, such as the American Chamber of Commerce, the International MBA Association, and the Hash House Harriers.
“I hope to leave the Young Professional’s Happy Hours as a legacy to Rio, as something which helps people here,” Camille says. “Getting established socially can be difficult, and in Brazilian business, especially here in Rio, it’s all about who you know. When you first come to Rio it can be tough to establish these connections, and the Young Professionals events help provide a social base for that.”
The success of the events can be measured by the rise in attendance: the first Happy Hour in April 2008 attracted sixty people, and by the end of 2009, well over 200 people were attending the Happy Hours, at premium venues across Rio, while the Facebook group now has nearly 400 members.
“I created the YPHH in Rio because there was nothing like it here, and the fact that it has grown so fast shows that it has been a welcome addition to the social scene of the professional crowd,” Camille says.
Judging by the quality of the organization and the enthusiasm of the guests at the Sheraton on Saturday, the Happy Hours have become an important part of the social calendar here in Rio that many folks would like to see continue beyond May.