By Felicity Clarke, Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO – Starting a life in a new place is always a challenge and building a social circle and a professional network often depend on chance meetings and can take a painfully long time.
Happy Hours help. The city bars buzzing with professionals enjoying discounted after-work drinks provide a perfect opportunity to socialize and network in an informal environment. Yet the concept is curiously under-exploited in Rio and, even so, penetrating a group of people without a specific intention can be a daunting prospect.
The lack of opportunities to meet like-minded professionals was something that struck Camille Richardson, Principal Commercial Officer for the U.S. Consulate in Rio and organizer of Young Professionals Happy Hours in Rio de Janeiro (YPHH). “I’d moved from Buenos Aires where Happy Hours are an important part of business life and the after work social scene,” explains Camille. “I was surprised there wasn’t the same networking culture here in Rio.“
Understanding the importance of networking for both social and business life, Richardson was inspired to organize events to provide opportunities for professionals, and expats in particular, to meet.
Working with the U.S. Consulate, she started YPHH with a small event in April 2008. After a series of three fund-raising events at the Marriott , and a successful holiday happy hour at Rio Scenarium in December 2008, the positive feedback from attendees inspired Richardson to institutionalize the get-togethers, making the YPHH an in-demand, regular bi-monthly event. Attendance skyrocketed from 60 people at the initial event to over 400 at the event to welcome the new U.S. Consul General, Dennis Hearne, in September 2009.
Richardson has several objectives for the events: “Primarily, they’re to help expats integrate, but they also promote connections for professionals with the Consular corps as well as introduce people to hip chic new venues they may not otherwise know about.”
Upscale venues with style and service are the specification, with recent venues including Cais do Oriente in Centro, Casa Cor at the Jockey Club in Gavea, and the new ZoZo restaurant in Urca. These parties are not about the awkward hand-shaking and stilted conversation that the term “networking” can conjure, but rather stylish, evening events with an opportunity to meet interesting people.
While the initial target group for the events was professionals aged 25 to 40, there’s no age limit and the events attract a wide range of attendees, both Brazilian and expat, from the oil industry, to embassies, to NGOs to entrepreneurs.
“We also have Afro-Brazilian business people attending,” says Richardson, “which I think is notable because although Brazil is a mosaic society , there’s not always a lot of social mixing and it’s important for people to know that there is an Afro-Brazilian professional class.”
With a 2,000-plus contact list, a partnership with the American Chamber of Commerce, and support from the International MBA Association, the Hash House Harriers (a British social club and worldwide organization), and the American Society of Rio de Janeiro, the YPHH is poised to continue serving the networking needs of Rio’s business community with style and flair.
Plans for 2010 include a pre-Carnival feijoada party, quarterly networking events, some more focused seminars and professional development workshops as well as the possible launch of the initiative in São Paulo.
For anyone new to Rio, visiting, or looking to expand their professional and social networks, YPHH events provide interesting new company and sophisticated venues, making the process a lot more enjoyable.