Editor’s Note: This article was contributed by Cuneyt Evirgen and Salomao Alencar De Farias of Georgia State University’s Center for International Business Education & Research (GSU-CIBER) and Milton Sousa, vice-rector of research at the University of Fortaleza, as part of GSU-CIBER’s annual partnership with Global Atlanta.
Sustainability is a growing concern in marketing worldwide, and international business programs led by Georgia State University (GSU) are facilitating academic research on the topic to address real-world business challenges.
Widely known for its international business degree programs and research centers, GSU-CIBER also leads an initiative called the Consortium for International Marketing Research (CIMaR). The informal research alliance was founded more than 30 years ago to bring together diverse scholars from around the globe to share their research on international marketing practices. The group meets each year at a different member university campus, with special emphasis on research and business practice being conducted in and about the host country.
CIMaR’s 30th annual conference and professional development workshop was held June 19-22, 2023, at the University of Fortaleza (UNIFOR) in Fortaleza, Brazil. Titled, “International Marketing in Disrupted Times: Insights from Academia and Practitioners,” the meeting highlighted a variety of research projects being undertaken by scholars from around the globe, many from Brazil.
“Disruption is the new standard, the new status quo, for social, climate, gender, technology and other issues. We need to learn to live in these times because they won’t end any time soon,” asserts Cuneyt Evirgen, senior academic professional at GSU’s J. Mack Robinson College of Business, faculty member at the Institute of International Business (IIB) and faculty director of the GSU Center for International Business Education & Research (CIBER).
“Developments like generative AI just show us that there are more disruptions ahead. We must challenge existing solutions. The need to generate knowledge is even greater than it used to be,” he says.
CIMaR members at the June meeting in Fortaleza explored marketing best practices to counter these disruptions, focusing on environmental and social sustainability, especially in Brazil.
Research collaboration for real-world sustainable business
The academic content of the conference and its practical workshops and offsite company visits spotlighted real-world business challenges, according to conference co-chair Salomao Alencar De Farias, clinical associate professor at GSU’s IIB.
“Businesses have to talk about sustainability because stakeholders expect it, especially for international businesses that export because customers demand a strict value chain,” Dr. De Farias said. Accordingly, a steady stream of new research in international marketing is focused on environmental and societal sustainability, he added.
The June conference included workshops featuring Brazilian and multinational corporations explaining how their products or practices benefit society and the natural environment, as well as how they are working with local communities to address social issues.
“In Brazil, it’s all about responsible business these days,” asserted Milton Sousa, vice-rector of research at UNIFOR and co-chair of the event. “Companies are not just interested in profit but profit with positive social impact.”
Brazil Focus: Research and Practice
It was no wonder that sustainable marketing was a hot topic at the CIMaR conference in Brazil, as the South American economic powerhouse is also home to some of the world’s most important ecosystems, Dr. Sousa noted.
Some 70 attendees to the June conference hailed from UNIFOR. Many of these scholars’ research projects looked at the behavior of consumers of Brazilian products in other countries.
One project involved a virtual exchange of GSU international business students partnering with UNIFOR students on a project with Catarina Mina, a Fortaleza-based company that markets and sells crocheted purses, bags and other gift items fabricated by underprivileged women.
Catarina Mina was one of the first Brazilian companies to disclose its pricing strategy for its products and what it pays the women who make them, Dr. Sousa said. The GSU-UNIFOR virtual exchange students spent two months investigating the best places in Latin America for Catarina Mina to expand its efforts.
Another project born out of the June CIMaR conference involves researchers from Rio de Janeiro and the United Kingdom investigating self-sustaining communities in northeastern Brazil as models for inclusive development in Latin America and the Caribbean.
Entrepreneurship and sustainability often go hand-in-hand in Brazil, said Dr. Sousa. Although international food brands – think Taco Bell or Starbucks – are taking advantage of Brazil’s large market of 220 million inhabitants, Brazilian entrepreneurs often look to international markets, not local, to sell sustainable products, he added.
But investment in sustainable industries is also coming to Brazil. The country’s GDP grew 3 percent more than expected this year, which is bringing increased investment from Chinese companies in the EV industry, for example, said Dr. De Farias.
Chinese manufacturers that are filling the gap left by Ford Motor Co.’s exit from Brazil are shaking up the entire automotive market in the country – and pushing it toward greater sustainability; since EV producers don’t pay import taxes, their cars are more affordable than other brands, he explained.
One Chinese company featured on a business panel during the June conference was an electric vehicle (EV) technology manufacturer that markets its products as having a reduced impact on the environment.
Other corporate panelists also highlighted environmentally friendly practices. A Brazilian company explained its efforts to protect the endangered carnauba tree from which it extracts nut oil to make car wax. The company, which exports to more than 50 countries, is a third-generation family-owned business that plants more of the native trees than it harvests, ensuring the preservation of the species.
CIMaR attendees toured companies’ facilities in Fortaleza to understand how academic research on sustainable business is put to work in real-world business scenarios.
GSU’s relationship with Fortaleza is relatively new; the Brazilian state of Pernambuco has traditionally been stronger than elsewhere in northeastern Brazil, in part due to its sister-state relationship with Georgia (and Dr. De Farias was previously a tenured faculty member at the Federal University of Pernambuco’s business school).
But Dr. Sousa sees a stronger partnership developing between Fortaleza and Georgia via CIMaR and budding joint research projects by UNIFOR and GSU scholars.
UNIFOR is a good fit for CIMaR because it is a private, nonprofit university that is engaged in activities that benefit underprivileged communities, including healthcare programs for women and scholarships for low-income students, asserted Dr. Alencar De Farias.
“Brazil is such huge country, it’s not just Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro. CIMaR is grateful to have a northeastern Brazilian partner with not only a great academic reputation but also a focus on social responsibility,” he said.
Each year, CIMaR welcomes international marketing academics whose research could open paths for collaboration between GSU and universities worldwide.
“It’s all about enlarging our geographical scope so diversity is nourished,” Dr. Evirgen said.
The next CIMaR conference is to take place at the University of Gävle in Sweden, June 10-13, 2024.
Titled “Being Resilient Under New Realities,” the meeting is expected to again highlight sustainability. The topic is salient throughout Europe, especially with the adoption of the European Green Deal initiative to make the European Union climate-neutral by 2050, said Dr. Evirgen. Faculty and Ph.D. students are invited to attend to present their research and connect with colleagues from different geographies.
“We teach concepts in international business, but what’s really going on in the field in different countries may be surprising. It’s a great learning experience to talk to locals, as it accelerates the rate of learning,” Dr. Evirgen asserted.
Active researchers of international marketing from any university are encouraged to join CIMaR, which has grown to more than 160 members from around the globe. To join, contact Dr. Cuneyt Evirgen, Faculty Director of GSU-CIBER. You may also contact Dr. Evirgen for more information about GSU’s 12-month Master of International Business (MIB) program geared for working professionals interested in launching or furthering their global business careers.