Pedro Mateus das NevesFounder and CEO of Global Solutions
With extensive experience in sustainable development policies, Pedro Mateus das Neves is the founder and CEO of Global Solutions 4U, a consulting firm specialized in SDG issues.
In addition, he is an advisor and consultant to the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe and UNCTAD - United Nations Conference on Trade and Development.
With a PhD. and several books and articles published, Pedro Mateus das Neves is one of the special guests at Connecting Stories by PARTTEAM & OEMKIOSKS.
1. With an extensive resume, can you tell us a little about your journey and professional experience?
Some characteristics marked me and I like to think that we make big leaps when we face crises. I was born in Luanda because my parents lived there. My mother is from Vila do Conde and my father from Tondela, and we used to come every year to Portugal to spend our vacations in Porto. In 1974, we came and ended up staying here. And that was the first time I realized that there were factors that could change our lives and that didn't depend on us. That was the first big crisis lesson I had.
My father was an economist and worked in the oil industry, and I would see him going to headquarters driving a car, but his friends that were engineers drove jeeps. At that time, it looked more interesting to be an engineer than to be an economist. So, I went to Mining Engineering at the Faculty of Engineering at the University of Porto and worked in the oil industry in Angola and France for 10 years. It was a very rich experience because the oil industry is very demanding and when we think we want to do something, we must do it, and it is mandatory to say how much it will cost, how much time we need, and we must guarantee quality. This whole logic of project management made me realize that we can transform the world. It was an industry that marked me.
At a certain point I wanted to come back to Portugal and returned to do the closing of the Refinery of Cabo Ruivo and in 1992, curiously also participated on the strategy for the Refinery of Leça da Palmeira for 2020, and the evolution of the three refineries (Lisbon, Leça and Sines).
In 1997, I started to work in the infrastructure sector and realized it was not only in the oil industry that you could have an integrated vision, but that we could have a project life cycle approach in many sectors and ended up being involved in projects that combined simultaneously mobility, utilities, social infrastructures, real estate, logistics and industry. Working for developers such as Bouygues, Somague and when wanted to change, I was looking for a more holistic approach to program management and went to Parque Expo and realized that it was as if we were making pieces of a puzzle and all the pieces fit together. Those pieces, if organized well, would make a city a good place to live. This was the time where I developed most of the concepts and tools that later used in my PhD, namely the four-season pizza and the 4G Master Plan. A city is like a four-season pizza, where we have mobility networks and these relate to how people get from A to B (roads, subway, train, airports, ports, etc.), to utilities, to energy, wi-fi, gas, electricity, to social infrastructures, to areas like education, health, sports, culture, leisure and real estate. All these pieces, organized well, make a very interesting city.
At a certain point, I started to realize that, more than transforming, it was necessary to group the pieces and understand the dynamics associated with capital in this process. And it became obvious, those good ideas attract capital, and capital and good ideas combined move projects forward, and become good businesses. At that point, it looked that transformation implied more than just looking for profit. A city should be a space that is good for people and space where we reduce the environmental footprint. Especially for me, as a mining and petroleum engineer, it was very interesting to understand how we could make a positive transformation. This is one where we replace an equation with money as the key variable to a new one where the process occurs to make money, to create jobs and to protect the planet. This was the root that subsequently led me to create Global Solutions 4U.
Global Solutions 4U’s logic was to write equations for all, based on three pillars: people, planet and prosperity. We look for solutions based on sustainable development and, within this logic, I left the role of the builder and project engineer to become a consultant who writes equations to solve problems, designs solutions and implements them.
When I started to work with the United Nations, also began organizing cities all over the world through public visions that are articulated with private sector strategy, dynamics and private capital and, at one point, while presenting this concept at Tsinghua University, in Beijing, China, they asked me to write a 300-page book on this topic, to be delivered in three months. It was the first time I was being told to be more connected to the university, to research and share knowledge with others. Two months later, at IESE Business School, in Barcelona, I was making an equivalent presentation and a colleague of mine, who is now SDG’s Commissioner in the city of Barcelona, said, “Pedro, to have this type of discourse at university, you have to have a PhD”. Two years after receiving these messages, I was doing my PhD in Economics with the research question “SDG's why? and SDG's for whom?” And the logic became to transform the world with this new language of sustainable development. It is a new paradigm because we want to create a better world and if we want to make a significant change, it means the better world shall be for all and, therefore, we can't leave anyone behind. This is the logic of the phrase of the United Nations in 2015 while launching the SDG’s. (In 2020/2021, the phrase is “let's rebuild better”, because of COVID-19).
Within this logic of making the world a better place, it was interesting to realize that these three pillars and 3 Ps (people, planet and prosperity) can be associated with a new sustainable development game, that requires new rules and needs new players. The logic is, then, to attract new players; it is not enough to simply have the central administration, it requires the involvement of cities, the private sector, civil society, the academy. These players will only play if the rules are good. Therefore, the great challenge is to make new rules, good, clear, transparent, that generate confidence in the game and the players.
All this generates peace, essential for development, and this will be the fourth pillar and the 4th P, for Peace – to which we associate the rules of the game. And these rules concern culture, informal rules, formal rules (which are the laws) and the mechanisms to implement these rules. When we have a good game (like sustainable development) and good rules, we are going to have good partners, and this brings in the 5th P, for Partnership and, consequently, for good players.
2. How did Global Solutions 4U come along and what does this project, which has existed since 2010, consist of?
I created Global Solutions 4U in 2010, two years after the Lehman crisis. In 2008, I was setting up a Real Estate Investment Fund, with Dutch, Irish and US capital, and overnight, the capital we had raised and was committed, was no longer accessible because it no longer existed. It was a very dramatic moment.
After a while, I was orienting my life differently and realized that we were in a huge depression, because Portugal wanted to spend and invest capital that we didn't have, and because of lack of trust in our “system”, the capital costs were unbearable. My capacity to believe in the private sector, managed by others, diminished and I decided to start a project of my own, a project based on sustainable development. So, I started to look for global solutions to change the world, global solutions for investors, for mayors, for governments, always anchored on the one hand, in the territory and, on the other, in the cities, in governments, in investors, in the ability to engineer and interpret and use economics to make this happen. This is how and why Global Solutions 4U was created.
3. What led you to apply to the United Nations system?
It was not a competition. I was at a conference in Brussels and, at this conference, a colleague from the government of Kazakhstan had to go to the United Nations to present a public-private partnership project for Kazakhstan. After I made a presentation, she came and asked me to support them. So, the first time I went to Geneva, to the United Nations, was to make a presentation as part of a delegation from the government of Kazakhstan.
After this presentation, I was invited to be part of the Business Advisory Board, a group of advisors created by the United Nations for developing businesses, bridging public strategy and private dynamics. In 2011/2012 I started the relationship with the United Nations and, until now, it has never stopped and continues to grow.
4. In general terms, what are the objectives of the UNECE and UNCTAD work?
The United Nations is the closest organization to the government of the planet. They correspond to the Council of Ministers of a government of planet Earth. In this Council of Ministers, the Minister of Finance is the IMF, the Minister of Economy is the World Bank and, from this perspective, it is the United Nations that brings these various ministries together.
The United Nations have a matrix organization that, on one hand, comprises organizations such as the World Health Organization and UNCTAD. In addition to this, the United Nations are divided into various geographical zones. The largest geographical zone of the United Nations is the UNECE, which starts in Canada, includes the USA and goes all the way to Russia (56 countries including some of the most developed ones). The initial logic of the UNECE was to bridge the gap between the Western countries and the Eastern countries, namely the market economy countries and the planned economy countries. Therefore, Geneva was and is the place where the East meets the West, namely from an ideological point of view, hence the UNECE has its headquarters in Geneva. This is the place where everyone feels comfortable.
UNECE, being the group of UN regions that has the most developed countries, ends up supporting all the other regional arms.
In the case of UNCTAD, the perspective is different. When we talk about development, we talk about trade and investment, and UNCTAD is also responsible for this interface at the United Nations.
These two arms have one thing in common: sustainable development. Within these arms, we talk about investment, development and trade. These three keywords are the reasons for my involvement with UNCTAD.
I am an advisor and a consultant to the United Nations. On one hand, they ask me for advice, which I give free of charge, and on the other hand, when problems are more complicated, they ask me to go to Geneva and the various Member-States with development challenges to solve.
5. The United Nations is the world's largest international organization and the platform par excellence for multilateralism. How do you see the role of the United Nations, namely for its multilateral capacity, in the current world situation?
It is unique. There is no other organization on a global scale that has all these Member-States.
First of all, there is nothing that compares to the UN. When you look at the World Bank, the European Investment Bank, the African Development Bank or the Asian Development Bank, you realize that they are all Development Banks and their purpose is to lend money. In the case of the UN, there is no money. There are a budget and two objectives: to ensure peace (avoiding the Third World War) and to promote development. In other words, to have peace, we need to have development, and to have development, we need to have peace. And this virtuous cycle between peace and development is the root of the United Nations.
While in Development Banks, the weight of each country depends on the financial participation in each Bank, in the case of the United Nations, the countries all have the same weight. This makes Member-States all have to look at each other as equals. These factors make the United Nations, by definition, a neutral operator.
6. What is it like to work in an organization like the United Nations, with a large structure and with collaborators from all over the world?
The most interesting thing is when you realize that at the UN you don't make laws. At the UN you can only make suggestions. And, therefore, everything is done based on intelligence, reflection and influence. It's not based on imposition. This creates a very interesting environment, where a lot of people meet and where we must defend what we believe in, based on evidence, based on arguments, based on experience and the ability that we must relate, argue and counter-argue. It's a very interesting game. Considering that we are so many on this planet, we must get to the United Nations and talk to each other to understand each other.
7. In your opinion, what is sustainable development? Is it a philosophy? A policy? An economic trend? Has it been a success or a failure?
It is a new language and implies a different way of being. It's understanding that economic growth alone causes social conflict and that if we don't combine economic growth with social cohesion, we won't have development.
But at the same time, we have to make economic growth and social cohesion take into account the impact they have on nature, otherwise, the equation won't work for long. This being so obvious, becomes a language, and we must breathe this language.
Sustainable development and each of these three dimensions (the economic, social and environmental dimensions) have their individual roots in the Industrial Revolution. It was in 1972 that we started to put the pieces together acting simultaneously, which became a language and the agenda of the United Nations. This language is now being implemented in all countries, and I am deeply convinced that the countries, cities, public and private organizations that sooner adopt the sustainable development goals within their culture will be ahead in the future. This is, therefore, language loaded with the culture of the new SDG culture.
8. With several published books and articles, what messages do you want to transmit to those who read you?
At the moment, I have work published in Portuguese, English, French, Russian, Chinese and Japanese and the message has a common core. The world can be a better place if we use and implement sustainable development. The people around us have to be part of our solution. We have to look at the planet and reduce our footprint. And we have to make money, otherwise, we can't pay the bills tomorrow, and these principles are indeed a very big cultural change. But I believe that this cultural change will allow us to die in peace, leaving a better legacy for our children and grandchildren, who will live better on this planet.
9. As an entrepreneur, and being PARTTEAM & OEMKIOSKS leader in the development and exportation of digital billboards and multimedia kiosks to the international market, what is, in your opinion, the relevance of digital in the strategy and internationalization of a company?
It is crucial at this point to understand that these three dimensions (people, planet and prosperity) are aligned with the keywords of the European Union (resilience, decarbonization, and digitalization). Resilience is linked to people. Decarbonization is linked to the planet. Digitalization is linked to the future of the economy, to prosperity.
So, digitalization is about promoting prosperity, anticipating the future, improving people's lives. PARTTEAM & OEMKIOSKS' billboards and kiosks are examples of “phygitalization”, of how we can think in the physical city and the digital city, having the city at our reach.
This logic of understanding the city, what is happening and knowing where we want to be, how we can get there and what we can expect when we get there, are fundamental communications aspects in Smart Cities and Sustainable Cities. Everyone is looking for this kind of interface, which helps us improve the connection between the individual and the city. This is in the way of the future and, therefore, the right track. Then, the strategy that PARTTEAM & OEMKIOSKS adopted is, for sure, a winning one that will give good results, not only in Portugal but in all cities that want to be cities of the future. There are no cities of the future without digitalization.
Connecting Stories is an editorial space led by PARTTEAM & OEMKIOSKS which consists of conducting exclusive interviews, directed at influential personalities who work in different sectors of activity.
The project, conceived by PARTTEAM & OEMKIOSKS, includes the publication of success stories, through small interviews with influencers who want to share details about their projects, opinions, plans for the future, among other subjects.
The idea is to connect stories, share knowledge, develop networking and generate content that can provide new visions, opportunities and ideas.
Founded in 2000, PARTTEAM & OEMKIOSKS is a world renowned Portuguese IT company, manufacturer of indoor and outdoor multimedia kiosks, self-service equipment, digital billboards, interactive tables and other digital solutions, for all types of sectors and industries. To know more about our story, click here.