Read about Jorge Vivanco, board member of Vision Fund (Mexico), interviewed by Wilma Mui, program associate at the World Faiths Development Dialogue (USA).
WM – Can you start by telling us a little bit about yourself?
JV – I studied at the national university in Mexico to become industrial engineer. I worked in heavy industries for many years, manufacturing tractors, trucks, machinery, and cars. I was involved in the area of planning, designing, and production control. After probably 10 years, I moved to central government. I worked as a bureaucrat, in the budgeting control, and later I returned to my original career, which was planning and controlling of machinery production. Then got a promotion to go to work for Social Security in Mexico. Social security is a huge organization in Mexico, it covers over 50 million people, and I was in charge of developing suppliers, and supplying all the needs of the institution for five years. This was probably the most gratifying job I ever had.
After that, I went to a pharmaceutical company. I was managing director of this pharmaceutical group integrated by four corporations. I made enough money in a year, that I decided to become independent and founded my own company. It was a distribution company representing different corporations in the diagnostic field. When I was in Social Security, I realized that this was a weak field that very few companies attended. I ran this company for 20 years, and in the meantime, BioMerieux proposed a joint venture to set up a subsidiary in Mexico. I accepted that and I carried both companies. I was with BioMerieux for 15 years, and later I closed my company focusing completely in BioMerieux. In 2008, I retired from these corporations and decided to make something new with my life.
In 2004, I was invited to be part of the board of World Vision, and I accepted immediately. I was part of the board for 1 year, and after they proposed me as vice president of the board, and two years later they proposed me as president of the board. This was in 2009-2010, and since then I was chairing the board for 6 years, and last year, I ended my 3 period that is allowed by the government’s rules, so I left World Vision, and I was promoted as member of the board of Vision Fund, which is linked as a sister organization of World Vision, and in this board, I have been working since 2008, I guess, and last year I was promoted to president of the board as well, because I just left my other responsibility. Besides that, in parallel I have been participating in several not so fancy organizations, very simple organizations.
I have been a member of different boards of Christian churches. I work for at least 3 Christian churches in Mexico, from different denominations, like Anglicans, Presbyterians, or Charismatic.
One important milestone in my life happened when I was 40 years old, I got involved working in the slums in Mexico. And let me tell you a very interesting story, because this is what I like. I was reading the newspaper one night, and I opened the newspaper, and appeared an 8 columns news stating: , “Who will give him back his wings?” I said, “What’s that?” So I read it, it was a story of a plumber, who used his bicycle to go to work, and one day, he was riding his bicycle, and a lady hit him so hard that he suffered a very severe injury living his spine broken in two pieces leaving him quadriplegic, with no solution. He had six children, and because of that reason, he lost his wife, his job, his house, everything. So, he had to go to live in one of the poorest slums in Mexico City. And he used to live in a cottage, 3 square meters, made of carton boards, and people used to pass throwing him the food they didn’t use. Just like you feed an animal. So, a young journalist, who is now very famous in Mexico, knew about this story, and she went and made an interview with this guy, and she wrote the article that I told you about. In the published article, He used the term ‘Wings’ in the story because Jesus nickname was ‘The Eagle’. So I read this article and I said, “I’m the one.” And the next day I went to his place and took responsibility of The Eagle and his 6 kids until I was sure they were prepared to face life. Like 2 years ago, the elder brother -Emilio- called me and told me that his father had passed away. This experience helped me to know my role in my life. Emilio and his 5 brothers and sisters have overcome the challenges that this accident has put them suddenly in their lives.
That is I why, later, I joined World Vision and Vision Fund. And I enrolled in many activities of what I call compassionate love. I believe that this is really my role, but all other things I do around are just to prepare me for this. This is the key, this is the key. Of course, I take care of my family, I take care of my wife and my daughters, but I believe I have a calling for that. Since I was young, since I was 12 years old, I was volunteering in a psychiatric hospital. And I was always volunteering, hospitals, orphanages. I don’t know why, but one day I said, no, this is something I was called for. That’s why I’m with Ahimsa, because Ahimsa is also looking for this goal, but ahimsa has a very big scope, an international scope, and involves large organizations, and it can impact millions of people. That’s why I was so interested. I know I’m not in the field, I’m not getting dirt on my hands in Ahimsa, but I know that my job impacts people, probably not now, probably in five or ten or twenty years, and that’s why I’m involved with here.
WM – So have you been with Ahimsa since the beginning?
JV – Yes, yes. I started to talk about Ahimsa with Jean Francois many years ago, 20 years ago. He was my boss at BioMerieux when we became partners in 1996. I’ve known Ahimsa from the roots.
WM – Thank you for sharing that story and you’ve done some amazing things. You mentioned that you have served on the boards of several different churches; what is your own faith background?
JV – Well, it’s a complex question. I believe in God; I believe in Jesus. But I believe that the doctrine that more fits to my thoughts are the Jewish Tradition, the Torah. This is what I think. So, I’m Christian, formally, but I really believe the people who are following more strictly the Bible are the Jews. So this is what I am more identified with. So it’s something strange; somebody may call me a Messianic Christian, this is the group I fit more. I completely agree with what the Bible says; this is something clear for me. But I believe, finally, that everyone has his own religion.
WM – In your role on the board of World Vision, how did you see the work that they did in the community? On a larger scale, is there anything that World Vision did that you’re very much behind?
JV – We work in many, many projects in World Vision. The first initiative we implanted was to have a clear view of the work in the field. They didn’t have a system to deal with strategic decisions, so we implemented the balanced score system.
WM – I actually spend a year with World Vision in Senegal, and I worked with World Vision in Sierra Leone for 3 months.
JV – We implemented the balanced score card, which is not implemented in World Vision globally.. The board used to make decisions related to operations, and this is something I didn’t want to do. We are in the strategic decisions, which is why we picked this system, to be involved only in strategic decisions and leave the managing director all the operational decisions. This was very difficult; it took us three years to do that. I believe in most corporations, they don’t split; there’s a line in the water, you don’t know clearly what are the responsibilities of the board, what are the responsibilities of the managing director. And if this is not clear, this affects a lot of your operation. So this was the first thing we did in World Vision. The second, we increased, and we changed a lot our way of fundraising, and we increased fundraising in Mexico. Fundraising in Mexico grew by double or triple these years. And it has been growing again, so I believe in four or five years, World Vision Mexico will be independent in terms of resources. This was a good achievement of the corporation in Mexico. Another thing were some programs we made to increase the Christian identity within the employees. But we imposed that people will be aware of Christian principles while applying their daily jobs.
WM – What percentage of the employees were Christian?
JV – Well, supposedly everyone. 300, and like 600 volunteers.
WM – Was it important to reinforce Christian values?
JV – Yes, somebody asked me, is this true? If you want to work in World Vision, they ask you if you are a Christian. If you don’t confess as Christian, you cannot work in World Vision. Is this discrimination? No, because we work under these values, and you cannot work if you do not believe in these values. This is not discrimination.
WM – So it’s interesting, when I was in Senegal, it’s 94% Muslim, so they did have Muslim employees, and because there are so many shared values, there was no conflict. However, when you are applying to work with World Vision, they ask you about your faith and you have to check a box.
JV – Yes, that’s true. You know the tragedy we had in Pakistan? The killed most everyone in the office. I was in World Vision as the president when this happened. This is the cost.
WM – So, going back to the panel that you just chaired on entrepreneurship, looking forward, and collaboration, where do you see the future of World Vision, Vision Fund, and other NGOs in that sphere?
JV – Let me see. Let me put it this way. In any process, let’s say the animals, the mammals make a circle. The mammals at the end, the pig eats everything that they don’t eat. Or in the sea, the clams and the lobsters, they eat all the garbage, and they close the circle, and it keeps a balance in the system. In our economic system, companies and governments, they make wealth, they provide services, and they do things. But they are very imperfect, very far from perfection. All the products they produce, are fixed by organizations like World Vision and Vision Fund.
WM – So they complete the circle?
JV – Well, we try to do it. We don’t do it 100%, but this is the same. That’s what I see. Otherwise, we wouldn’t need to have World Vision or Vision Fund. Let me recommend you a book. It’s a very old book, The Republic, from Plato. You will understand, what is the role of government, what is the role of the judicial system, and what is the role of people. If we all follow this role, we wouldn’t need government, we wouldn’t need policy, believe me. We are doing this because it’s so imperfect, our economic and social systems, that you have to create many systems around, to fix all these problems.
WM – So looking at this moment in time, with the various organizations that you’re involved with, what would help boost your programs or projects?
JV – Well I don’t know. I mean it in a time, that, one way I’m harvesting. In another way I’m teaching. In another way I’m resting. And in another way I’m preparing for landing. So I actually, don’t have very big initiatives, because I have so many different things. I just counted, I have 12 different activities. 12. I didn’t mention that I also preach in churches and I give Bible courses. It would be difficult for me to start something completely new. Eight years ago when I retired, I thought, “What am I going to do with my life?” “What is the area of the economy I know least?” I said, “Food.” I don’t know anything about it. I was aware of the car industry, pharmaceutical, diagnostics, construction, many things. Food, I know nothing about food. So, I founded a food company, so I have my own food company, which is starting to grow and will probably explode in some years. So, I can’t be standstill. My wife says I have no ability to say no.
WM – How could we boost the goals of Ahimsa, and what it’s trying to do within this forum and within the global health and religion sphere?
JV – Good question. Ahimsa has to enter into a maturation stage. I believe Ahimsa now is in embryonic stage. We still do not have clear our goals in 50 years. An organization like this will have to have a scheme. What do we want to have in 50 years? What resources do we need? What partners do we need? And what is the strategy that we have to forward? This you can fix it later when you start to be mature as an organization. Now we are embryonic. We depend on Jean-François ability to gather people, to interact people. We start to harvest things, we start to see results, but still there’s something moving here, there’s something pulling the other side. But I believe that we are on the path that we have to follow to get something. It’s not easy to create an organization that depends 100% on experience in the minds of people. This is our only asset, and this is not simple.
WM – As we talked throughout the forum, we’ve talked a lot about the youth population. How do you see the youth engagement in Mexico, and also on the global scale?
JV – The only concern of people my age must be to prepare the youth. I, like anyone in my age, am astonished for the capabilities that the new generation has. And believe me, I’m a gadget man, I’m a technology man, I’ve used computers since I was in school, but I am astonished at what we are seeing every day. What is going to be the world in the next thirty or forty years? I cannot imagine, it’s crazy. So we have to prepare, but not in terms of technology. We have to prepare in terms of values, in terms of human qualities. We have to prepare in terms of experience, of analysis of people, because sometimes, I believe new generations just live within the gadgets. And there’s an outside world. So, we have to prepare in how we live, to make a good mix.
WM – Sometimes it seems that people believe that they’re experiencing the world through their gadgets, but they’re really not experiencing anything at all.
JV – Many teenagers live in a virtual world. Believe me, this is real, today. They live in a virtual world. And they confuse the two. Because they have access to everything, to so much, they feel and believe that they are experiencing things in the real world, but they’re doing it passively, through their gadgets.
But one day, they may have a big, big disappointment, so we have to be prepared for that.
WM – I’m a member of the youth, because I’m below the age of 35. What type of recommendations do you have for the youth of today?
JV – Learn from old people. Listen, read. People are not ready, really. I just took a flight from Mexico to Geneva. It was a big jumbo. The people were waiting for boarding. Guess how many people in this room were reading a book? One. People are not reading anymore. Very few people ‘read’. Probably two or three people were reading in a tablet, I don’t know. But people reading a paper book was one in three hundred. I assure you that two hundred were on Gmail, the Internet, Facebook, Instagram, two hundred, they were there. Where is this going to take us? How does this help you to build character? I don’t know. I have a teacher who says, this world seems to be a career to collect toys. This is what it looks like. This is dangerous. Technology is great, but the risks are greater. And we have to be careful.
WM – What is you vision for the next thirty years?
JV – The world is going to suffer a dramatic crisis of unemployment. Everything is going to be done by robots, automatically, but people will not have jobs. Wealth is going to be controlled by very few, and the world is in risk of having a world revolution, social problem, because of a lack of jobs, lack of opportunity, and lack of hope. This is what I see in the next generation, my grandchildren’s generation. My daughters, they will survive, but my grandchildren, they will face this. This is my mission. I’m not too optimistic about that.
WM – What do you think we can start doing to mitigate that, addressing the current unemployment crisis, before it gets too widespread?
JV – We have to come back to basics. Values, values, values. What are you looking for in life? Happiness. What is happiness for you? For me, happiness is being here, sitting with you, and watching this. This is happiness for me, this is happiness. For some people, happiness is something completely different. Being drunk, dancing, being with the Nintendo, Xbox, I don’t know. If you can make a poll, trying to define happiness for people, you would be surprised what happiness means for people, because we are losing values.
Japan, one of the countries with the best social structure, with the highest level of income, is not in the top of the happiness scale, it’s low. And Mexico is one of the top countries in this asset.
WM – We all know that money doesn’t equal happiness.
JV – It helps, but the problem is values. If you see the Scandinavian countries, they have a good balance; in general, they have a good balance of values, income, and these things.
Everything is relative. Contentment is the key, contentment. And this is something, today’s world is driven by greed. Not by sex. Not by pride. By greed. This is what drives the world today. This is terrible.
WM – And I don’t know how we can change that.
JV – Like Mother Theresa said, go to your home and love your loved ones, that simple. Love your people, that’s all.
WM – And I know it sounds so cliché, but love does conquer all. You can find the good in almost anything if you have the love and support of people around you.
JV – Yes, anyone is not going to fix the world. Let’s do what is in front of us. In our room, in our house, in our neighbourhood, in our city. As much as you can.