A Conversation with Emilio Azcárraga Jean, CEO Televisa, about Philanthropy in Latin America

September 23, 2008, The Rockefeller University Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Dining Room, New York City

Main Speakers
Emilio Azcárraga Jean, CEO, Televisa
Interviewed by Peggy Dulany, Founder and Chair, Synergos

PEGGY DULANY: I know we could barely leave the disucssion at our table to turn to a general conversation -- I’m sure you were all having the same problem.

For those of you I haven’t had a chance to say good morning to yet, I’m Peggy Dulany and would like to welcome you here very much. It’s fantastic to see such a big group, and I know there’re some more people who haven’t arrived yet.

This is the annual meeting of the Global Philanthropist Circle, and as you’ll see from the agenda, we have quite a wide range of activities planned for today.

The first one is an opportunity for me to have a conversation with Emilio Azcárraga from Mexico, the head of Televisa, which is the biggest Spanish-speaking telecommunications company with activities in -- well, he’ll tell us how many countries. It’s a real pleasure, because I’ve had a chance over the years to meet with Emilio in Mexico. We were thrilled to have him and his family join the Circle a couple of years ago, but I think this may be your first opportunity to actually be with us. We had to tell him that if he didn’t show up, we’d make him give a major speech.

So, Emilio, what I would like to start with is the general theme of philanthropy. Given that I know you’re extremely committed to philanthropy, as you’re committed to your business, I wonder if you could tell us a little bit about how you developed the strategy you’re following and what you see is its direction going into the future.

EMILIO AZCÁRRAGA JEAN: First, thank you very much for the invitation. I am very honored to be here and to participate in this meeting and to be here with you. I have known Peggy for some years, and the advantage of this, as many of you know, is that each time you have a strange trip to a very far away country, Peggy knows somebody there. It makes it easy for you, so thank you very much.

I run a company called Televisa, and we went into a very big financial restructuring in the company back in 1997. We had a cultural foundation which focused on cultural issues that we had to close back then, because of the financial issues that my company faced. But after that restructuring, we reopened the foundation in 2000, but we focus way more in social issues.

As you know, Latin America is a very complicated region and there’re a lot of challenges. The governments can be part of the solution, can be part of trying to do things. But they cannot do it alone.

So we believe in two things that have been the strategy in the Televisa Foundation. First, it’s not being against or opposed to government. It’s trying to work together with government at various levels.

The second one is leveraging the media assets that we have. We use our media assets to send messages through the television production that we do. We produce about 35,000 hours a year. So we can send a lot of messages through those 35,000 hours. But also leveraging the content with other companies in the case of not just trying to get money from different companies, but giving them back a marketing strategy. So basically, it’s trying to convince people.

That was very difficult in Mexico, because we didn’t have a lot of people who really understood how to pay for philanthropy, how to work with the people’s issues was more of a short-term of giving away information to X or Y foundation. Really thinking and working on those problems.

DULANY: Thank you, Emilio. I wonder if you could comment on two things, because I’ve had a chance to visit your offices a few times. One is what we could call the public service films that you make, which are amazing. And the other is, to the extent that you try to put social messages into your popular programming, how do you decide what messages to put in?

AZCÁRRAGA: Well we have an array of messages, but when you’re in the production business, the intellectual process is very complicated because producers of content, of television or movies, are very special people. You know you try to get into their idea, and it’s complicated. So we basically leave the decision to the producers, and we try to make them decide from among what the foundation does, but it’s very open. When we started this in 2000, producers and writers were very worried that this approach was going to affect the ratings of the programming, or that it was going to affect the content that they were creating. But since then, after these eight years, now all the producers want to do something, because it has turned around not only in ratings, but also people like the programming because it has a cause.

So we have different messages. For example, we had a message about cancer in one very successful soap opera -- and it was very effective. A very big part of the story was a person who had mammary cancer, and all the problems that she had to go through, and cases like in Mexico, women don’t want to go to the doctor to check themselves. So it was very important to get information out -- to teach women what to do. But also that soap opera that we produced went to around 35 or 40% of the homes, or something like that. So that message that was inside the content was very effectively delivered. So I believe that using that content can be more effective in teaching a lot of people how to do things.

DULANY: Just an example of that, I don’t know if Rina Lopez Bautista from the Philippines has arrived yet. A few years ago, we took the Global Philanthropist Circle to the Philippines and Claudio Gonzalez [of Televisa] was with us on the trip, and he learned -- maybe he told you -- that some of the soap operas from Televisa that had come to the Philippines are very popular, and they were also looking at the question of how they could introduce social content into some of the local. So the word is spreading.

AZCÁRRAGA: Yes, and now in the Philippines we are producing programming in Tagalog. We’re also producing programming in China. And what we have discussed with our partners of the different countries is that we need to be respectful of the local culture.

DULANY: Thank you. I know that you, apart from through the media, you have been trying to promote a culture of philanthropy in Latin America generally. And you recently had the Poder Forum. I wonder if you could talk a little bit about why you decided to do that, and what your intention was.

AZCÁRRAGA: As I said, there’s a lot of issues, unfortunately, in our part of the world, in Latin America, and I believe that those issues need to be addressed both by government and also by the private sector.

There’s not really a culture of philanthropy in Latin America, and I believe that we need to work together to try to promote that culture. A lot of people believe that philanthropy or donations are great because of tax reasons, but I believe the other way around. You don’t really have a lot of tax benefits in Latin America from making donations. It is not a question of whether or not you have that tax advantage. It’s do you want to make a change? And then, if you get a tax benefit, that’s okay. But a lot of people make the decision the other way around.

We want to involve more people in really making change. It’s a difficult part of the world. Mexico is a very big economy, and we need to work to change it. We need to work to change Latin America. There are some companies that have really developed in a very important way, like Chile, and we need to work together to try to do that.

So, we have Poder Forums about this. Poder is one of the magazines that we have. It’s a business magazine.

DULANY: And poder means “power,” for those of you who don’t speak Spanish.

AZCÁRRAGA: We did one forum on philanthropy, because we needed really to try to involve more people from Latin America in trying to make a change. More people now are trying to really do something, to really be part of some solutions, not being the solution, but being part of the solution. And I believe that when we put all the efforts together, we really can make a change.

So, really it’s this kind of meetings like this one at GPC, and meetings in Mexico, like the Poder Forums, are very helpful to try really to learn about all the different experiences in different countries, and how we can translate that to our part of the world.

DULANY: I want to mention something to me very encouraging and moving that happened last week. I was in Brazil and Carlos Slim of Mexico -- who is now I think number one in the Fortune-whatever list -- started a group of fathers and sons, or fathers and daughters, of Latin American leaders of industry. And there were two Brazilian youth groups that grew out of it, because they said that they noticed that in all the other countries, all the young people seemed to know each other. And it was easier to create something on a social basis, meaning social engagement, that would be productive. But they didn’t know each other. So growing out of that, two groups have arisen. We met with both of them last week in Brazil, including your competitor Roberto Marinho, grandson of the founder of the Globo companies, which is the other big Latin American group.

I was really impressed with the energy, the commitment, the desire to create social change. So my question for you -- and this is genuinely an innocent question, because I don’t know the answer -- is do you see a next generation of philanthropist in Mexico? Yours and 10 years younger and 15 years younger coming up in a different way, being more socially-minded and more wanting to look for strategic impact, rather than the sort of more traditional channels of involvement?

AZCÁRRAGA: Oh definitely.

Mexico is a very young country. The average age in Mexico -- we are 105 million people -- and the average age is 28, 29 or something, around there. It’s a very young country. I believe that there is a new generation that really wants to help and there’s a new generation also in politics, because we had a single ruling party for 70 years.

We had a lot of crises and devaluations, and those kinds of things happen a lot in Latin America. And so there were a lot of people that didn’t want to get into the social service, or the political service, because it was looked at as a bad thing to be a politician. But now I believe that there’s a very good new generation that wants to really get into the social service.

Yet on the other hand, I believe that growing up in a country that had a lot of crises and devaluations makes you believe that we need to change things. And one thing that is very important is that we have a new generation that really doesn’t know the word “ devaluation,” really doesn’t know the word crisis, or deficits, because the last big crisis we had was in 1994.

The people that are going now into the universities, at 17 or 18 years of age, really don’t have that experience. So I believe that they are pushing a lot to make a change. We actually a group back in 1997. We believed that the universities and the university student was a very big part of our audience, and we needed to understand what they wanted. So we did this with an event called Espacio, which means “ space,” to try to bring university students into what we did. We’d planned to make it a one-time event, and we brought 35,000 students for a week, and we learned a lot of about these guys. We said let’s do the set from here, to see what happens. And to make a long story short, we have been doing it for 12 years.

We don’t work alone as Televisa. We have invited other companies to learn, and the advantage of learning from the university is that every three to four years, you have new people. And we have done it also in Ecuador and we are doing it in El Salvador this year. We have done it in Washington with Latin American students coming into the U.S. universities.

So you learn a lot, but it’s more important to really be open and learn from experiences and hearing about what they want to do and new ideas. All the people at Televisa has made a lot of changes. The people in Mexico are hearing a lot more.

DULANY: Growing out of that question, it leads me to another one, which is the obvious power of the media to shape what happens. I mean, on the one hand, it is affected by what happens. On the other hand, it’s a shaper. So I don’t expect you to really have an answer to this, but I’d love to hear you ruminate about the extent that there are issues in Mexico or in other parts of the world that you affect. And obviously you’re running a business, and you need to make the business work. But how can you help shape the world through your programming, so that the values, the behaviors, the way that people relate to each other becomes more harmonious for the better world. I realize that’s a huge question, and it’s probably unfair to ask, but ...

AZCÁRRAGA: Well, I believe first that media doesn’t shape the world, the people shape the world.

And what we have done in our company is that in the hours of television programming that we do, we know that we go into the people’s living rooms basically every day and every night, and so we try to think that if you go into a house, how would you behave in that house? We try to work and to talk to the producers of the programming to really understand that they are going into the living rooms of a lot of people, so how would they behave in those living rooms. And I believe that we make mistakes -- that’s natural. If you make thousands of hours of programming a year, you make a lot of mistakes. Not every bakery or shoe factory makes the perfect bread everytime, or the perfect shoe.

But every day we work together with the content people, because if you get the ratings that you want to achieve, then you might turn to violence or you might turn to nudity. And, at the end of the day, that’s not the way to do it.

Either you propose a good program or a bad program, and a good movie or a bad movie. So we try to really talk to the producers a lot in seeing what they want to see in their houses. The key question is: are you proud of the production that you made? We have sometimes not been proud, and so we needed to take the program off the air or not even produce that show.

Somebody said respect is very important. And that is true in media. We try to deliver information to the people so they can make their own choices, in terms of culture or in terms of causes. For example, we have a telethon to try to involve people with the issue of disabled children. We also have programs all over the country with the government, and we want a lot of people to learn about these issues and get involved. It’s not really a question of if you have a million dollars or one dollar, of you have 10 hours or one hour ... every hour, every minute, every second counts. So it’s trying to involve people in those kinds of things.

DULANY: Yeah. It’s participation as a way the building social capital that I think you’re referring to.

I want to make sure we have some time for discussion and questions from the audience, because I’m sure this has raised a number. And maybe what we’ll do is take two or three comments or questions and then give you a chance to say something. Please Juliette. And please identify yourself.

JULIETTE GIMON: Hi. My name is Juliette and I can say that, like many people, I wear many hats. I’m involved in philanthropy, but I also work for Google on the philanthropic side, and we are exploring what we want to do with the media. But like most philanthropy, there’s always the big question, how do you go about measuring the impact? I want to ask that question. As you include social issues and social programming, how do you know what’s working in terms of the impact that it’s having either in the communities or at large in the country? I know it’s kind of a hard question, but an evaluation of some of that, and how you think about it.

AZCÁRRAGA: There’re a lot of different messages, but the one thing is that we try to get results. We’re very focused on results.

Here’s an example -- a lot of people are familiar with the program called The Biggest Loser, right? It’s a reality show where people need to lose weight. So what we did was not a question just of the people on the show losing weight. We said, “ We’re going to lose a million kilograms througout Mexico.”

And we have people in different places being weighed, and they weighed 80 kilos or whatever, and they did it throughout all the reality show that lasted for about 10 weeks. They needed to lose weight. Actually, our target was to have Mexico as a country lose a million kilos, and we actually lost something like 2.5 million kilos. And we tried to develop and create these things, because at the end of the day, the result is what matters. I believe in that in our part of the world, sending messages and talking is very important.

But results are more important. It’s a question that, when you have a country where 45% of the people are poor, you need to change that, so that next year it’s going to be 43%, and next year it’s going to be 40, and then you keep going down. So we focus a lot on results.

We try to get involved in an idea that gets results in education. It’s building the schools, but not only building the schools but changing all the software and hardware that you have. We are very focused on results.

It’s probably the same at Google. When you run the foundation as a company, you need to produce results. Almost everything is measurable. It’s how many people have changed from first grade to second grade. How many computers can we deliver, and how many have you refurbished? How many kilograms have you lost? We are very focused on results.

DULANY: Thank you. Are there one or two more questions or comments? Tony? Please identify yourself.

TONY CUSTER: Yes. My name is Tony Custer from Lima, Peru. Emilio, my question is, you’re talking about messages that I find very important about solidarity, about individual solidarity. In other words, you don’t litter, or you don’t do things like that, which are, for my country, extremely important.

But do you have messages of sort of active solidarity -- pro-active in which people, if there’s some way of driving people to do things together? You know, differentiating that from not throwing paper in the street, because in Peru, we need it desperately. And I was just wondering if you have that kind of message, if you have it built into some things, or if there’s any way that you already do that? Because we need it.

AZCÁRRAGA: Oh, definitely. We are very focused also in helping other people’s messages go out. It’s not just a “ Televisa message.” It’s really learning each day which messages should be delivered.

In our country we have some of the same problems -- there’s a very big security issue in Mexico. And I mean, very, very large, where it’s not only question of kidnapping or robbery, it’s a question of losing your freedom. It’s a question of not being able to go out into a park. Sadly, this has grown a lot for the last 10 years. There was a kidnapping of a boy, of the son of a friend. This 14-year-old boy died, and it was a very gruesome thing. And so people said, “ This needs to stop -- we need to do something about it.”

So they came to us. They wanted to do a march to really go -- and this was not against the government -- but it was to really put the word in the street, and to tell the government that this issue is very important, and the government needed to deliver results.

So, to make a long story short, we expected that there were going to be maybe 150,000 or 200,000 people marching in Mexico City, and it was close to 750,000 people. Plus, what happened was not only the march itself, but the march was organized in a way that produced a petition with, I believe, 10 or 15 issues that needed to be resolved in 100 days. So, those 100 days are running, and as a society we expect the government to deliver results. It was past a point of putting the criminals in jail -- it was really issues that can change the security and the freedom of the people of Mexico.

So Televisa gets involved in developments like that. When you have a movement that mobilizes 750,000 people at night in Mexico City alone -- that’s interesting. That’s big.

We’re very open to hearing about and supporting issues like that. It’s not working against the government; it’s working with the government.

DULANY: Thank you, Emilio. I’d just like to make one observation about that related to a recent experience in Brazil, and then unfortunately, we have to close this panel. In Brazil, as you know, they have had a similar security issue. And what it’s led to, interestingly enough, is not only a concern with security, but a concern with some of the inequities that lead to the violence that leads to the security problems. It seems to me that until those two things are connected, that is to say not only maybe that the police are corrupt, or there are violent gangs or whatever, but also the economic disparities or the lack of opportunity for the people, are both to some extent contributing to a society where this can happen.

Until the connection is made, then I think it’s going to be hard to develop a broad coalition of groups that are willing to work together, because they may be taking different focuses. And the fear is that the wealthy will only be concerned with their own security, and the poor will only be concerned with getting enough to eat. And that unless you bring those two together, and create the social capital that could actually lead to a more sustainable society.

So that was just an observation that came to mind, and something that’s very much in the air in Brazil.

AZCÁRRAGA: I believe that a there are a lot more good guys than bad guys. We did an exhibit of a photographer who is a Canadian, Gregory Colbert, called the Ashes and Snow Project. He was here in New York, in L.A., in Tokyo. And we met Gregory because I was at his show here in New York. I went to buy the book from the show and the guy selling the book was a Mexican -- a fan of my soccer team. So he got me a meeting. He called over Gregory, so that’s how I had the meeting. We took the exhibit to Mexico, and we did a very big promotion. Did you see the numbers in L.A. or New York or Tokyo? Roughly close to 500,000 or 600,000 people attended.

But in Mexico City, 4.2 million people went to see the exhibit. I’m not going to talk about the exhibit -- I’ll just say it’s a very beautiful exhibit. My point is that in Mexico you stand in line outside, and you have poor people and rich people. And everybody was together, and everybody was talking.

So people really want to make the change, and that’s why I believe that it’s important that the society in Mexico want that change. If you have one dollar or a million dollars, it doesn’t really matter. The dollar accounts for the same as a million dollars. Obviously, if you have more money, if you have more capability, you have a responsibility to give more money away into this kind of cause. Because I believe that when you see in the case of the telethon that I was talking about earlier, a majority of the money is given by the people that have less. So it’s dollar by dollar. And other people that have more, giving a lot of money. So I believe it’s really working together with the good guys, there are a lot more of them than the bad guys.

DULANY: Thank you, Emilio. And that you everybody for your attention. Thank you.