In episode 135 Kerel and Erik discuss brand storytelling and workplace equity with founder and CMO of Equity Project for All, Raquelle Zuzarte. Raquelle shares her interesting and unique childhood of traveling around the world and growing up in three very different places with her parents and two sisters. She had always loved storytelling, but through her experience working at Johnson & Johnson, Proctor and Gamble, Viacom, Charter, and the Washington Post, she has learned what questions to ask when creating equity and driving growth in a company.
During the chat, Raquelle shares what she’s excited about with her work at Equity Project for All, what questions brands need to be asking, no matter their market, and why it is so important to her for brands and companies to walk the talk by taking action and creating real change within their organizations and around the world.
“Exposure to business...made me think about...how we use the mechanics of business and the motive of profitability to solve a bigger societal issue of inequality as well as injustice.”
We want to welcome all of our listeners to another episode of Minority Report Podcast with Erik and Kerel. Each episode, we talk with leaders in business, tech, and media. And today joining us is Raquelle Zuzarte who is the founder and CMO of Equity Project for All. Let's jump in and get to know Raquelle. Raquelle, welcome! How are you?
Raquelle Zuzarte 0:26
I am well. How are you doing, Erik?
Hey, not too bad. Thrilled you're gonna hang with us and tell us a little bit about what's going on with Equity Project for All and also about you. So, thanks for joining us.
Raquelle Zuzarte 0:39
Excited to be here today.
Great. Raquelle, tell us a little bit about you, first. Tell us about the early days of Raquelle. Where did you grow up? And where are you from?
Raquelle Zuzarte 0:50
Sure. The early days of Raquelle. Well, Raquelle started or was born in Mumbai, to parents who are from Goan and Portuguese heritage. Mumbai is not far from Goa. That's where my family lived for many generations. It's a beautiful place in the world, beautiful sandy beaches, palm trees, just gorgeous mix of East and West coming together given its Portuguese colonial days, for almost 450 years. I grew up actually, a mixture of places, Mumbai, and then Dubai, and got to see the transition of a place that was a sleepy desert town to the metropolis that it is today. And then from there, we move to Sydney. So those are the three main places I grew up. I also traveled a lot with my parents, because my father and mother were both in the airline industry, and then moved from Sydney to New York.
Fascinating. Mumbai, Dubai, Sydney, parents traveling. What do you feel like you learned that was kind of unique, being able to sort of travel and be in so many different places, in your sort of earlier years?
Raquelle Zuzarte 2:00
You know I think what it helped me see and my two younger sisters as well is that the world is actually not a very big place. We got to experience and see things that we were very fortunate to be exposed to at an early age, including my parents insisting whenever went on any vacation that we actually did spend time visiting those less fortunate. So whether it was orphanages, or homes for folks that were you know, not able to have their own homes, etc. And, you know, really appreciate that there was inequality that was not being addressed. And understand that at an early age, and also understand that there's this amazing commonality that binds all humans together. And that is the need to feel valued, the need to feel loved, and the need to love as well. And I think that universal value was something we saw in different cultures that we grew up in. So in Dubai, where you had a mix of cultures from around the Arabian Gulf, from Southeast Asia, from the rest of Asia, as well as Europe, you know, you saw this intermingling and wonderful smorgasbord of cultures coming together, all looking for the same thing, all looking for an opportunity to have a good life, provide for your family, and help your kids be healthy, safe and happy. And I think it gave us appreciation that there isn't an equal abundance of all of that around the world. But everyone was actually looking for the same thing. So exposed both my sisters and I to, to the need for addressing inequality at a very early age.
Raquelle, quick question, Erik, let me jump in there. I want to ask you a follow up to that. We had a guest on the podcast last year. And one of the things that he said to us, which really stayed with me, and it continues to stay with me for a long time here is that travel is one of the greatest gifts that parents can give to their kids. And what he meant by that was I think was a little bit about what you were saying just now in terms of being exposed to different cultures being exposed to people at different economic levels as well, too, right? And I'm curious to understand, like, how did that exposure early in your life actually shape who you are today?
Raquelle Zuzarte 4:17
I think it shaped me in a very permanent and powerful way. If I think back to some of the choices I made, also, in terms of how I wanted to express myself. You know, I grew up in an environment that was really restricted in some ways. You know, we're in the Middle East, where you didn't really have a lot of the options when it came to sports or when it came to activities that you would have let's say in some Western countries. Although it was a Catholic school and it had very progressive values, for me was a choice of like, who am I, you know, what can I do based on what I've seen? And the way it really influenced me was in the ability for me to use my voice and marry that with what I would say was my first love of storytelling which came in at an early age. And it allowed me to express stories and ways of thinking through either the written word or sometimes on stage, there were many talent shows that happened in Dubai where we had great students from all over come in and either sing, dance or say great, beautiful poetry, to express their feelings about, you know, living in the Middle East, or the experiences, etc. My sisters and I, we entered multiple talent contests and created multiple plays, if you like that, underlining, you know, if you look at the scripts today of those plays, they were very simple. But they always have this underlying theme of how do we make change, you know? So when it was time to talk about some of the great concerts that were being created around the world, around Live Aid or BandAid, etc, it was always about, let's use that and let's get a play with that. Let's make a play. Let's try and raise awareness about this particular issue. Let's write a letter to the Government of Dubai about these issues. So it was manifesting itself more in the way that we expressed ourselves. And in the way that we wanted to really ask, you know, how can we make things better? How can we create stories that make things better? And so, our teachers, our music teachers, and our theater teachers entertained our crazy ideas. And in so doing allowed us to think that it was okay to make up, you know, stories and create stories to create awareness about things that perhaps we were taking for granted.
Amazing. Raquelle, I want to ask you, you've had tremendous experience working for some amazing companies. I want to circle back to that. But I wanted to ask you, tell us about the work happening today as founder of Equity Project for All, tell us about what's happening these days there.
Raquelle Zuzarte 6:45
Yes, so there's a lot of happening when it comes to looking at the intersection of where we work, which is essentially in a simple terms is, you know, we help brands tell stories that will drive growth. And we think about growth, we think of it in a very big way, not just financial growth, monetary growth, we're talking also about growth in terms of the employees. So, in human growth, we think about it in terms of social and social growth, in terms of impact in the community. And so the premise is very simple. It's great people drive great brands, and those great brands create returns for all, and the for all is really important. We talk about great people, we don't only mean people who are performing at the highest levels, but people who feel great. People who feel that they're being valued, who are able to create value, and are able to share value. And we are seeing a complete crisis today in terms of looking at the great resignation, and what's happening with talent of people who have not been valued. Who have decided that they don't want to give all of themselves to work-life that is so all consuming, defined by their career. And they're looking for greater meaning. And so what we do is really go into companies and understand this underlying human DNA that's driving progress in that company or not driving progress in the company and identify how it's impacting on brand equity, which is an important measure of its value. And then that in turn, how in turn is that driving returns and how consumers are consuming that brand, staying loyal to that brand, recommending that brand and helping that brand grow? So essentially, if you think of it in terms of the intersection of brand growth, and social purpose and social impact, that's the intersection we work in.
Fascinating. And I want to ask you about getting started on your career path, because I feel like a lot of your personal experiences through work also helped to inform the great work that you're doing today that you just described. You've worked at some tremendous companies, Johnson & Johnson, Procter and Gamble, Viacom, Charter, Washington Post, tell us about how your experience there, sort of, has helped prepare you for what you just described, work wise?
Raquelle Zuzarte 9:06
Yes, I think each of those experiences I've been very, very fortunate to have an opportunity to have exposure to what I call the internals of business, how business works, starting with my love for marketing sparked by my experiences at Procter & Gamble, which today I still believe is the premier place to learn to be the quintessential global marketer, shows you really about what it takes to tell a story and what it takes to create a great product. And I think those are fundamentals of any business that I carry through with my 10 years of J&J, where essentially it is all about how do you tell a story that convinces the consumer that this solution is best for their problem? And getting into the intricacies of what makes business work is really important. And for me, I was exposed to not only the marketing part of the engine, if you like, but also by leading sales for three years that I did at J&J, which was the most incredible three years of my career, leading a team of 23 sales teams, frontline, who, you know, had that interaction with the customer, and really had to be champions of listening, and champions of empathy, to be able to share that story in hospitals, you know, in primary care, physician offices, etc. And, you know, showed me that at the end of the day, your marketing is really all about telling a story that is believable, that is compelling and that really can go through the test of time when it comes to delivering on its value. And so by being exposed to the engine of what I call the engine of business, the sales, the marketing, and in many cases, also R&D, and operations and finance, showed me the different components and the puzzle of what it takes to create a great business. And that inspired me to think about how do we use that engine of business to solve social problems. Social issues that are really not just social issues, but become business problems as well. So whether it's inequality, or climate change, or health inequity, that was a problem that in my mind was always at the back of, of my thinking in terms of my early exposure to, you know, some of the social inequalities. And an exposure to business made me think about how we bring those things together in a way that you use the mechanics of business, and the motive of profitability, to solve a bigger societal issue of inequality, as well as injustice. And so those experiences plus exposure to a lot of the great corporate social responsibility programs, both at J^J and Proctor, at Time Warner, Charter, Washington Post, looking at CSR, as ways to give back and ways to make a societal impact really showed me what the engine is behind that from a corporate perspective. So when I took all of those things together, to me, the word equity really captured all those different elements. The equity when it comes to delivering on your return on equity to your shareholders, which is ultimately what businesses want to do, but increasingly now purpose is becoming such a big issue. So bringing in the equality aspect and the equity aspect, from a social perspective, and from a human perspective to create this project for all. So that's a helicopter view of the story.
And Raquelle, a follow up question to that. I'm curious to know how you came up with the idea for the company, meaning, was this something that you had in your mind for a number of years, and finally sort of had the opportunity to sort of take the leap to do it? Was there an 'aha' moment you had one evening? I'm always curious to hear from founders, how they actually came up with the idea to launch their own business?
Raquelle Zuzarte 12:54
Yes, you know, it's funny, because growing up, as I told you, there weren't that many fun sports or other sort of extracurricular activities, right? A lot of it had to do with theater, or dance and ballet and things like that. And my sisters and I, we used to always kid around about, let's create a company. And let's create a company and let's make it all about stories and create these magical characters, etc. So all three of us, and come from a family of three girls, always had this image of, we were going to be the bosses. That we were going to create these characters, we were going to create these, these shows. So that's always been in the back of my head. And I think when it came to the concept of, you know, seeing how we can bring social equity, as well as the profitable, purposeful growth, that business want, and how to bring it together, really started becoming more of a force within my thinking around the 2015, '16 timeframe, when the Millennium Development Goals the UN had issued became the Sustainable Development Goals. There we have, you know, 17 goals clearly articulated on what the blueprint needed to be to get to a better world by 2030, which, you know, we're just eight years away from. And that was a catalyst in many ways to really trigger my thinking, or at least to structure my thinking around. Now we have a framework. Now we can talk about these goals in a very distinct way with really clear objectives and measurable metrics. How can I create a business that takes that and allows us to move forward with that while still achieving the purposeful and profitable growth that business want to have? So it's really a mixture of having this innate interest as a kid to try to create content and stories to make change and having the experiences along the way through serendipity, through choice, through luck, and then just really marinating on that thinking and saying, 'Okay, the word that brings it together is equity and this is what I want to call my business.' So it's listening, it's being open, it's questioning, challenging and surrounding yourself with people who really make you pressure test your own thinking.
Gotcha, thank you, appreciate that. What excites you about the future of the work that you're doing, right? In terms of bringing together business objectives, as well as social responsibility. We've seen a lot of companies sort of step up to the plate over the last couple of years and make pledges and say that they're going to do better, some actually doing better than others. So what excites you about the future of the work that you're doing?
Raquelle Zuzarte 15:35
You know, what really excites me is the fact that there are true champions within companies that have spoken up, that have been brave. Because there is a real distinction and there's a spectrum, in terms of what I call impact index. There are those who are going to always talk the great talk, but then you go underneath inside of the company, and you don't really see evidence of action or results. There are those who talk and take some action, but they're not measuring the results, the results are not moving the needle when it comes to diversity in the workforce or ensuring that there's equity in terms of outcomes. And there are those who actually speak it, do it, act, measure it, and deliver it. And I think the ones that are being really the true role models, who are creating that change, are what gives me a lot of energy, because we're seeing it across a number of different companies. And not only, of course, the companies that were born with purpose, like Patagonia and Toms, and Warby Parker, etc, but also those who are digging into their historical DNA, to unearth their purpose, and really create something strong. So an example., you know, in 2004, when Dove created the Campaign for Real Beauty, they created that out of understanding what women were thinking in terms of their own beauty. That very few women actually thought of themselves as beautiful and use that insight to drive change. Same thing with Like A Girl for Procter and Gamble, the insight there was that women lose their confidence during puberty. And so this insight driven creation of purpose, where you're digging into the history of the brand, also gives me a lot of energy and hope, in terms of how we're looking at the future. And I think that the generation, the next generation of marketers, and I've had an opportunity to address a group of marketers at NYU at their symposium last week, have this innate curiosity and challenge themselves in terms of asking these questions. So there's a couple of areas that are really creating a lot of energy and acceleration that I hope to continue to push in the work that we do.
Raquelle, your work has been across media, entertainment, retail, fin tech, health tech, so a wide variety, what are some similarities that you see across all of those different sort of categories and groups?
Raquelle Zuzarte 18:08
You know, in marketing, there's certainly certain what I would say fundamental truths that are the same, no matter what you are looking at in terms of a product, whether it's a technology driven product, insights driven product, you know, a very heavy manufacturing driven product, and really is the question of what is the problem you're trying to solve? And in each of those cases, whether it's in the health tech area, where you know, was more regarding sort of measurement and human health aspects of metrics, if you like, or whether it is in an area that has more to do with security, and IT, it's every product that is successful in the marketplace, is solving a problem better than anyone else. And so having that framework for understanding problems, from the perspective of the user, is something that's common across industries. And then the ability to dig deeper into the why is also common across industries. So why are people choosing to use a certain health tech product to measure heartbeat, for example? Or why are they choosing to use a security device to protect their data? That motivation, that human motivation, we find always comes back to similar things. It's either you know, to protect what you already have, to express yourself, there's these emotional triggers. And so once you know that, the problem you're trying to solve, and why people are choosing that product, you really go back to human need, and human emotion, and what is it you're trying to satisfy? And no matter which category those questions are the same, and in the end, the answers of how that product or brand wins is always tied back to 'What are you doing that is compelling, different, exciting that nobody else is doing in the marketplace? Or are you doing the same but doing it at an exceptionally better price? And I value that, because price is important to me. So it's asking that 'What's the problem? Why do people buy this product? And how is it differentiating the marketplace?' is universally the same across industries.
Alright, fun question. I love asking every guest that we have on the podcast, which is to give us the top three apps that you use on your phone on a regular basis, but you can't name email, calendar or text messaging, because those are just way too boring.
Raquelle Zuzarte 20:30
Okay. Well, the one that I try to use every day, because it's kind of helps me stay on track is NRC, which is the Nike Run Club. I love to make sure that I have an opportunity to get some fresh air and especially as the weather gets better. So that's one. The second is Netflix, I confess, it's one of my go to apps, given the love of storytelling that I explained to you before, it's great to see kind of the new shows and emerging talents that's coming through. And I think the third one would be a beautiful app from the New York Public Library called Libby. It's an amazing app that allows you to download audio books, as well as read on E-reader, you know, any title under the sun that the library has for you. So those are my three.
Very cool. Raquelle, thanks for hanging out with us. And our audience often likes to stay in touch or reach out. What are some ways that our listeners can find you?
Raquelle Zuzarte 21:27
Yeah, absolutely. They can reach me through EquityProjectForAll.com and please say hi. I look forward to hearing from them.
Excellent. Well, thanks, everyone, for listening to another episode. And you can find more episodes where you find all of your audio and video, just search Minority Report Podcast and look for the logo. Thanks for joining us again, Raquelle. Thanks. Take care.
Raquelle Zuzarte 21:50