Metropolitan talks with Mateu Hernández, CEO of Barcelona Global, an organisation that aims to improve Barcelona's standing as a global business city.
Metropolitan: What is Barcelona Gobal?
Mateu Hernández: Barcelona Global is a private organisation whose mission is to make Barcelona one of the best cities in the world. We have four main areas of action: to make the city more friendly to the international community; to make the city more business friendly; to create business opportunities, and to develop the Barcelona brand.
M: How is it funded?
MH: Barcelona Global is entirely private and receives no public money. It is funded by professionals who love Barcelona and who want Barcelona to be a global city.
M: Who are the members?
MH: Our members are both locals and foreigners. Some of these join as individuals and some join through their companies. We have more than 400 individual members, 30 big companies who support Barcelona Global and about 55 smaller companies, institutions and business schools. All the members have the same rights. At present, about 17 percent are international, or, as we call them, ‘Barcelonians by choice’, and the rest are ‘Barcelonians by Birth’. We’re a transversal organisation, both socially and economically. We don’t want to be the club of the wealthy or restricted to a certain sector of society or industry. Our members are united by their desire to actively contribute to making Barcelona a better city. Our motto is “Fem que passi”, “Make it happen”.
M: How was Barcelona Global started?
MH: Seven years ago, our founder, Maria Reig, was asked by the Mayor to lead the strategic plan for the city. The plan looked as far ahead as 2020 and, for the first time, infrastructure was not an issue. Their conclusion was that the city could be much more global. It had the hardware in place, but needed to improve its software: create links between people, increase its branding as a business city and give more importance to the international community. The strategic plan was presented, a huge event took place and a book was produced. However, Reig and the 300 colleagues, friends and other professionals that she had brought together to create the strategic plan were determined that it would actually happen, so they created an organisation that, three years ago, became Barcelona Global. We are completely non-partisan. We don’t do politics.
M: Tell us a bit more about what Barcelona Global does.
MH: Well, talent is the engine for growth and if we want Barcelona to keep growing, we need to attract, create and keep talent. We need to take care of the international community that lives in Barcelona as they are the best ambassadors for the city. We need to give them opportunities to be engaged in city life and in the city’s main institutions, to help them feel like they belong and to help them meet local people. Two years ago we launched the International Talent Monitor and it was probably the first time that Barcelonians by choice were asked for their opinions about Barcelona.
The people surveyed told us that Barcelona is a great city, that they love the climate, the architecture and culture and that the health and education are fantastic. But, at the same time, health and education are expensive here and that may put people off choosing the city as a business destination. They also confirmed that Barcelona has a huge issue with the level of English spoken, procedures are bureaucratic and complicated, taxes are high, it’s hard to raise money for a business and there is little entrepreneurial spirit here. Many had found it impossible to build friendships with local people, noting that Catalans rarely invited them to socialise.
We published the results and decided to take some action. First, to raise the profile of this community. Second, to engage the community in Barcelona Global. After all, if we want to be an international organisation, we need internationals to be a part of us. Third, to organise a welcoming event for the international community. And fourth, to ask local members to open their houses and invite international members to dinner. We’ve done about 30 of these open house dinners now. At first, the hosts were hesitant, but the model is working nicely now. We also hold regular networking events. Regarding taxation, we have engaged the help of our law firm members to see if taxation is higher in Barcelona than in other key cities. If the results show that is indeed the case, then we will start to take action.
Primarily, is the city making life easy for international people who come to Barcelona for work or business? Problems with visas for entrepreneurs and investors are an issue, as is affordable international schooling for people who are only here for a few years. A nice climate and interesting culture is not enough. If things are made too difficult, these people will go elsewhere.
There are a number of other issues that we are working on. Barcelona is a globally recognised brand. But, it is known as being a great holiday destination. That’s fantastic, and we don’t need to fight that. But, we need to add the business angle to the brand and attract more economic activity. People need to know that this is also a great place to do business. It has great infrastructure, research centres and industries. Again, we have the right conditions and the right hardware, but we lack the software.
One thing that affects Barcelona’s performance is complacency. There can sometimes be a sense that we’re doing everything right, without any kind of reality check. So, we say that Barcelona is the best shopping city in the world. But, is it really?
M: How open is the city to making changes?
MH: We are an ambitious group of people and our aim is to make the city understand the necessity for change. We feel the city council is really pushing for some of the issues, as being an international city is very much on their agenda.
M: What would your message be to the international community?
MH: My message is that Barcelona needs them. Because they are creating employment and transforming the city and this city belongs to them. Barcelonians by Choice have made a choice to live here so they deserve to enjoy a better engagement with the city.
For more information about Barcelona Global see their website.
See here for more information about the International Talent Monitor.