As she was growing up, Juliana Mendes, Grants Officer for Vital’s Brazil office, spent her weekends at other people’s birthday parties and weddings, watching her mother working hard to cater the party’s food.
Event catering brought Juliana and her mother to beautiful places in Itajuba, Minas Gerais, their home city, and provided the satisfaction of contributing to people’s lives at important moments. At the same time, catering required a tremendous amount of tedious physical labor, and while she fixed elaborate meals for others, Juliana’s mother couldn’t afford to squander money, although they always had enough for basic needs.
“As an entrepreneur, my mom didn’t have any control at all of the finances or the warehouse operations, and she was suffering,” Juliana said. “She didn’t have enough revenue. It was tough to predict how much there would be, and she didn’t know how to spend for her costs. I could see this was very frustrating for her.”
Juliana promised herself that when she grew up, she would have the skills to maintain more financial control.
“I needed to take the steering wheel. I needed to do something different with my life,” she said. “I like to control my personal expenses, my schedule and my organizational systems. I decided to go to business school because of that.”
Juliana went to college and business school in Itajuba and with each class applied what she learned to bolster her mother’s business.
After living in the same city all her life, Juliana was accepted to do a competitive one-year internship in Germany with Bosch, the multinational engineering and technology company. Then she returned to Brazil for a trainee position with the Michelin Tire Group where she rotated positions in different departments.
This quickly left her disillusioned with the business world.
“I thought it was something I wanted so much, but after one year, I realized this is definitely not what I want, not the place I want to be. I don’t want to make someone richer than they are. I wanted to make sure that I could have some impact and plant the seeds to create a better world.”
Juliana realized she did not want to work for a large corporation, but she wasn’t sure how to shift her career. She first took up a friend’s offer to work for her agricultural startup, which aimed to protect and support urban farms in São Paolo. Then she worked as a finance coordinator at WINGS, an organization that supports philanthropies and tries to increase their efficacy.
Juliana then joined Vital Strategies in July 2019.
“When I saw the vacancies open at Vital Strategies and saw the approach, I was charmed and had this glow in my eyes. I saw I could make a difference to make people’s lives better. The mission and the way it is done lit a spark within me.”
As a grants officer for the Brazil office, Juliana ensures that Vital meets the commitments it has promised in grant agreements with funders.
“I make connections between the numbers and the budget and the contracts and the programmatic side to make sure they are meeting the needs of the donor,” she said.
In her first two years, she was tasked with trying to revive the Bloomberg Mayors Challenge being led by the government in São Paolo, where Vital was only the fiscal agent.
“I was new, only the fourth employee for Vital Strategies in Brazil, at the beginning at the formalization of the organization,” Juliana said. “It is a pretty straightforward goal to execute a budget, but for two years that is all I did, waking up and saying I will execute the budget for the mayors challenge and unlock this project. When the project finished, it was my biggest achievement.”
In the past two years, Juliana has expanded her work to helping coordinate all of Vital’s grants in Brazil. She is energized by Vital’s growth, and she would like to work in business development in the future.
Juliana lives with her husband, whom she married in September, in São Paolo, where Vital’s Brazil is located office. In her free time, she loves to cook, to travel and to learn new things.
“I love to learn and to learn from my mistakes and to learn from others. That is what I most like about working at Vital Strategies,” Juliana said. “I don’t want to be in a place where I know everything.”