Future 50
A New Generation of Leaders Arrives

For helping young talent across three continents

Gabriel Costa Caldas was still wrapping up college in Brazil when he joined GPjr, a nonprofit that connects members of Junior Enterprise craving real-world project experience to organizations in search of promising talent. Beyond translating textbook and lecture learnings into on-the-ground solutions, GPjr is an opportunity to help younger people start building a leader’s mindset—fast-tracking their ability to handle projects with larger budgets and more complexity, Caldas says.

His entrepreneurial outlook helped him land a role at Alpha Ports, where he now leads projects facilitating international trade logistics in and out of Africa. But Caldas is still heavily involved with GPjr, after driving its expansion into Tunisia, France, Belgium and Argentina. 

Along the way, he’s picked up some lessons: 

Expect the unexpected.

As COVID-19 has made abundantly clear, organizations need talent who can adapt. The GPjr team, for example, had to pivot quickly to virtual workshops. “To succeed in The Project Economy, one must know how to deal with uncertain scenarios, try to understand all the constant changes in the world and quickly adapt to them.”

Keep exploring.  

Every young project leader has strengths and weaknesses. Someone might be an estimating wizard but wilt when it’s time to stand up to a sponsor. That doesn’t mean they should stop trying to improve. “Keep developing your skills, learn quickly and always look for a new perspective to solve the problems you face.”

Don’t stop at agile.

In a digital-first world, there’s a temptation to go all agile, all the time. But in reality, it’s about finding the right fit—or mix—for each project. “You can’t apply agile to every project,” he says. 

Divide and conquer.

Whether they’re managing a project or plotting their career path, young project leaders can often get impatient for results. “They like the instant gratification of completing everything at once.” But breaking the journey into smaller steps will reduce mistakes made in haste and offer bursts of accomplishments along the way.  

Q&A: Gabriel Costa Caldas on the Fourth Industrial Revolution, Jack Ma and the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals

What’s the most influential project you’ve worked on? 

It was the GPjr Tunisia edition. It was our first project outside of Brazil and it was a challenge to fit their local culture and needs. In the end, it was successful because we shaped the local movement of junior entrepreneurs and we focused on the student’s local projects and how to improve them. We also connected them to the PMI Tunisia chapter, which created strong ties between the students, our organization and PMI. 

What professional accomplishment are you most proud of?

Before joining GPjr, I was part of the organizing team for the meeting of Junior Enterprises of the State of Ceará, a four-day immersive event focused on connecting and offering knowledge to almost 200 junior entrepreneurs from different parts of the country. It was a very hard task because we had almost no resources, the network was not engaged, we had little time, and we were a small team trying to satisfy the needs of students from very different backgrounds. But based on the follow-up survey and the network results, our junior entrepreneurs started to lead better projects after the event.

What’s your philosophy for leading projects?

We need to take care of people. Just asking for results will not work. We also need to try to understand their needs and their perspectives and to encourage each person to ask critical questions.

What’s the one must-have skill to succeed in The Project Economy?

The very ability to quickly learn new skills. We still don’t know exactly how the Fourth Industrial Revolution will affect our lives. So one must know how to deal with uncertain scenarios, try to understand all the constant changes in the world and quickly adapt.

How are young people changing the world of projects now?

We’re really committed to global problems, such as the future of work and the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. The youth are already aware that, in The Project Economy, we need to start executing projects as soon as possible and be able to make adjustments quickly. I also think youth now are more confident to ask questions, and that’s changing the way project leaders should behave.

What famous or historic person would you want on your project team?

Jack Ma. I really admire his story about how he overcame a lot of troubles and rejections and became one of the most influential leaders in the world. People like him can use creativity to solve problems and keep working hard even when everything seems to be conspiring toward their failure.