Author Archives: Brent Ruth

Newsflash: Businesswomen Lead in Nicaragua

Mesa presidium

The draft Nicaraguan Businesswomen Agenda was presented during REN’s International Women’s Day forum on March 6, 2015. Speakers included Nicaraguan Minister of Industry and Commerce Orlando Solórzano and U.S. Ambassador to Nicaragua Phyllis Powers.

Empowered Businesswomen.” “Businesswomen Influence the Destinies of Other Women.” These two headlines ran in the March 7, 2015 editions of Nicaragua’s two leading newspapers, La Prensa and El Nuevo Diario.

It is not unusual for Nicaraguan media to publish articles related to women’s empowerment on International Women’s Day. Women are prominent in the Nicaraguan political sphere, thanks in part to gender quotas encompassed in the Gender Equality Law and the revised Electoral Law. Nicaragua now ranks 11th in the world in the proportion of women in parliament, 40 percent – far above most other Latin American countries (and the United States, with 18 percent). International Women’s Day provides an opportunity to highlight these advances.

What’s unusual in the case of the two articles linked above is the inclusion of one word: “Businesswomen.” Here is why.

Unfortunately the trend towards greater participation of women in the political sphere has been slow to spread to private sector organizations, which are key actors in advocating for policies that improve the business climate. A 2014 review conducted by the Network of Nicaraguan Businesswomen (REN) of the 19 business organizations that form the umbrella private sector association the Superior Council for Private Enterprise (COSEP) found that an average of 16 percent of board members are women. This is the same figure found by a similar study by the International Labor Organization in 2009.

Private sector organizations rarely incentivize women’s participation or provide equal access to information that can lead them to access leadership positions. As a result, there are very few private sector leaders promoting the specific interests and needs of women entrepreneurs in a substantial way.

On top of that, organizations of women entrepreneurs have historically operated based on incipient alliances and limited coordination with one another, resulting in disperse efforts to advocate for public policies that can improve the business environment for women entrepreneurs.

If this is the reality, are La Prensa and El Nuevo Diario’s articles simply fluff pieces scheduled to coincide with International Women’s Day?

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When Reality Doesn’t Match the Ranking: Nicaragua’s Gender Gap


“Everybody loves a ranking,” or so the saying goes. In sports I tend to agree. If you’re not currently following the College Football Playoff rankings (which, since this blog is for a global audience, I imagine a majority of readers are not), you are missing out on something truly exciting. Rankings and indexes seek to be as objective as possible using the information available. With the CFP and other sports rankings, where a significant amount of objective comparison is not possible, there is a lot of room for debate. And that can be part of the fun.

But when it comes to indexes and rankings of more serious themes with real world consequences, they shouldn’t be fun… or funny. During a recent weeklong trip to Nicaragua, the running joke was that the country is the 6th most gender equal country in the world according to the 2014 Global Gender Gap report issued by the World Economic Forum. Spend a day in the shoes of a Nicaraguan woman and you’ll quickly understand why the country’s ranking in this report is not something to be celebrated.

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Why Debates Matter in Latin America

paraguay debate

Political debates offer numerous benefits to voters, but they do not occur in many countries around the world, depriving citizens of an important opportunity to hear candidates explain their position on issues relevant to the country’s development.

Within established democracies like the United States and the United Kingdom, the “debate” about the impact of political debates is in no danger of ceasing anytime soon. Debates are often seen as key moments in political campaigns from the local to the national level — a chance for candidates to present their policy proposals directly to voters. Our country’s long history with radio and televised candidate debates has also provided us with a plethora of research on the impact debates have on voter preference. As this journalist resource on the topic demonstrates, nearly every aspect of political debates – particularly Presidential debates – has been researched, dissected, and analyzed in one form or another. Interestingly enough there is even research on the effect high definition television (HDTV) has on voters’ perceptions of candidates.

While research comes to divergent conclusions on how exactly voters are affected, the benefits of debates to democracy are clear. They force candidates to define specific policy platforms; provide voters with access to information they may not otherwise receive; and create another layer of accountability for public officials.

Throughout its 30 year history, CIPE has worked with the private sector and economic think tanks around the world to enhance the debate of public policies before, during, and after important elections. Over the past five years CIPE and its partners in Latin America and the Caribbean have sought to take advantage of increasing access to radio, television, and the Internet to counter the region’s long history of populist politics in which candidates campaigned heavily on their personality and political connections and very little on actual policy platforms.

In Colombia, Argentina, Mexico, and Paraguay, CIPE supported programs that raised demand for public policy debate during electoral seasons and, in the case of Colombia and Paraguay, actually organized Presidential debates.

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Bringing Youth Entrepreneurship Education to Rural Ecuador

Emprendedores Ecua

Over the course of June and July, nearly 1,000 high school and university students in cities throughout Ecuador learned about business plan development, leadership and communication, market economy, and democracy. However, they did not learn about these topics by reading their textbooks or from listening to a professional consultant or workshop facilitator. Uniquely, the message on the importance of a market economy, democracy, and an entrepreneurial climate came from a group of 45 aspiring young leaders and entrepreneurs. These 45 university students from rural areas of the country are the first participants in the Emprendedores Ecuatorianos (Ecuadorian Entrepreneurs) program organized by the Ecuadorian Institute of Political Economy (IEEP).

The Emprendedores Ecuatorianos program, launched earlier this year with local private sector and CIPE support, is modeled after the successful EmprendeAhora program in Peru. In this its first year, IEEP selected 45 participants based on a lengthy application process. The educational program took place from March to May at the Universidad del Espiritu Santo in Guayaquil and consisted of 100 hours of courses on leadership, business plans, democracy and economy, marketing, and human development.

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The Democracy Diagnosis

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

While visiting a friend recently, I picked up the second year medical school textbook he had been studying and browsed through a couple of the pages. Instantly my head began spinning as I tried to decipher the litany of unpronounceable medical terminology and pictures. Without a doubt, Spanish and Turkish have nothing on whatever foreign language was on the pages in front of me. Although I cannot offer any medical advice based on this brush with medical science, the process of identifying maladies of the body and determining a precise treatment left me thinking about the science of politics; specifically, the science of democracy. Whereas doctors can conduct an examination to determine a person’s overall health, how do you diagnose something as ambiguous as the health of a country’s democracy?

For years, democracy professionals have debated what exactly democracy means. Beyond the most basic of definitions, “rule by the people,” everyone has a unique conception based on his or her own experience. The plethora of definitions have made it difficult for experts to agree on an index classifying (or diagnosing) the level of democracy in countries around the world. At a recent event at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, two principal investigators from the Varieties of Democracy (V-Dem) project presented a new tool for diagnosing democracy: not in the aggregate, but in the disaggregate.

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Supporting Freedom of the Press in Latin America through Online Media


Watch a video about (in English)

In Latin America, many citizens lack a clear understanding of democratic and free-market principles, and strong, charismatic leaders have exploited that knowledge gap. In several countries, notably Cuba, Venezuela, Argentina, and Ecuador, the government exerts significant influence over traditional media outlets through direct ownership, intimidation, or even censorship.

The trend is not a positive one for freedom of the press in the region as governments become more creative in finding ways to muzzle the media. And although some have tried to censor the internet, technological and social progress mean that information consumption in Latin America is increasingly linked to the internet and less to traditional media. The importance of cross-border journalism making use of digital platforms to communicate freely is becoming more and more important in this scenario.

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Peru’s Lesson for the Middle East and North Africa

Hernando de Soto

One of the first people to walk through the doors after CIPE’s founding in 1983 was Hernando de Soto, President of the Institute for Liberty and Democracy (ILD) in Lima, Peru. Mr. de Soto had the fundamental insight that poor people were not part of the development problem but instead part of the solution. In his best-selling books, The Other Path and The Mystery of Capital, he explained how the lack of access to property rights and other institutions of a market economy keeps the poor in most developing countries trapped in the informal sector.

In one of its first-ever programs, CIPE teamed up with de Soto and ILD to begin bringing the poor in Peru from the extralegal economy into the formal economy and the rule of law. As a result of ILD’s unique and innovative property rights and business reform program, Peruvian society received $18.4 billion in net benefits between 1992 and 1997, including saving formalized urban owners some $196 million in red tape costs.

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