Author Archives: Brent Ruth

Join us for a Spanish Twitter Chat for Global Entrepreneurship Week

In honor of Global Entrepreneurship Week, the CIPE-sponsored Spanish-language magazine Revista Perspectiva will be hosting a Twitter chat in Spanish to discuss the role of entrepreneurship in development.

In conjunction with several articles featured in Perspectiva’s online magazine, the focus of the chat will center on the role of the private sector in entrepreneurship, challenges to young entrepreneurs, potential policies that encourage entrepreneurship, and the broader implications of a strong entrepreneurial climate. The chat will take place on Wednesday, November 14, beginning at 11am (EST) and will continue for two hours.

CIPE partners and entrepreneurs from throughout Latin America and the Caribbean will participate and share their ideas and hopes for the future of the entrepreneurial spirit of the region.

Revista Perspectiva (@ReviPerspectiva) will be joined by several experts in the field of entrepreneurship: Roberto Laserna of Fundación Milenio in Bolivia (@roblaser), Guido Sanchez of SYSA Cultura Emprendedora in Peru (@emprendesiosi), Xavier Andrade of the Ecuadorian Institute of Political Economy(@Xavierlibertas), as well as representatives from Instituto Invertir’s educational program EmprendeAhora in Peru (@EmprendeAhoraPe) and the Center for National Economic Research in Guatemala (@CIENgt).

Follow the chat by using the hashtag #EmpChat or visit the TweetChat room.

Note that this chat will be conducted in Spanish. Please also follow our English-language Twitter chat with entrepreneurs from around the globe on Tuesday, November 13 on the hashtag #GEWChat.

How Youth are Using Facebook and Skype to Transform Peru

Internet use in Peru and throughout South America is growing rapidly. So how can youth use these tools to spur economic and democratic development? A young group of Peruvians demonstrate one way to do so.

As of March 31, 2012, there were 8,204,560 Facebook users in Peru; a respectable 28.1% penetration rate that puts Peru perfectly in line with Facebook usage in South America as a whole. Experience would suggest that younger Peruvians make up a large percentage of these users. We have seen time and again that as more reliable internet connections have arrived in developing countries around the world, youth are the first to latch on to the new technologies that come with them. Unsurprisingly, social networking tools like Facebook, Skype, and now Twitter are generally the first services to gain traction (not to mention social media sites like YouTube).

Given the vastness and diverse geography of Peru, opportunities for face-to-face interaction with people from other parts of the country are few and far between. Therefore, alumni from Instituto Invertir’s EmprendeAhora youth leadership and entrepreneurship program have increasingly used social media, particularly Facebook, to keep in touch and discuss democracy, rule of law, free markets, entrepreneurship skills, and leadership with one another and members of their communities.

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Leadership in Lambayeque

Karla Diaz is interviewed about the EmprendeAhora program.

This article is part of a series of interviews with participants of Instituto Invertir’s EmprendeAhora entrepreneurship and leadership training program in Peru.

Continuing my grand tour of Peru to meet EmprendeAhora alumni, I headed to the desert-like coastal city of Chiclayo, capital of Lambayeque region and fourth most populous city in the country. Forty students from the Universidad Nacional Pedro Ruiz Gallo, Universidad Católica Santo Toribio de Mogrovejo, and Universidad Señor de Sipan in Lambayeque have participated in the program since 2008. In honor of International Women’s Day, it seems appropriate to highlight how two alumni, Karla Díaz (2009) and Estrella Carrillo (2010), successfully incorporated lessons from EmprendeAhora into their lives.

For Karla Diaz, the leadership component of EmprendeAhora was just as important, if not more so, than the courses on entrepreneurship. As part of the program students are taught communication and teambuilding skills, how to create their own vision and mission, and about the importance of social responsibility. Additionally, students learn about volunteering through a volunteer workshop and participation in a social entrepreneurship fair where they meet with representatives from youth volunteer associations. Karla had always thought of herself as a leader and when she was growing up she wanted to create an organization that provided some sort of benefit to the public good. She just never had a concrete plan.

Motivated by what they learned and experienced during EmprendeAhora 2009, Karla and several of her fellow alumni decided to create a branch of Voluntades, a youth volunteer organization, in Chiclayo. In early 2010 they kicked off their first program organizing fun activities while sharing positive values with youth ages 8-13 years old at the Aldea Virgen de la Paz, a village for orphans and troubled youth whose families cannot support them.

After two years, what began with six volunteers (almost all of them EmprendeAhora alumni) has multiplied into a group of around 30 volunteers, proving that these alumni have implemented their leadership skills and inspired other young people to volunteer. I was incredibly fortunate to visit the Aldea one Sunday afternoon to attend the weekly Voluntades activity with the young people living there. The volunteers led the children in singing, dancing, games, and creative thinking activities.

When I spoke with the director of the Aldea, he told me that they often receive volunteer groups interested in working with the children. The cooperation with Voluntades, however, is by far the most formal and consistent relationship, with activities every Sunday for the past two years. He said, “unconsciously the children are registering what they see, hear, and learn during the games. During the week they have a lot of homework and classes and it is good for them to have a fun weekend activity.”

As anyone who has ever spoken with an 8-13 year old can imagine, when I asked some of the children what they thought of Voluntades, the responses I got amounted to, “sometimes we like it, sometimes we don’t.” While there were some activities in which it was more difficult to engage the children, it was quite clear that the children looked up to the volunteers and relationships had been formed.

Karla has served on the board of Voluntades since its creation, in addition to managing various areas like human resources, project coordination, and communications. Although Karla does not have her own business, it does not mean that EmprendeAhora did not awaken her entrepreneurial spirit. Actually, she now sees everything as a business. This has helped her to more quickly develop and execute concrete plans regarding volunteer initiatives, in the workplace, and in her personal life.

Speaking of the workplace, Karla is the host of two television shows based in Chiclayo. Therefore she has plenty of experience speaking in front of an audience – both on camera and in person. In January her audience was an auditorium full of 120 university students waiting to hear her discuss the experience of Voluntades in Chiclayo. Karla was one of the program alums at the University of Lima for EmprendeAhora 2012 as a winner of the “successful alumni contest.” The contest brings several alums to each educational session in order to provide successful examples of entrepreneurial and leadership initiatives and motivate each new class.

While in Chiclayo, I also had the chance to meet with Estrella Carillo.

Unlike many of the other alumni with whom I met, Estrella never imagined herself as an entrepreneur prior to EmprendeAhora. She studied law and was on the path to becoming an attorney. Nonetheless, when she received an email from her university about the program she decided to apply for the opportunity to meet people from other parts of the country.

What captivated her attention during EmprendeAhora 2010, however, were the courses on business planning. Going through the process of developing a business plan idea, devising business strategies, and learning about customers and costs was a highlight of the program for Estrella. The program overall taught her that opening a business was possible even if it didn’t necessarily fit the career path she was on.

Always a fan of fashion, Estrella recognized that the demand for fashionable, trendy women’s clothing in Chiclayo was far greater than the supply. Starting with a small investment from her personal savings, she began taking monthly trips to Lima to purchase clothing from stores that were not available in Chiclayo and reselling to her friends. Rather than just buying and selling any type of clothes, Estrella customizes the items she purchases based on her client’s style preferences and needs. In a sense, Estrella acts as a personal shopper. Currently she serves around 15 clients – friends or friends of friends who heard about the shopping service through word of mouth.

EmprendeAhora not only motivated Estrella to start a business, but also reignited a desire to be involved in more social causes, including the environment and community development, and doing things for others. She now volunteers at a non-profit organization dealing with domestic violence and abuse towards women. Estrella has continued to pursue her legal degree because she sees her legal background as a tool to better serve these social causes in the future. In fact, she is one of approximately 130 young legal professionals worldwide selected for a nine week legal fellowship in the United States this summer.

Because Estrella has continued with her education in the legal field, the business has remained a part-time, informal endeavor for the time being. However, she sees the business as her true passion and hopes that in a few years time she can expand it into something more formal by opening a shop providing personalized styling services.

Although I have highlighted two women in this article, EmprendeAhora provides an opportunity for students of any gender to become active citizens and agents of change in their communities. Over the years Instituto Invertir has tried to maintain a gender balance among the participants, but there is no set quota. Of the 2012 participants, 65% are female. On International Women’s Day it is important to share the EmprendeAhora model as it is a good example of a program that benefits women without specifically targeting them.

Iquitos Part 2: Chocolate, Toys, and Entrepreneurial Dreams

Gerson Casas's toy shop in Iquitos. (Photo: Staff)

This article is part of a series of interviews with participants of Instituto Invertir’s EmprendeAhora entrepreneurship and leadership training program in Peru. Read the introduction to the series and Part 1.

In order to promote the EmprendeAhora program and encourage new applicants from throughout Peru, each year CIPE partner Instituto Invertir conducts an extensive promotional campaign in every major regional university. Local teams made up of EmprendeAhora alumni are in charge of distributing materials in their universities and in other youth spaces in their cities (Internet cafes, church, library, etc.). The alumni also give informative talks at universities and speak to the local media. It was through this promotional campaign in the summer of 2010 that Gerson Casas learned about the benefits of EmprendeAhora from Coco D’Azevedo, the 2008 alum profiled in a previous post.

Like Coco, Gerson is from Iquitos, Peru and was drawn to the program for the opportunity to travel to Lima, meet new people, and learn more about being an entrepreneur. After completing the rigorous application process, Gerson was selected to attend EmprendeAhora 2010.

According to Gerson, the EmprendeAhora business plan competition was the most important aspect of the program. As part of the competition, students are divided into groups of three to five from the same city to work together to choose a business idea that could eventually be launched in their region to create employment and economic growth. Students work progressively on the projects throughout the three EmprendeAhora sessions with an assigned coach – a professor from the university or a successful entrepreneur.

Gerson and his three partners came up with the idea for a chocolate company called Chocohuayo featuring chocolates filled with aguaje and camu camu, two fruits native to the Loreto region. They worked with their coach, Margarita Reyes, on their plans for production, marketing, and costs. In Iquitos the group conducted surveys as part of their market research and while in Lima for the sessions the group visited a number of chocolatiers to see what other aspects of the business they should incorporate into their plan. Although Chocohuayo did not win the business plan competition, they were selected as one of ten finalists out of the 40 different business plans.

Jump ahead to January 2012 and I find myself sitting in a small workshop in Iquitos. Unfortunately there are no tasty chocolates to eat; rather, I am surrounded by colorful wooden puppies, airplanes, and race cars. The shop, called Chiki Madera, is Gerson’s wooden toy business. Upon completion of EmprendeAhora, Gerson didn’t need to look very far for a new business opportunity. His father owns a furniture factory and he grew up making small wood carvings with scraps left over from the doors, chairs, and tables that his father was building.

Implementing many of the things he learned during the EmprendeAhora business plan competition, Gerson resourcefully utilized his father’s carpentry tools, shop space, and scrap wood and began crafting and selling wooden toys, a product that none of the other carpenters in Iquitos were producing. His main startup costs were for the paint, varnish, and display cases, making it fairly easy to begin with little capital.

While Gerson is the owner and sole full time employee of Chiki Madera, this past Christmas he contracted two helpers to complete all of the toy orders in time for the holidays. He also receives some help from his mother – a restaurant owner – in creating the toy designs. Gerson admits too that he gets design inspiration from television and even from the construction workers digging up the street in front of his shop. Case in point: his newest design is a backhoe tractor.

Gerson is happy running his own business in Iquitos, serving a local clientele and occasionally traveling to fairs to sell his products. In 2011, Chiki Madera was one of more than 400 exhibitors with a booth at Perú Gift, an international fair specialized in gifts and decoration. Approximately 8,000 national and international visitors attend each year. There he made contacts that could help him reach his goal of exporting his products. Regardless of whether he ultimately exports, he sees his current work as preferable to studying another career or working in a company, the alternatives he envisions had he not attended EmprendeAhora.

Having witnessed the positive stories of Coco and Gerson, and with my mementos from Iquitos in tow – brochures from Coco and a red, white, and blue wooden puppy that I couldn’t resist purchasing from Gerson – I boarded a flight back to Lima for the first session of EmprendeAhora 2012.

Iquitos Part 1: Don’t Forget Your Running Shoes


Grupo A&E's headquarters in Iquitos, Peru. (Photo: Staff)

This article is part of a series of interviews with participants of Instituto Invertir’s EmprendeAhora entrepreneurship and leadership training program in Peru. Read the introduction to the series and Part 2.

If you are an avid runner looking for a unique location for your next race, consider checking out the jungle scenery and oxygen-rich air in the Amazonian city of Iquitos, Peru. On February 12, the main city streets were free of the normally ubiquitous swarm of motorcycles and three wheel rickshaws called moto-kars as nearly 500 runners participated in Iquitos’ first ever Amazonica 10 kilometer marathon – an event designed to engage the community in the promotion of sport and healthy living.

The race was organized by Grupo A&E, a business founded and operated by Jorge “Coco” D’Azevedo, alum of the first EmprendeAhora (formerly LiderAcción) program in 2008. With this first marathon, Grupo A&E added to an already large list of services that it offers, including: training in business management, leadership, motivation, and entrepreneurship; organizing academic, cultural, and entertainment events; and conducting surveys and market research.

In mid-January I had the opportunity to meet Coco in the Grupo A&E office in Iquitos to learn about his background prior to EmprendeAhora, hear about his experience in the program, his business venture, and what it is like owning and operating a business.

As the son of two university employees, Coco grew up thinking he would be an employee somewhere too. He got the entrepreneurial bug in high school, however, when he and his friends began noticing the difference between those who had money and those who did not. Based on their observations, business owners had money, employees did not.

But while in university Coco reverted to the dependent mentality and worked at various internships while trying to decide which career he would pursue. Then his mother told him about EmprendeAhora – a scholarship program which she heard about on RPP Noticias. After a bit of investigating, Coco’s desire to learn about entrepreneurship drove him to apply. It didn’t hurt that the scholarship covered 100% of the program costs – something rare for Iquitos.

About the program, Coco said, “it is an experience that changed me and made me see other points of view and other ways of life.” EmprendeAhora showed him that being an entrepreneur, having his own business and working for himself was an achievable alternative to working as an employee somewhere. Coming from a university in Iquitos with a leftist anti-business approach, the lessons and practical application of business concepts during EmprendeAhora helped Coco better understand what it means to live (and make a living) in a democratic, free-market economy.

After completing the EmprendeAhora program in early 2009, Coco started a precursor to Grupo A&E called LIVE (Leadership, Values, and Entrepreneurship). The core mission was to strengthen entrepreneurship and leadership skills among Peruvians – starting at the regional level. Coco included the leadership theme because it was something that he was particularly drawn to and felt was vital as a result of EmprendeAhora.

In the first year of operation, LIVE organized two major conferences at the regional level: the 1st Congress on Leadership and Entrepreneurship, and the National Congress of Successful Women. In 2010, LIVE changed its name to Grupo A&E, registered and obtained its Tax Identification Number. This year nearly 1,000 people attended events on entrepreneurship and leadership organized and led by Grupo A&E.

In late 2011, the business expanded to include production of a television program entitled “Somos Empresa Loreto (We are Business Loreto).” The objective of the program is to show off cases of entrepreneurs, businessmen and women, and businesses in the Loreto region, sharing their experiences and advice for others that wish to create their own businesses.

Another new line of work builds off of the $6,000 investment in a professional camera for the television program. Branching out into offering marketing services, Grupo A&E has begun filming commercials for other businesses in the region. Because the camera was already purchased for the purpose of the television program, the money made from this marketing service is pure profit.

In the last four months of 2011, Grupo A&E’s costs averaged around 45% of the total income. With the new services and low overhead costs, this number is likely to improve in the first half of 2012. Coco is confident to say the least. When asked what his Plan B is, he said, “there is no Plan B because this is the company that I like and want to have and it is certainly going to work!”

With so many different services and activities going on, Grupo A&E is clearly not a one-man show. In fact, Coco has two business partners in this venture and three employees: an editor, a production assistant, and an administrator. An accountant is shared with the restaurant of one of his business partners. Although Coco oversees all of the activity, his title on his business card is simple: Motivator.

It is a fitting title. During my time in Iquitos it was hard not to be motivated by such a passionate person with big ideas for his city and country. Not to mention by someone that took the risk of starting his own business at such a young age with the added pressures of a wife and young child at home. That said there are days when Coco has to give a little extra motivation to himself. “Perseverance is the key characteristic of an entrepreneur. In my experience, it is difficult, things do not go your way, but you must persevere.”

The idea behind EmprendeAhora was to create a training program that promotes entrepreneurship and market economy as the best way to overcome poverty in Peru. While many alumni have gone on to create successful businesses selling products or other types of services; through its training programs, television show, and marketing services, Grupo A&E has made a business out of promoting the basic concepts of EmprendeAhora and sharing it with a wider audience.

The success of the Amazonica 10K on February 12 may lead to a surge in marathons in Iquitos – promoting a healthier life style and community engagement. Here’s hoping that Coco’s success as an entrepreneur, leader, and motivator leads to a similar swell in the number of entrepreneurs – promoting a more democratic and economically developed Peru.

Spreading Entrepreneurship in Peru

A student's graduation certificate hangs on the wall of his workshop. (Photo: CIPE Staff)

Since I first visited two years ago, Instituto Invertir’s EmprendeAhora (formerly LíderAcción) entrepreneurship education program has gone from success to success, including winning CIPE’s inaugural  Leading Practices contest in 2011. In three years, the program — which is targeted at university students from the poorest regions of Peru — has trained 430 students who have gone on to create at least 40 new businesses and arrange leadership and entrepreneurship workshops for more than 12,000 other students. Surveys have consistently shown positive changes in the attitudes of EmprendeAhora alumni towards democracy, as well as more optimistic perceptions about how the market economy works and their ability to participate in it.

These aggregate statistics are great, and will certainly be strengthened by the 120 students who began the program in January 2012. Yet all too often we are satisfied with reporting “big picture” numbers and neglect follow up at the individual level where real change is initiated.

Last month I was enlisted to catch up with some of the alumni to find out what they are doing now and get a better understanding of how the program has had a positive impact on the youth themselves, their families, their communities, and also find out what makes the program work.

I plotted my course for a 10 day jaunt through Peru that involved stops in the cities of Iquitos, Chiclayo, and Huancayo. The cities were selected not only because they are home to some of the more successful alumni, but also because each represents a distinct geographical region of the country.

During my trip, I interviewed more than 25 alumni, regional and municipal government authorities, university professors, program speakers, and private sector sponsors. Based on these interviews I was able to draw some basic conclusions about why the program works.

One of the most important aspects of the program is the opportunity it provides for students to meet intelligent and talented peers from all over the country. Due to the natural isolation provided by the Andes Mountains and the Amazon rainforest, Peru is one of the most culturally diverse countries in South America.  The opportunity to meet peers from other regions not only increases the students’ understanding of their country, it also creates a broad network of contacts with which to share experiences. Many alumni said that the relationships built over the course of the program created the necessary motivation for them to act on their ideas once they returned to their communities. A sense of friendly competition certainly exists among program alumni.

The fact that the program is entirely free is another major factor in its success. It gives an advantage to bright, motivated students who may lack the financial resources. Given that it is incredibly rare for young people in the poorer regions of Peru to have the opportunity to participate in a training program like this for free, all the alumni I spoke with recalled having the initial reaction: “What is the catch?”

The only “catch,” if it can be called that, is that participants are required to attend all sessions and complete all assignments in order to receive their certificate. While there may always be a few free-riders, the majority of program alums shared a sense of indebtedness and a desire to go above and beyond to make the most of what they had learned.

As I traveled around Peru, I noticed that there were a number of youth training programs in the regions I visited, many of them run by local governments, Chambers, and associations. These courses delve into marketing, costs, sales, etc., but are generally focused on training people in specific skills like baking, mechanics, food, and crafts. With EmprendeAhora, business plan development and aspects of running a business also form the meat of the program, but I repeatedly heard that the modules on leadership and citizenship set it apart from other types of entrepreneurship training programs.

Nearly every alum I met, whether they had their own business or not, was engaged in some sort of social project. Cases of volunteering, working with a non-governmental organization on social issues, or incorporating social projects into the line of business were very prevalent among alumni. EmprendeAhora alumni are not just contributing to the country’s economic development, but are motivated to play a role in the country’s social development as well.

These are just the highlights of the many lessons I learned while in Peru. In the coming weeks, the CIPE blog will feature detailed profiles of the students and businesses I met with, so keep checking back to read about some inspiring individuals.

(You can get a head start by checking out an article on 2008 alum Karolo Pérez Alvarado from Tarapoto.)

This article is the beginning of a series of interviews with participants of Instituto Invertir’s EmprendeAhora entrepreneurship and leadership training program in Peru. Read Part 1 and Part 2.

Fine at First Glance: A Turkish Model Hits the Runway

(Photo: Brent Ruth)

On October 29, all eyes in Istanbul will look to the sky as more than 48,000 fireworks light up the night in celebration of the 88th anniversary of the founding of the Turkish Republic.

In the same way, Turkey’s success as the region’s most democratic Muslim-majority state and largest, most diversified economy has put all eyes on it as others in the Middle East and North Africa struggle to ensure that they too will have an opportunity to determine their own democratic course.

Undoubtedly, Turkey is much better off than its neighbors, but it would be shortsighted to ignore the work that still needs to be done to secure a genuine democracy and sustainable economic growth.

Structural reforms adopted by Turkey in the early 2000s reinforced macroeconomic stability, accelerated development and opened the way for small- and medium-sized enterprises in Anatolian provinces. This economic stability, as well as other reforms in compliance with European Union (EU) membership criteria, has led many to regard Turkey as a model of democracy for the Middle East. Proponents of this thought can provide plenty of support from this past year alone:

  • In June, Turkey held free and fair elections; an event that has become routine for Turks but is almost unheard of elsewhere in the region. Voters gave the Justice and Development Party (AKP) and its leader, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, a third term in power but prevented it from reaching a two thirds majority in the Assembly. As a result, a much needed constitutional referendum is now more likely to incorporate several philosophical viewpoints beyond those of AKP.
  • In July, the unprecedented retirement of the head of the Turkish armed forces, and the heads of the ground, naval, and air forces confirmed a remarkable shift in power from the military to the democratically elected government. Previously, as a consequence of  military intervention in 1980, the core responsibility of judging and ensuring the secular and political course of the nation was  in the hands of the judiciary, military and senior officials of the state rather than elected institutions and citizens. Now, such intervention is no longer regarded as feasible.
  • Turkey is now the 16th largest economy in the world. Its well-regulated financial markets and banking system weathered the global financial crisis and GDP rebounded strongly to 7.3% in 2010. According to the OECD forecast, Turkey is expected to be the fastest growing economy of the OECD members during 2011-2017. Turkey’s per capita income has almost tripled during Erdogan’s tenure.

It’s not hard to see how Turkey has avoided the economically and politically driven uprisings that have spread throughout the rest of the region. Yet the flashy economic numbers and successful elections may simply be masking alarming signs in other areas.

Spend time talking with people around the country and you will find a number of concerns. An assessment of Anatolian civil society and private sector stakeholders, for instance, paints a contrary picture of a country unsure of its democratic credentials and struggling to accommodate the rising aspirations of its population beyond the metropolises of Istanbul and Ankara. While certainly not an exhaustive list, here I’ll touch on a few points:

  • As the World Bank highlights in its report on Gender Equality and Development, investing in women is one of the most effective ways to reduce inequality and facilitate inclusive economic growth – key elements to ensuring a stable democracy. Yet in Turkey, women are often left on the sidelines of political and economic policymaking due to cultural and structural barriers. Several of these barriers, including the high cost associated with child-care, stem from the fact that traditionally the woman’s place has been in the home. At the same time, due to a lack of education and opportunity, many women do not possess the skills to become contributing members of the public or private sectors. In the Anatolian regions of the country in particular, the quality of education for girls decreases after primary school.
  • Turkey remains one of the most centralized states in the West. Uneven distribution of resources by the central government may be the core cause of Eastern Anatolia’s glaring lag in development, but lack of awareness by local business councils and organizations on how to organize and tap into available resources play an equally, if not more important role, in broadening this divide. Because economic activity in Turkey has historically concentrated in a few major cities, namely Istanbul and Ankara, the development and capacity of business associations in greater Anatolia is not at a level which allows them to effectively participate in a democratic policymaking process. The average resident of Diyarbakir or Kars has little say in how government funds are spent in their community.There is a conspicuous shortage of curriculum on issues such as business advocacy, entrepreneurship initiatives and best business practices, which further exacerbates the challenge of attaining the necessary tools to participate in the economic development discourse. Students studying business or public policy in Eastern Anatolia have very few opportunities to practically apply their knowledge. Even the best universities in Turkey are just now beginning to focus on some of these topics.
  • Turkey’s political environment is becoming less competitive. Neither the ruling nor the opposition political parties offer very coherent platforms or policy recommendations and few reach out to voters beyond the campaign period. Turkey’s 10 percent electoral threshold, one of the highest in the world, hinders political competition and representation.
  • Lastly, it would be remiss not to mention what is perhaps the biggest obstacle for further democratization and reform: the Kurdish conflict. A recent piece by UK journalist Firdevs Robinson in Public Service Europe presents a succinct background on the situation. Having myself met with politicians and civil society representatives in the Kurdish region, I can attest to the complexity of the conflict. As Ms. Robinson points out in her article, without fundamental democratic reform, the conflict will not go away.

Turkey has made significant progress towards democratization and economic reform over the past decade under the leadership of the AKP. Those who wish to characterize Turkey as a “model” for other Muslim-majority countries in the Middle East and North Africa region are not necessarily wrong. There are a lot of great things to learn from Turkey as other countries in the region go through major transitions. Yet progress is fragile and does not assure that Turkey will arrive where it needs to be. For Turkey’s sake, let’s not use strong economic indicators as an excuse to ignore challenges that remain, as has been the tendency with other emerging markets like Brazil and India.

On this Republic Day, we should celebrate with all Turks for their successes they have had over the past year, while being mindful not to forget that there is still work to be done.