Author Archives: Brent Ruth

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


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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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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.