The rapid growth of the Internet in Latin America between 2001 and 2008. As of 2014 57% of South Americans are online. (Charts: ZookNIC)
By William Vogt
Since the rise and fall of the Arab Spring, debate has raged in the fields intersecting communications, technology, and international affairs: will Internet growth be a liberalizing influence that will create stable, prosperous democracies?
So far, this answer appears to be a qualified “no.” Connected and educated youths have not created the groundswell necessary for reform in many politically unstable countries. On the other hand, investments in information communications technologies (ICTs) have greatly improved local economies in many developing countries and hold promise in exposing and rooting out corruption.
In this last point, fighting corruption, the rise of the Internet as a social and economic force has created perplexing political trends. Increased Internet penetration does reduce at least one key aspect of corruption affecting free market interactions: barriers to market entry (for producers and consumers) due to opaque regulations and powerful oligarchies. In fact, studies have shown that merely the act of searching broad terms like “corruption” on an online search engine has significant impacts on the ability of the state to engage in corrupt, anti-competitive practices like demanding bribes from businesses.
This trend, however, does not hold globally and there is one part of the world that has created a particularly worrying balance between the forms of democracy and what is functionally a system of corruption: Latin America. Over its long history this region has developed a unique political culture with a prominent role for the ideology frequently described today as “populism.”
The Nordic concept of Janteloven mirrors some cultural attitudes in Latin America — yet the Nordic countries have still managed to build strong entrepreneurial ecosystems.
Entrepreneurs continue to face strong cultural challenges in Latin America. Risk aversion is particularly common in the region, and thus many youth lack the confidence to start their own businesses for fear of failure and the associated consequences. Would-be women entrepreneurs often must deal with machismo, or male dominance, in economic matters.
Additionally, Latin American cultures tend to be very community-oriented, and it is a common belief throughout much of the region that entrepreneurs are in business to make money only for themselves and are thus “abandoning” their communities, which has cast a negative light upon the concept of entrepreneurship. Moreover, strong pressures to conform to social class expectations often discourage young people from trying to improve their lives through entrepreneurship.
Latin America is not the only region in which cultural factors have hampered the development of entrepreneurship. Entrepreneurs still face sizable cultural obstacles even in regions where entrepreneurship has been able to flourish. This is especially true in the Nordic countries: Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, and Sweden.
As someone who has straddled the Latin American-Nordic cultural divide his whole life, I have witnessed firsthand that while Latin American and Nordic cultures are very different in a variety of ways (just try making small talk while waiting for a bus in Copenhagen or foregoing cheek kisses upon meeting people in San Juan), in both cultures there are norms that encourage social conformity while stifling individualism. While these rules are unwritten and thus are not immediately apparent to outsiders, the social consequences of going against these norms can be severe.
The Open Government Partnership has an ambitious agenda to advance transparency and accountability in government, which it seeks to advance through voluntary commitments, citizen engagement, and progress monitoring reports. It has garnered many adherents since it was launched by eight countries in 2011, and its members have already implemented numerous practical reforms.
At the OGP Americas Regional Meeting in Costa Rica, we had the opportunity to take stock of accomplishments and learn from practitioners about what makes the partnership work and how to sustain it. I was struck by the scale of the effort in several countries despite their resource constraints, as well as the concerns voiced by civil society for the integrity of overall reform.
“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.
Women entrepreneurs are increasingly important participants in the new global economy. In many emerging free-market economies and newly democratic countries, women comprise a significant — and sometimes dominant — portion of the business infrastructure, not only in the informal and small business sector, but in corporate ranks as well. Yet their participation on the management of business overall and the making of public policy is still hindered by lack of adequate gender representation, legal, institutional and cultural barriers, and traditional societal practices.
For over 30 years, CIPE has been working to strengthen democracy around the globe through private enterprise and market oriented reform. CIPE’s program for women focus on empowering them as entrepreneurs and encouraging their full participation in civil life and policymaking with the goal of building democracy that delivers for all.
In honor of Women’s Entrepreneurship Day, CIPE hosted a Google Hangout with a distinguished panel of women leaders and entrepreneurs to discuss how women’s economic participation could be advanced globally. The panel featured Selima Ahmad, founder of the Bangladesh Women’s Chamber of Commerce and Industry (BWCCI); Lina Hundaileh, Chair of the Young Entrepreneurs’ Association (YEA) in Jordan; and Lucy Valenti, President of the Network of Nicaraguan Businesswomen (REN). Discussant and moderator were CIPE Program Officer Maiko Nakagaki and Research Coordinator Teodora Mihaylova.
The political and economic climate in Venezuela has become increasingly hostile for entrepreneurs and the private sector since 1998, when Hugo Chávez became president and ushered in his “Bolivarian Revolution” — a series of sweeping economic and political changes aimed at helping the poor which instead led to high inflation, shortages of basic goods, and the growth of a large informal sector.
Moreover, Chávez frequently accused the private sector of conspiring with the CIA, the domestic opposition, the Colombian government, and other actors to topple his presidency and the Bolivarian Revolution. The resulting social and political cleavages among Venezuelans have become so strong that political disagreements have even created bitter feuds among family members.
Since 2013, CIPE has been working with the Federation of Chambers of Commerce and Production (FEDECAMARAS) to strengthen the capacity of local entrepreneurs and promote the values of democracy and free market initiative in Venezuela. FEDECAMARAS is a private, non-profit civil association with over 250 business association members encompassing 13 business sectors and 23 regional state chambers. Despite the hostile political and economic climate that took root under Chávez and has persisted under his successor Nicolás Maduro, FEDECAMARAS has worked tirelessly to strengthen the Venezuelan business climate through the principles of economic freedom and democracy.
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Opportunities in Bambamarca, Peru, are not plentiful. For most people, earning enough just to get by can be a challenge. Earning enough to employ others, send your children to school, and invest in more sustainable business practices are luxuries which most in this small district in the Cajamarca department don’t have. The average household income reaches just barely $100 per month and most Bambamarquinos don’t have electricity or running water. Many cannot read.
Despite these challenges, one Bambamarca native decided to invest his time, money, and opportunities back into the community. Videlmo Maluquish Silva is a young entrepreneur who participated in the inaugural EmprendeAhora youth leadership and entrepreneurship training program in 2008. Since 2008, EmprendeAhora has been bringing college students from every region of Peru together with a focus on creating entrepreneurs who understand the value of democracy and the responsibility of the private sector to improve the economic opportunities in their communities.