Empowering Women to Improve the World
One of the many tools to eradicating extreme poverty is investment in young girls and women around the globe. Empowering and encouraging women will not only accelerate the fight against global poverty, but also towards eliminating inequality and gender disparities that inhibit economic potential.

Famously said by Brigham Young: “When you educate a man; you educate a man. When you educate a woman; you educate a nation.”

Education leads to better economic and personal choices. The health status is vastly improved when women are educated. Mothers and children gain more than the benefit of smaller families and healthier children. Maternal and child mortality rates are lower, with less of a risk of dying in childbirth, and higher chances of having children survive past the age of 5.

Educated women are more likely to send their children to school and are also better able to protect themselves and their children against malnutrition, HIV/AIDS, trafficking and sexual exploitation. When there is a lack of education, teen pregnancy and violence against women is high, as is the case in Latin America. This constrains women’s lifestyles and limits choices inhibiting future opportunities.

The correlation of these benefits and education isn’t just a coincidence.

When women are given the opportunity of an education they are able to play a bigger role in the economy, through better jobs and higher wages. A higher number of people in school and higher wages means a higher average GDP. Beneficial for households, communities and nations as a whole.

Women’s participation in the labor force is fundamental in reducing extreme poverty. When women are denied rights, over half of the world’s population is restricted from fully contributing to its own economic growth and well being.

Whether the denial of women’s rights stems from social, cultural, economic, or political roots, their rights are often further confined in times of conflict. Becoming the victims of political disputes, women’s education is compromised. Currently, there are 28.5 million children out of school in conflict-ridden countries, of which over half are girls.

According to UNICEF, approximately 4,000 (1 in 5) Syrian schools have been damaged, destroyed or are being used to shelter displaced families as a direct result of the ongoing conflict. Similar humanitarian crises in South Sudan and Central African Republic are also jeopardizing education opportunities, and further putting the safety of women and children at stake.

These investments in women’s education are about improving security, women’s voice and quality of life. Reducing these gender disparities are key to gaining a fully functioning global society where participation by all genders, ethnicities and classes is encouraged.

Maris Brummel

Sources: Global Public Square, UNICEF, Americas Quarterly
Photo: UNHCR


Chileans are choosing between a former president who aims to increase accessibility to higher education and a right wing politician wanting to keep taxes low are the candidates in the December 2013 presidential election. What is secondary, but notable, about these candidates is that both are also women.

The Chilean election is indicative of a larger trend in Latin America and the Caribbean of the ascension of female political leaders.

Eight of roughly 29 female presidents worldwide since the 1970s have headed countries in Latin America and the Caribbean, with half elected in the last eight years.

Quotas for women in government explain part of this progress. Argentina pioneered the quota system in the early 1990s with a law requiring that 30 percent of legislative candidates be women. As of 2006, 50 countries have adopted the quota system, including many in Latin America.

In Costa Rica, Ecuador, and Bolivia, every other candidate on a party’s election list is required to be a woman.

In North and South America, with the noteworthy exception of the United States, women are being elected to the highest offices of government.

In Latin America’s largest nation of Brazil, Dilma Rousseff was elected president in 2010 and will run again in 2014.  She previously held the position of energy minister and was ranked #20 in Forbes’ Most Powerful People list in 2013 and second on its list of Most Powerful Women.

Argentina’s Cristina Fernández de Kirchner is serving her second term as the country’s first elected female president, and Laura Chinchilla is Costa Rica’s first female president.

Jamaica’s Prime Minister Portia Simpson-Miller is the island nation’s first female Prime Minister and has fought for full rights for LGBT Jamaicans. Time Magazine put her on the 100 World’s Most Influential People List in 2012, and U.S. Congresswoman Yvette D. Clarke has said that Simpson-Miller is “inspiring a new generation of women, particularly from the Caribbean diaspora, to get involved in public service and make a difference.”

Also in the Caribbean region is Kamla Persad-Bissessar, Trinidad and Tobago’s first female Prime Minister.

According to polls, a substantial shift is taking place in the minds of people in Latin America. Roughly 80 percent of people in the region now believe that women should participate in politics.  That figure contrasts sharply to the 30% who believed this in the 1990s.

Progress for women in some parts of Latin American politics has been relatively recent, with El Salvador allowing women to run for office only since 1961 and Paraguay’s constitution giving women the right to vote that same year.

Despite women rising to the highest levels of government, participation in parliaments is still low even in countries with female heads of state.

Latin America nonetheless boasts the second highest average number of women in the lower houses of congress with 24 percent, only less than Scandinavian and Nordic countries, which both have 42 percent.

Rwanda is the only country in the world where more women than men serve in the lower house of parliament, with Andorra coming in second at 50 percent. In Latin America, Nicaragua has the highest number of female politicians in the lower house at 40 percent.

While these numbers are promising, no country in the region has therefore achieved gender parity, and experts worry that progress for women in government could be reversed. Ingrained sexism, income gaps between the sexes and male dominance in corporations still persist.

In Chile, the income gap between men and women has gotten greater in recent years, with men earning $1,172 per month compared to women’s $811.

Each region and country in the world struggles to bring about political, social, and economic equality of the sexes, but Farida Jalalzai, a gender politics scholar at the University of Missouri-St. Louis asserts, “Latin America is really ahead of the pack. This is interesting because it had seemed to stall by the early 2000s, but no more.”

Kaylie Cordingley

Sources: New York Times, Time Magazine, Forbes, The Quota Project, The Guardian
Photo: AARP

“I believe poverty is not an inherent part of society, but can be overcome if everyone works to achieve it.”-Jessica Beck.

Jessica Beck is the founder of FIU TECHO, a branch of the Techo organization at Florida International University. Techo is an international non-profit organization provides humanitarian aid to the poor citizens of Latin America and the Caribbean.  The focus is to educate the residents on how to implement long lasting solutions to the issues of education, malnutrition, poverty, and corruption.

One Techo branch at Florida International University is participating in the Wynwood Miami Art Walk, a local artist event held the second Saturday every month. The Techo letters will be found along the walk and members can write down their hopes and goals towards ending global poverty and making the lives of others so much better. Notoriously broke, college students participating for Techo in the Art Walk are proving that anyone can make an impact – no matter how little people think they might have to give.

Sustainable development means formulating economic and environmental growth policies that don’t detract from environmental health, meaning they will be successful policies in the long run. Societies can’t function on infrastructures that are not environmentally sound because eventually the negative consequences of those policies will force the society to restructure yet again.

Founded in 1997, Techo is a Latin American non-profit organization focusing on providing aid to people living in slums through volunteers working with families struggling with extreme poverty. The organization uses an ‘implementation’ method that targets community development. The Non profit’s fundraising headquarters are in Miami, Florida and it is lead by young volunteers. Volunteers are present in 19 countries including Brazil, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Peru, Panama, Ecuador, and Venezuela.

Recruitment for volunteers takes place exclusively in college universities, and the organization actively seeks contribution from people less than or equal to 30 years of age. Students with a strong passion for humanitarian work are targeted in the hopes that their dedication will enhance their work. Experience with working in slums helps to qualify volunteers to pursue a professional career in global relief and poverty reduction. The way that Techo works is a mutual effort between volunteers and slum residents. Residents are reassigned houses based on severity of living conditions and are responsible for taking on 10% of the new home cost.

Funding comes from a variety of sources. The Boston Consulting Group and The Inter-American Development Bank are two of Techo’s main partners. Donators known as ‘techo friends’ are monthly financial contributors at a fixed rate. A donator giving 30 dollars a month can support a family that functions on one dollar per day. It is incredible the difference just one dollar can make and sheds light on the common misconception that global poverty is an impossible issue to solve. The condition is reminiscent of something Nelson Mandela once said – “It always seems impossible until it is done.”

– Kaitlin Sutherby

Sources: FIU, Facebook, Techo

There are many challenges facing education in Latin America.  Many schools are not properly equipped with current textbooks or any lab equipment.  Even worse, some schools do not even have proper infrastructure, and students are forced to attend a schoolhouse with a leaky roof or holes in the wall.

These physical problems are directly responsible to the startling statistics about students in the region of Latin America.  According to the Inter-American Development Bank, only 10% of the region’s poorest students are performing at their grade level.  Only 40% percent of students graduate from secondary school, and according to the Brookings Institution’s Center for Universal Education, international comparisons have Latin America ranked near the bottom in education.

What is being done to combat these trends?

One method of change to education in Latin America are initiatives to upgrade outdated curriculum models.  Docente al Dia is an online platform that seeks to give teachers access to new curriculums and lesson plans.  It also acts as a social media community, a Facebook for teachers.  This will allow Latin American educators to collaborate on ideas, and connect the education system in a way not previously possible.

The Central America Foundation for Rural Education Development (CAFRED) is an organization that identifies rural communities lacking proper schooling facilities and builds healthy, safe, and sustainable schoolhouses.  CAFRED also sponsors a variety of education initiatives to create an environment of learning often denied to rural communities in Latin America.  One example is the “Professional Teacher Development Program” which provides much needed professional development for rural teachers by giving lessons in sensitivity and Individual Education Programs.

A positive statistic for Latin American students is that by 2015, 30 million students should have access to an electronic device to support learning.  This is one of the many projects and topics championed by the Inter-American Development Bank.  The Bank endorses five ‘dimensions of success’ in education: high expectations for student learning, students should enter the system ready to learn, all students having access to effective teachers, schools having adequate resources, and all graduates having the skills necessary to contribute to the labor market.

Access toeducation is a necessary component for producing global citizens and engaged consumers.  Stimulating education in Latin America should therefore be a top priority for world leaders.

– Taylor Diamond

Sources: Inter-American Development Bank, Brookings Institution

Over the course of her career, Colombian recording artist Shakira has been nominated for five American Grammys and eight Latin Grammys, both of which are among the highest honors in the music industry, and has amassed an estimated net worth of a staggering $200 million. However, despite her international fame and incredible fortune, Shakira remains an avid humanitarian, having initiated and participated in many charity organizations, particularly those that target her home country of Colombia.

After solidifying her position as a true Latin American music star with the release of her critically-successful breakthrough album, Pies Descalzos, Shakira founded the Pies Descalzos Foundation (Barefoot Foundation) in efforts to aid the impoverished children of Colombia. While growing up in her native country, Shakira made it a mission to serve the country’s poor after watching children make homes out of park benches and street corners.

The extent to which early experiences impacted Shakira’s humanitarian motives is manifested in the name of the non-profit, non-governmental charity organization. Pies Descalzos not only pays homage to the album that launched Shakira’s musical career but also recognizes the thousands of children who are far too destitute to even afford shoes

One of the overarching goals of Pies Descalzos is improvements in international education quality – an opportunity that can enable needy children to break out of the confines of squalor. Pies Descalzos provides children with the opportunity for attaining an education and necessary tools for survival, such as food, that they otherwise would have been unable to access.

Since 2003, the foundation has launched six schools in Colombia that provide support to impoverished children and their families by providing education, food, and financial support. Also founded by Shakira, the Barefoot Foundation in America, rather than focusing its efforts solely on Colombia, takes its aid worldwide, promoting universal education.

After receiving honors from the United Nations in 2006, Shakira reinforced the urgency and importance of Pies Descalzos and other charity foundations by stating, “Let’s not forget at the end of this day when we go home, 960 children will have died in Latin America.” With her adamant support of global education and passionate efforts towards eradicating hunger and poverty, Shakira has demonstrated that the power of music can travel far beyond entertainment purposes to serve inspiring humanitarian purposes.

– Phoebe Pradhan

Sources: Ace Show Biz, Celebrity Net Worth, People
Photo: People

Pro Mujer International is a development and microfinance organization helping women in Latin America. They provide financial, health, and human development services to help women break the cycle of poverty. Pro Mujer equips women with the tools and resources necessary to build their own livelihoods through microfinance, business training, and health care support.

Pro Mujer is motivated to affect change in Latin American society. They understand the conditions of income disparity and gender inequality. They believe that when women are given the tools to lift themselves out of poverty, they will also lift their families too. According to Pro Mujer, women are more likely to reinvest in their families to provide education, healthcare and to improve living conditions.

The organization is committed to a client-focused approach that actively seeks results. They strive for integrity, transparency, solidarity and they work to maintain commitment to human development. Pro Mujer was founded by Lynne Patterson and Carmen Velasco in 1990 in Bolivia. Their vision for an organization to help lift women from poverty has today become one of Latin America’s premiere development and microfinance organizations for women. Pro Mujer has since been able to allocate over $1 billion in small loans and services including empowerment training, preventive health education and primary healthcare services.

Examples of the financial services provided by Pro Mujer include small business loans, education and housing loans, savings accounts, and life insurance. Their business and empowerment training programs teach women to be more economically independent and informed decision makers as well as teaching basic financial literacy, and empowerment training on domestic violence, communication and leadership skills. Additionally, Pro Mujer is able to provide healthcare assistance including pre and post natal monitoring, family planning, and sexual and reproductive health services to name a few.

Pro Mujer’s current CEO is Rosario Perez. Perez began her career in private banking where she was charged with leading multinational businesses and teams and executing organizational transformations. She is now responsible for Pro Mujer’s portfolio of more than US $100 million and 1,700 employees. Her employees serve more than 2,547,000 clients in Argentina, Bolivia, Mexico, Nicaragua, and Peru.

– Caitlin Zusy

Sources: Pro Mujer, Mastercard Worldwide

The New Stars of Emerging Markets
As the economy continues to expand, the stories of economic growth and development are shifting.  The new stars of emerging markets are beginning to rise and take the spotlight in the story of development.  Over the past decade, the most well-known stories of rising nations within emerging markets have been that of BRIC nations-Brazil, Russia, India, and China. Reporting double-digit growth numbers over the past several years has catapulted them to the top of the emerging markets.  However, their growth is starting to level off and has fallen back into single digits.  They are more stable and sustainable in their growth and have paved the way for new stars to take the spotlight.

Head of emerging markets at Morgan Stanley Investments Ruchir Sharma believes the BRIC nations are beginning a period of slow-down and their slower growth will leave room for other nations to take center stage.  The stories of the BRIC nations are remarkable. China’s double-digit growth has turned the nation into a sustainable nation with a growing middle class.  This is a huge step in overall country development. The creation of a middle class provides additional opportunities for advancement and brings in outside investors to the nation who are interested in the increasing consumer spending capacity.

Who are the new stars?  Sharma says the nations to watch for are the Philippines, Thailand, and Indonesia, as well as parts of Latin America such as Peru, Chile, and Colombia. Political leaders in these countries are stable and have a strong understanding of economic reform. These nations have great potential to be the new emerging markets and double-digit growth-producing countries.

The Philippines is one of the most cost-competitive destinations of technology and business service centers. While India used to dominate the call-center world, the Philippines is fast becoming a strong competitor.  Indonesia has a strong commodity business to build economic strength and Thailand’s manufacturing sector continues to expand.

Beyond the potential new stars of emerging markets are several economies that have the ability to follow behind in the coming years. Nations like  Nigeria, Saudi Arabia, Kenya, Vietnam, and Sri Lanka are beginning steps towards economic reform. According to Sharma, the winners of one decade are rarely winners in the next, but the emerging markets continue to be a strong factor in the global economy and a strong place for foreign investment. It will be a fascinating story to watch as the decade unfolds.

– Amanda Kloeppel
Source: Wall Street Journal
Photo: Avid Investor Group

USAID and Syngenta Sign Collaborative Agreement
To continue to advance U.S. efforts to fight hunger, USAID has signed an agreement with global company Syngenta International AG. The agreement will seek to increase food security and reduce hunger in Africa, Asia, and Latin America.  The agreement will go to support farmers.  According to USAID, each night, around 870 million people around the world go to bed hungry and Syngenta is joining the fight to reduce those numbers.  Their partnership in the fight will help to increase the adoption of innovative technologies and create mechanisms for crop insurance.

The USAID and Syngenta agreement will allow both groups to reach the impoverished and malnourished across three different continents in joint efforts to end global poverty.  USAID and Syngenta will work together in research and development and capacity building. They will work together and with scientists, entrepreneurs, policymakers, and other donors. This commitment advances the goals set by Feed the Future, the U.S. government’s global hunger and food security initiative.

As previously announced, Syngenta will invest over $500 million in Africa alone to help farmers adopt new technology to increase their yields. With 27,000 employees in 90 countries, Syngenta is truly a global company that is making a global impact. Part of their mission is to bring plant potential to life through science while protecting the environment and improving health and quality of life. Syngenta hopes to ignite change in farm productivity worldwide through the partnership.

Feed the Future is part of this global effort and supports countries as they develop their own agriculture sectors to increase economic growth and trade. In 2012, more than 7 million food producers were helped through Feed the Future. The USAID and Syngenta partnership will continue to grow agricultural development and promote the goals of Feed the Future.

– Amanda Kloeppel

Source: allAfrica
Photo: USAID

U.S. Solar Company Expands International Development to Latin America
SolarReserve, a U.S.-based solar company, has announced its expansion into Latin America for international development purposes. The company opened up an additional office in Santiago, Chile, as part of an effort to “provide cost-effective, clean energy solutions worldwide.”

SolarReserve plans to focus primarily on solar energy opportunities in the growing mining sector throughout the region, and will also be developing large-scale concentrating solar power (CSP) projects, as well as photovoltaic projects.

Company CEO, Kevin Smith, stated that the move to Latin America was a logical next step considering the benefits of clean energy development in the region, including the abundant solar insulation, inclusionary energy policies, and the expanding mining sector. He also said that although hydropower and wind power are already established sources of clean energy in Latin America, solar is only more recently gaining a foothold.

Smith also stated that SolarReserve hopes the installation of solar energy will help provide a more consistent and reliable energy source to the region, along with a cleaner source of power from an environmental standpoint.

Christina Kindlon

Source: Power Engineering

Colon Misses Out on Panama's Economic Growth
The Panama Canal is framed by Panama’s two largest cities. At one end is Panama City, a vibrant, bustling metropolitan center that is currently experiencing some of Latin America’s greatest growth. At the Canal’s other end, just forty miles away, lies the city of Colon, where potable water, electricity, structurally sound buildings, and meaningful work are all in short supply for the city’s 220,000 residents.

Panama has had an average economic growth of nine percent every year for the last five years. This is due in large part to foreign investment and development in Panama City, where Central America’s first subway is currently under construction. The tallest building in Latin America, a 70-story Trump hotel and condominium, is not out of place among newly constructed skyscrapers, malls, and restaurants.

But Colon has not enjoyed the same booming industrial and commercial development. The city has the largest duty-free trade zone in the Western hemisphere, which has long been a point of contention between residents and developers. Recent development within the zone has benefited businesses there, but not the city at large. The duty-free zone caused social unrest last year when Panama’s president passed a law allowing sale of land in and near the zone. Residents feared this would displace them from their homes and hurt their incomes. Several were killed in the protests.

The economic inequality between Colon and Panama City stems in part from racial segregation and discrimination. Racism is a long-standing problem in many Latin American countries, and Panama is no exception. Those with light skin are often viewed more favorably than those with dark skin in terms of wealth, attractiveness, and ability.

Colon is predominantly black, while Panama City has a larger percentage of European descendants. Many believe that racial discrimination has played a role in Colon’s economic depression.

The stark disparity between Panama City and Colon is an example of the unequal economic growth occurring all over the world. In many places, wealth remains concentrated where it is already abundant, while the poor remain poor, and grow poorer. Correcting this imbalance will require a multifaceted, in-depth, strategic approach that the world’s poor are unable to implement themselves. Therefore, those who have the means to do so are responsible for working to make humane living conditions and economic security realities for every person on the planet.

Kat Henrichs

Source: NY Times
Photo: AP