Latin American Entrepreneurs Align for Progress

10/03/2011 10:25 pm ET | Updated Dec 03, 2011

In important ways, the United States is a surrogate Latin American country.

The U.S. Hispanic population hovers around 48 million. In absolute numbers, only Mexico ranks higher. By 2050, the U.S. Hispanic population will be 132 million.

Consider income and wealth gaps. According to the United Nations, the United States is one of the more lopsided developed countries with a wealthiest-to-poorest income ratio of 16 times. Sharing our ignominy, "Latin America is the most economically unequal region in the world."

Both America and Latin America need better tax policies. As far back as the sixties, a key tenet of President Kennedy's Alliance for Progress was promoting Latin American tax reform, calling for "more from those who have most." With Bush era tax socialism for the rich still on the books, we should humbly re-read to ourselves the Alliance for Progress.

The Alliance for Progress (Alianza para el Progreso) -- "to establish economic cooperation between the U.S. and South America" -- is now mostly long forgotten. Judging from data in Americas Quarterly (Summer, 2010), the people of Latin America are moving forward:

  • Life expectancy has increased by 22%.
  • From 1970 to 2010, the region's infant mortality rate fell by 80% -- from 138 deaths per 1,000 births to 26 per 1,000.
  • Fertility rates have fallen by 61% to 2.3 children per woman.
  • Thanks to vaccination programs and better sanitation, infectious diseases (like tuberculosis, cholera and malaria) are on the way out.
  • Homeownership has grown to 30% (up from 20%) in the last decade, according to the World Bank

"We tend to think of Latin America, with its legacy of machismo, as a man's world. But Mexico and other Latin countries actually do pretty well at educating girls and keeping them alive.... Maternity hospitals even in poor neighborhoods of South American cities such as Bogotá and Quito provide free prenatal care and delivery, because saving women's lives is considered by society to be a priority." (Half the Sky by Kristof and Wudunn)

In a fourth way the United States and Latin American are converging. Social entrepreneurs in both countries are tackling their society's toughest problems. Indeed, a new kind of "alliance for progress" is quietly underway -- a cross-border handshake of entrepreneurial activism and common purpose.

At this month's Opportunity Collaboration in Ixtapa, Mexico, the AVINA Foundation and World Resources Institute's New Ventures will host a major conversation about the burgeoning Latin American social innovation space and how to promote it. It is an idea that appears unstoppable.

While the American national dialogue with its Hispanic population is frequently hypocritical and hateful, we know gated communities and gated countries are short-term fixes. American trade policy promotes the southbound export of U.S. capital, goods and guns and -- to make our beds, pick our fruit and slaughter our meat -- U.S. industrial policy profits from cheap labor coming northwards. Shortsightedly, America's national immigration policy is a wall.

Let's get back to building alliances for progress aimed at solving shared challenges and based on our common values.