My first trip to Brazil was with my mom and sister in the 1990s. We decided to take a girls vacation and spent most of the time on the beach in Rio de Janiero. In 2000, right after I left MTV Networks, I went back with a former boyfriend. He also had worked in the music industry and we were scouting Brazilan talent. We had local contacts shows us around. We heard some great music and the food was saboroso! The New Year’s Day celebrations had just ended and they were getting ready for Carnival. We also went up the famous mountains – Corcovado mountain to see the giant statue of Christ and Sugarloaf mountain for the beautiful sights. In April 2009, I participated in the World Economic Forum on Latin America in Rio to discuss that region and global challenges. President Lula Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva was there and I had a “Meet the Leader” session with President Alvaro Uribe of Colombia. It was wonderful to be back there at such an important time – less than two weeks after the G20 Summit in London and immediately before the Summit of the Americas in Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago. View pictures from the event and read notes on some of the sessions.
Known for its beautiful beaches and tropical climate, Brazil is the largest country in South America and home to extensive natural resources – including a diversity of wildlife, agriculture, and iron ore. Brazil is the largest national economy in Latin America and, as a former Portuguese colony, the only Portugese-speaking country in the region. Despite a history of high inflation and foreign debt, Brazil has become an economic powerhouse in Latin America and is rich in renewable (e.g. hydroelectricity and ethanol) and non-renewable (e.g. oil and natural gas) energy sources. Nevertheless, it still has a wide gap between rich and poor with wealthy land owners thriving on the one hand and much of the city population living in slums. Although Brasilia is the capital, Sao Paulo is Brazil’s largest city.
FROM THE WORLD ECONOMIC FORUM:
In the Opening Plenary of the 2009 World Economic Forum on Latin America, Brazil’s President Lula spoke about the economic crisis. “This crisis is real and serious,” Lula said. “Brazil was the last country to be hit by the crisis and it will be the first country to come out of the crisis and it will come out of this crisis stronger.” Lula then went further by calling for a wholesale transformation of the global economy. “We need to go further than emergency measures, transforming the paradigms that took the world economy to the edge of the precipice. We cannot postpone profound and structural solutions.”Many of the region’s countries have buckled down to address methodically long-term systemic problems, significantly reducing poverty and securing better futures for their people. With rule of law and crime being two big issues in the region, President Alvaro Uribe Velez of Colombia commented on his administration’s success in drastically reducing homicides and kidnappings in the country. “We know there is a lot to do, but we struggle every day,” Uribe said. As Klaus Schwab, Founder and Executive Chairman, World Economic Forum, noted, the strong engagement of participants in the Rio Forum at a critical time demonstrated “the importance of Latin America and the entrepreneurial and forward-looking mentality and spirit of people who look beyond the crisis and see opportunities.”
During the panel discussion, there was general consensus that the reforms and restructuring implemented in recent years have put the region’s economies on a better footing than during previous crises. There was agreement that deeper structural reforms such as an overhaul of regulatory and tax regimes are necessary. Much of the discussion also centered around the rapid growth in South-South commercial ties which is a major global shift that will not be halted by the current crisis. The key is to build trust in the economies of the region among investors, the business community and citizens. In this effort, strong and confident leadership is critical. In addition to strenthening security and stability, panelists agreed that Latin America’s public and private sectors must also partner with international investors to improve infrastructure and develop skills-based education systems to support future growth.
ON GREEN DEVELOPMENT:
In a panel entitled “Managing the Amazon: A Global Responsibility?,” the moderator Nik Gowing of BBC World News, asked the panel how grave a threat the Amazon faces and how the international community can cooperate to find a solution. He noted that the Amazon is an important carbon sink and a climate change regulator. Brazil, the biggest of eight countries within the Amazon rainforest, is the world’s fourth largest emitter of greenhouse gases (GHGs) and three-fifths of its GHG emissions come from deforestation.
Pamela Cox, Vice-President, Latin America and the Caribbean for the World Bank in Washington DC, said that although 40% of the Amazon is protected on paper, “it is impossible to police the entire Amazon and the private sector needs incentives to use the rainforest in a sustainable way.” Carlos Eduardo de Souza Braga, Governor of Amazonas in Brazil, said that one such incentive would be to pay Amazon landowners to preserve the forest. “That way they will understand that standing trees have value, more value that cutting them down,” said Braga. “They would realize that they could feed their families and save the forest at the same time.” Luiz Fernando Furlan, President of the Foundation for a Sustainable Amazon in Brazil, called upon a “greater mobilization of the business community to sustainably work the rainforest through public/private cooperation.” He added that the private sector is better at sustainably working the rainforest and the government is better at regulating that sustainable use. Currently, public-private sector cooperation in the Amazon rainforest includes government-regulated concessions which allow the public sector to do sustainable, low-impact logging, and big infrastructure projects such as paved Amazon highways and huge dams which have major environmental impacts.
In the session on “Sustainable Bioenergy: Harvesting Opportunity,” there was a lot of discussion around sugarcane. It was noted that sugarcane represents a range of opportunities including ethanol, bioelectricity and bioplastics. Ethanol from sugarcane can reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 90% if used as a substitute for petrol, and sugarcane fields absorb more carbon dioxide than corn fields. Brazil has the most complete use of agriculture to produce energy and has been involved in the sector since the 1970s. Initially, the government supported ethanol production, but now the market is competitive. Sugarcane is the second greatest source of electricity – after oil and before hydro – in Brazil, 70% of cars in Brazil are hybrids, using both ethanol and petrol, and all gasoline contains 25% ethanol. Brazilian ethanol production is twice as efficient as the United States’ and three times that of Europe. All panelists agreed that environmental sustainability is not just about social responsibility; it is a competitive necessity.
ON THE GENDER GAP:
In a workshop entitled “Tapping into Female Talent: Preparing for a New Development Cycle,” participants looked at how business and government can put more effective mechanisms in place to reap the potential gains of female talent. While the Latin American and Caribbean region currently boasts two presidents and a prime minister who are women, the region does not fare well on narrowing the gender gap. No country from the continent is among the top 10 on the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Index 2008, which ranks 130 countries according to the size of their gender gaps on economic participation, educational attainment, health and political empowerment. Workshop participants agreed that the exclusion of women from the workforce and decision-making positions entails a major social and economic loss for the region. If Latin America is to chart a sustainable growth path, inclusive and equitable, it will have to make greater progress in narrowing the gap between men and women. “One of the great opportunities to support economic growth in Latin America is to leverage the talents of women in the workforce, including providing more upward mobility,” said Susan Segal, President and Chief Executive Officer of the Council of the Americas. To change perceptions and achieve real results will require major advances in education, legislation and HR practices to address gender bias and cultural practices – and most of all, leadership at the highest levels.
Contributed by Teresa Kay-Aba Kennedy, Ph.D., MBA. Part of the Power Living® Empowerment Series.