Meet the Experts
Ms. Michelle Bachelet
Executive Director, UN Women and Under-Secretary-General, United Nations
President and CEO, Children International
Director, Global Citizens Network (GCN)
Regional Coordinator Latin America, Perkins International, a division of Perkins
1. Why is now the time to invest our time, energy, and abilities into the LAC region?
Bachelet: Now is the time to invest in Latin America and the Caribbean because sustained growth and democratic stability have strengthened the region, and have led to less pronounced recessions and more swift recoveries compared to OECD economies. Today there is much untapped potential to realize further gains through tackling inequalities, including gender inequality, and promoting women’s rights and full participation. This will further drive sustainable growth and contribute to more prosperous, equitable, democratic societies.
Cook: It’s never been more important to invest in Latin America - time, energy, abilities AND resources! Data from USAID and World Bank indicate that 55 percent of the population in Latin America is under 24, and they are the future! The region is blessed with abundant natural resources, providing it the capability to define its own successful future – if the incredible potential of that population is unleashed.
Stuart: For years Latin America has been engaged in profound institutional reforms towards democratic and market economies. Many of these changes put the region in a strategic position to withstand the last global economic crisis. Yet contrary to what was expected, Latin America remains a very unequal region. Social and economic injustice, racial and ethnic inequality, and ecological loss affect all people. Recognizing the interdependence of people and valuing local knowledge, resources and leadership must be present moving forward.
Perreault: The increasing number of U.S. citizens with ties to Latin America is bringing us to share culture, experience, and innovation to mutual benefit. Emerging Latin American economies provide new markets for trade and development. Perkins International has witnessed a growing commitment by many Latin American governments to the UNCRPD and education for children with disabilities. Partnerships with ministries of education have maximized funding to improve quality and number of education programs ten-fold in recent years.
2. In reaching the Millennium Development Goals set forth by the UN, what kind of progress has been made and where are we still falling short?
Bachelet: We have seen real progress in reducing poverty and the number of people living in slums and expanding access to safe drinking water.We also see gender parity in primary education, improved child and maternal health, and an expansion of HIV treatment. However progress remains uneven, and greater attention needs to be paid to tackling inequalities, reducing the levels of vulnerable and unpaid employment, and reducing hunger.
Cook: Latin American has made significant progress, but the UN notes the region has the highest disparity of wealth. Universal access to education has improved; quality issues remain. Incredible strides have been made by Brazil and Chile in halving the number of people that live on less than $1/day. Mexico and the D.R. have shown positive change; Honduras and Guatemala still have large segments of people considered poor. Education, employment and environmental care need further attention.
Stuart: Latin America and the Caribbean have made significant progress towards meeting the targets included in the MDGs, yet the recent global crisis has cast doubts about the possibility of achieving them all by 2015. The last decade brought relatively high growth rates, with several countries improving income distributions, raising per capital social public expenditures and applying macro policies that avoided a harsher impact. A recommitment to everyone progressing is critical in order to meet the MDGs.
Perreault: With a focus on children with disabilities, we’ve witnessed a stronger commitment across Latin America to expand educational opportunities and inclusive programs leading to greater social inclusion in adulthood. Family networking has made more parents aware of their children’s rights to services and their power to assist in growing development. We have sought to build stable capacity and to grow expertise so that collaborative solutions are developed within Latin America by Latin Americans.
3. Why are cross-sector collaborations so critical in tackling the systemic issues of poverty?
Bachelet:We need to work across sectors to tackle poverty because poverty has many different dimensions that need to be tackled simultaneously for efforts to be effective. Since social and economic inequalities reinforce each other, cross-sector collaboration is needed to promote human rights for all, especially those who have been excluded and marginalized. Policies and programs should guarantee equality, inclusion, and social protection. The 21st century is the century of inclusion and the full and equal participation of women.
Cook: One word: Synergy. Cross-sector collaboration results can far exceed the simple sum of the inputs. Eliminating poverty requires cooperation of private industry, local and national governments, individuals, and NGOs like Children International. Only through multi-dimensional effort can poverty traps (food insecurity, lack of education opportunities, poor health care and high unemployment) be addressed. Enhancing community development and providing youth opportunities where poverty is endemic is possible when everyone has a shoulder to the wheel.
Stuart: Through cross-cultural understanding and cooperation, GCN tackles tough social problems that achieve mutually beneficial community outcomes. Our commitment to enhancing the quality of life in Latin America includes preserving indigenous cultures, traditions and ecologies. We cannot achieve this alone and rely on multiple sectors collaborations — business, nonprofits and philanthropies, the community, and government — in partnership to deal effectively and humanely with the challenges. Cross-sector collaborations demonstrate way of being together — each appreciating our interconnectedness and improving the human condition.
Perreault: Causes and effects of poverty are complex. A child with a disability who has little or no access to schooling and health care becomes an economic challenge for the family. Full-time childcare falls to the family. Without education, individuals cannot find work, compounding adversity. To benefit from education and to reach his/her potential, a child needs access to health care, medicines, clean water and food. These critical issues are interwoven and must be addressed by collaborative, whole-person support across sectors.
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