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The Future of Latin America. A bet on Education, Entrepreneurship and Creativity.

During the 2016 International Estado Futuro Conference in Santiago de Chile, I had an experience that illustrates why it is always intimidating to write about Latin America, let alone about its future. After an entire day session of talks, workshops and panels about Latin America there was a small social gathering for participants to get to know each other. First, I joined a very enthusiastic group that was talking about new achievements in basic education coverage, numerous innovation and entrepreneurial initiatives, advances in citizens involvement in public policies and the bright future and resilience that we could achieve if we foster more collaboration among the region. Soon after I joined a second group, where the conversation took a completely opposite approach: the main themes were the immoral social and economic inequality, the rampage of corruption and impunity in our region, the increasing cruelty and reach of violence, the increase on non-communicable diseases such as the Chikungunya in Brazil and the obesity epidemic in countries like Mexico.

Here is the thing: both groups were right, since Latin America is a never ending stream of issues where extreme optimism and pessimism expressions meet in front of our eyes, lacking of a complete or unanimous explanation. In fact, this region is at a turning point. According to most recent projections of the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean, “protectionist tendencies emerging in the United States will have global and regional effects, the renegotiation of NAFTA and other trade agreements, as well as uncertainty over the dynamics of monetary transfers from migrants, will have significant effects in particular on Mexico and Central America, which export most of their manufactures and services to the United States.” [1]

The report continues with a more positive view, stating a contrasting forecast for 2017: “Unlike in 2016 when the region contracted by 1.1%, and despite complex external conditions and a number of risks, the region’s economy is expected to switch direction and return positive growth of 1.3%. As in 2016, the weighted average growth figure masks different growth dynamics between countries and subregions. Central America, including the Spanish-speaking Caribbean and Haiti, is expected to grow by around 3.7% in 2017; including Mexico, with a projected growth rate of 1.9%, brings the average down to 2.3%. Positive growth is projected in 2017 for South America, at 0.9%, and for the English-speaking Caribbean, at 1.3%.”[2]

As it shows, the future of the region will face soon complex social challenges.  In the next five years, for example, we’ll face unexpected economic, social and political changes, mainly as a result of three factors: Trump’s presidency consequences within the political stability of Latin American National Governments; the impact of technological exponential growth on the disappearance of low skilled jobs; and the everlasting strive of this Governments to heal the relationship with its citizens and surpass a painful history of economic crisis, corruption, violence.
Just a few weeks ago we witnessed the abrupt cancellation of plans to invest $1.6 billion in a car assembly plant in Mexico, influenced by Trump’s recent pronouncements regarding his new taxation policies on Mexican products, and his intention to renegotiate the United States’ trading agreements.[3]  This event alone exposed the fragility of one of the most important sources of jobs in Mexico: the manufacturing industry.  They also reminded us the lack of imagination and flexibility of the Mexican economy, expressed in the inability to diversify its endeavors into new emerging markets and geographic areas.

On the other hand, it is undeniable that the manufacturing industry is going -once again- through a technological transformation, which will eliminate many low skilled jobs while creating new ones that require new abilities. That is why Latin American countries must come up with new bold educational programs, and foster their citizens’ creativity and entrepreneurship, even when most of their Governments are are still struggling to recognize the validity of creative economies and industries in the world, which represent a new paradigm to value creation and innovative approaches to job opportunities.  This region needs to figure a way to make education a lifelong habit, in order to build up new and stronger capabilities for the future. Such new vision will require a great deal of courage from authorities, because it entails the audacity to look beyond the development of traditional non-creative jobs.

Latin America might be missing the impact of exponential technological change, automation technologies and the emerging importance on creativity and entrepreneurship in the XXI century, as it is showed through the scarcity of resources allocated by National Governments on research-based forecasting. This panorama can be changed by recognizing the new and exciting opportunities that technology, along with an interconnected global community, will offer for those Governments who dare to focus on preparing their citizens to adapt to this new reality. Doing so can have massive implications on the socioeconomic future of Latin America, specially thinking in a long term sustainable development.  Nevertheless, the hesitation on official agencies to study and understand new emerging opportunities -among many structural and implementation problems- jeopardize what it could be a wonderful opportunity, a tipping point to come up with a leap frog approach to the educational system.

Creativity, in the non-romantic sense of the word, is related to the ability to be more resourceful and to increase the citizens resilience. It is not only about having ideas, but to find new ways for adaptation. Perhaps one of the few certainties that we know about the future is that creativity will be very important. As the “Robots vs Creativity” report from NESTA explains: “Creative occupations are more future–proof to technologies like artificial intelligence, machine learning and mobile robotics.”[4] And according to Nesta’s research on Creative Ocuppations and Subjective Wellbeing, we find that: “most creative occupations have higher than average levels of life satisfaction, worthwhileness and happiness than employment in general, although most creative occupations also have higher average levels of anxiety.”[5] Therefore, creativity might not only enable Latin American citizens to be more relevant in the new economic trends, but it might contribute improving life quality and promote social integration. Theses new challenges calls for a substantial change in education with inclusivity, creativity and entrepreneurship at its core, has the potential to create a solid space for collaboration, giving a chance to creative industries to flourish, opening a path to transdisciplinary hybrids, for example new forms of artistic, technological and scientific research, products or services.

To achieve this, Latin America needs a mix of public policies that encourage entrepreneurship: the citizens’ will and imagination to adapt to a new economy, along with an educational strategy focused on giving the tools to detonate the individual -and collective- creative potential. This approach can significantly increase the capacity to deliver value for others inside and outside its borders.  The industries and jobs that can emerge from an economy based on services and intangible values, are essential to boost the sociocultural and economic development of Latin America, and can very well be complementary to the manufacturing industries.

Actually, many efforts have been made to support entrepreneurs, especially in Mexico, Colombia, Argentina and Chile, where the startup communities are growing in terms of venture capital, capabilities and technology. Nonetheless, these efforts are mostly placed in private and public universities, leaving a large amount of the population on their own -with a considerable lack of technological savviness- to compete in a tougher environment. Any possible support to the mentioned efforts, lies in the region’s capacity to enable inclusive technology into the core of the educational system, and transform the user-consumers of technology into creators and entrepreneurs. Latin America needs the courage to fundamentally change its basic education curriculum, and perhaps base it on two pillars: the development of basic personality and attitude skills to permanently learn, and the creative use of knowledge required to develop creative, transdisciplinary, scientific and technological projects that might evolve into startups and companies.

In any case, this region will need to address important and tough questions such as: how can the region collaborate in a truly transdisciplinary local and global manner, to create stronger systems that understand sustainability as a collective goal? How to enable local & global citizens, promoting inclusive-participatory citizenship and community building to learn how to live together in diverse societies aiming for round, peaceful and meaningful lives for everybody?  How to create Inclusive co-created sustainable systems that creates job opportunities for the region?

For all of these reasons, the Future of Latin America is bind to the capacity to increase the collaborative engagement of society at a national and regional level. The open and full engagement of Government, private sector, universities and NGOs along with  international stakeholders, is needed to build a better future for the region.  Without a doubt the challenges are massive, policies at the state, national and regional level must work on faster education that focuses on adaptation of current technology, imitation of the existing and finally a creative use of technology.  The governments should focus on making an effort to promote a culture of knowledge sharing on technology development, and during this process building a strong network of trans sectoral projects that enable the infrastructure, interconnectivity and collaboration mechanisms aimed to have an inclusive entrepreneurship environment.

For the labor markets, once again there is the need of retraining programs to update the most vulnerable population skills, in order to make learning as easy and free as possible taking advantage of mobile technology facilitating broad learning about new technologies, industry new skills and to encourage creative confidence to build relevant skills.  Unfortunately, the lack of preparation for the future is a constant paradigm in Latin America. There is an imperative need to create permanent research-based forecasting institutions that have regular reflections and interactions on challenges and opportunities that the future has to offer to the region. The information exchange between all relevant stakeholders to construct future scenarios for Latin America is crucial: this region is somewhat always late in terms of technological trends and capability building, there is a need to create national and regional programs where research based forecasting can be useful to improve an integrative creative education system that promotes the creation of value, before simple grades.

In a general sense, Latin American countries need to look at themselves as part of a unified block, by strengthening open systems of cooperation at the regional and global level, while maintaining the sovereignty and uniqueness of their cultural background. A mix of creativity, education and entrepreneurship must be a priority to maximize the potential of their population and gain a place in the world as a friendly fertile region that is always reaching for cooperation, a region that embraces diversity and builds creative and productive bridges with the world, instead of walls…like you know who.


Edgar Barroso

Professor at the School of Government at Tecnológico de Monterrey

Director of the Laboratory for Entrepreneurship and Transformation


[1] Preliminary Overview of the Economies of Latin America and the Caribbean. Annual Report. Economic Development Division of the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC). Santiago. 2016. P. 15.

[2] Ibid.P.10.

[3] “From this moment on it’s going to be America First. Every decision on trade, on taxes, on immigration, on foreign affairs, will be made to benefit American workers and American families. We must protect our borders from the ravages of other countries making our products, stealing our companies, and destroying our jobs. Protection will lead to great prosperity and strength.” D.Trump, dixit.

[4] Bakhshi, Hasan; Benedikt Frey, Carl; Osborne, Michael. Creativity vs Robots, the creative economy and Future of Employment. Nesta. London. 2015. P.6.

[5]Fujiwara, Daniel; Dolan, Paul; Lawton, Ricky. Creative Occupations and Subjective Wellbeing.Nesta Working Paper No. 15/09. London. Pg.2.




    Published in Edgar Barroso Educación Opinión Reflexiones


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