As I write about the year that has passed, I cannot help but be influenced by the popular uprisings unfolding across North Africa in the first two months of 2011. It is too early to tell where the wave will take us, but I believe it is safe to say that the thirst of citizens for active participation in determining the future of their communities and countries is a force on the rise.
Thankfully, in most of Latin America, many of the basic democratic structures are already in place and 2010 gave us examples of how they have taken root. In Colombia and Brazil we saw popular presidents give up power according to constitutional term limits, allowing new leaders to take over. We also saw strong new third party candidates emerge in both countries who were able to ignite the imagination of young people and influence the electoral discourse. Continuing an encouraging regional trend, women in Costa Rica and Brazil assumed the helm of state. In Chile power passed from one party to another with the institutional consistency of a mature democracy. Although challenges and notable exceptions persist, Latin Americans in general have opted for representative democracy and the rule of law, a model other developing regions are increasingly demanding as well.
While national trends may indicate that democratic governance is advancing in a significant part of Latin America, global governance structures are buckling under the urgent demands of our times. The international mechanisms at our disposal are proving to be woefully insufficient, whether we are attempting to agree on the elements of world financial reform, address international trade imbalances, stabilize the commodities markets, or tackle resource scarcity and climate change. This is not news; it is repeated with frustration in international gatherings, but there is no clear solution. And it is not only the structures that are lacking. Conventional wisdom is also faltering regarding benchmarks and measurements for success.
Economic growth, when measured in terms of gross domestic and national product, is increasingly shown to be an imperfect indicator for human well-being. Short-term profitability also has proved an incomplete measure of success at best. To be sustainable, competitiveness still needs to incorporate many social and environmental factors in the very process of value creation. The need to reinvent capitalism is becoming a priority among capitalists themselves. How can we broaden the perspective we use when we look at competitiveness so that we prioritize all relevant dimensions? Truly successful performance should not lead to meltdown but to a more stable, inclusive and sustainable society. Though perhaps too slowly the search for reliable answers is nevertheless under way.
Looking at Latin America, AVINA sees clear evidence that the key to development and competitiveness is a focus on the principles of sustainability. This occurs at all levels, from the local to the national and regional. Let me offer three examples from our activities this past year.
One of the most heartbreaking and ultimately rewarding experiences for AVINA in 2010 was working to rebuild local communities in Chile that were decimated by the 8.8-magnitude earthquake that struck on February 27. Hundreds died, thousands were injured and hundreds of thousands lost their homes. Within 48 hours AVINA’s team in Chile was organizing internally and with our allies on the ground. How could our extensive network of partners and relationships with business, government and civil society leaders be of service in such a disaster? The answer: Use those connections — what AVINA refers to as “social capital” — to organize quickly and intelligently, infusing the emergency response with medium- and long-term objectives for more sustainable communities. Within a week AVINA was forming a coalition with other organizations to respond in the affected communities, while encouraging the Chilean government to strengthen social capital in its emergency response. You can find the details of this collective effort in this Annual Report. The point here is that the coalition sought to leave much more than the 1,476 temporary shelters it created in the twelve municipalities where it operated — it sought to maximize job creation, economic vitality and community involvement.
At the national level we can look at the case of Brazil. In 2010, Brazil surprised the stalemated attendees at the COP 16 in Cancún by announcing unilateral goals for reducing emissions across its economy by 2020. This is a BRIC country that grew at a rate of 7.5% in 2010, and might have bet all of its chips on the conventional growth model. Even when climate change as a fundamental issue remains politically unappealing in the country that is historically most responsible for emissions — the United States — Brazil voluntarily set limits on its emissions as part of efforts to modernize its economy and become more competitive. How did Brazil achieve the internal consensus necessary to make so bold an achievement? A complex web of actions and a multitude of organizations participated. Leaders in business, civil society and government formed coalitions of actors who succeeded in moving beyond a narrow set of interests. More examples of such coordinated action can be found in this Annual Report, as they show how multi-sector alliances can work with government to produce a sustainable vision for the future, and how their dynamism provides a more comprehensive indication of competitiveness.
Returning to the COP 16 meeting in Cancún, perhaps we can also illustrate a regional example. Though AVINA did not participate directly in the COP negotiations, we took advantage of this convergence of international leaders and institutions in Latin America to organize a series of events and seminars designed to enhance the voice and visibility of our region in such global proceedings. Given its wealth of resources, including fresh water, fertile soil, pristine forests and biodiversity, Latin America has the chance to build a regional economy that preserves these valuable assets while generating better quality of life and opportunities for its population. If a global architecture emerges around climate change, will it provide incentives for Latin American countries to develop sustainably, where conservation provides a competitive edge? AVINA invited many of its friends and allies to debate this and other key questions in Cancún, some of the details of which you will find in this Annual Report. Needless to say, AVINA hopes to see more formulas like the Fundo Amazonia and the Fondo Yasuni-ITT, innovative initiatives that begin to attribute economic value to the preservation of a natural resource.
As you will see in this Annual Report, 2010 was another exciting year for AVINA, and we are very motivated by what we learned and achieved with our allies. I want to recognize the AVINA team for their constant innovation and their dedication to our mission and to excellence. I want to thank our Board, VIVA Trust and our founder, Stephan Schmidheiny, for their continued support and guidance. And most of all, I want to thank all the leaders and organizations in Latin America and elsewhere whom we work with and call allies. AVINA’s reason for existence is to be found in you and in the causes we share. We succeed when we contribute to your success. I look forward to our continued collaboration as we face the challenges of the future together.