Driving Change in Latin America: A Focus on Technology and Innovation

Key industry leaders discuss new approaches to discover and foster innovation in Latin America 

 Driving Change in Latin America: A Focus on Technology and Innovation

Latin America has made significant progress in adopting technology innovations leading to economic development. But, after nearly a decade of continuous expansion, GDP growth in Latin America has slowed from 4.4 percent in 2011 to 3.2 percent in 2012 and 4.0 percent in 2013. While the outlook remains positive, Latin American economies are increasingly exposed to global uncertainty and economic volatility.

Acknowledging the need to accelerate and stabilize growth in Latin America, industry leaders, economists, financial executives, technologists and government officials gathered in New York to participate in “Innovation in Latin America,” a conference hosted by the Emerging Markets Institute at the Johnson Graduate School of Management at Cornell University.

“There needs to be a focus on certain sectors in order for these countries to enhance sustainable growth,” said Lourdes Casanova, senior lecturer at Johnson. “Latin America needs to broaden its types of innovation beyond R&D and patents.”

Latin America Conference

Echoing this sentiment, Ambassador Sandra Fuentes-Berain, Consul General of Mexico to New York, emphasized that additional investment in research and development is needed.  Alberto Ramos, head of Latin American Research at Goldman Sachs urged more direct action.  “We don’t invest, we don’t save and we don’t trade enough.  There is a tremendous deficit in our infrastructure.  It has been proven that countries that trade grow faster.”

Innovation Plays a Critical Role

The introduction of Novo Mercado (New Market) as a new segment of Brazil’s stock exchange means increased transparency and improved shareholder protections, and shows that Brazil is open to making innovative changes, according to industry expert Greg Featherman from KPMG.  Daniel Levites from Ernst and Young explained how other financial services innovations in Brazil are now being used to curb fraud.

In Colombia significant advances with a new IT-based institutional framework has supported over 23,000 companies.  The Vive Digital Columbia high speed internet is now available to more 90 percent of the country and an additional 2 million laptops are available to local schools.

But, there’s still a way to go.

“Right now there is a digital divide between advanced societies like Brazil and rural areas like Mexico,” explains Richard Pina, technical advisor, Citigroup Integrated Account Team, IBM Corporation. “Latin America countries need access to not only data, but also open source software and cloud computing technology.”

Connecting Leadership to Growth and Infrastructure

Keynote speaker Virun Rampersad, managing director and head of global innovation, BNY Mellon, stressed that innovation is largely about leadership. Employees should receive acknowledgment from their leadership when suggesting new innovations and should be encouraged to develop new ideas to benefit their organizations.

Innovation in logistics and transportation could also yield a significant return in Latin American countries. Mauricio Mesquita Moreira, sector economic advisor and research coordinator for the Inter-American Development Bank, spoke about his upcoming report about the impact of domestic transportation costs and regional export disparities in Latin America.  Mike Todaro, executive director, Americas Apparel Producers Network noted that the apparel industry is correspondingly moving back into Latin America with new fabric technologies and capabilities. 

Roberto Canizares, former president and CEO, MSA International, concluded the conference by speaking about innovation in manufacturing processes in Brazil, which have now been adopted globally by his former employer, MSA International.  Although more work lies ahead, Latin America has indeed made strides in innovation and is well on the way to making many more.

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