The Democracy Lab at the Latin American Leadership Conference

By Rebecca Gilovich

Over the weekend, the Latin American Business Club (LABC) at Boston College held its fourth annual leadership conference, with a guest panel that included our very own Executive Director Alvaro Salas and board member Dr. Roberto Artavia. The event brought together business leaders, academics, and public officials to discuss various topics related to the title of this year’s conference, Enacting Change. “We wanted to make the conference a lot more positive this year,” says Carlos Viquez, Co-President of LABC, “In the first couple years, we focused on the problems of Latin America, and how they prevent sustainable growth. This year we decided to focus on solutions, and the opportunities for business and investment in Latin America.”

These opportunities were discussed at length in the first panel, with business leaders from Coca-Cola, Mexichem, and Telefonica sharing their thoughts on business strategy in Latin America. While the panel’s focus was regional, its scope was global, as issues such as information communication technologies, international relations, and migration dominated the panel’s discussion. Says Natalia González, Executive Director of LABC, “We wanted to bring speakers who come from diverse backgrounds with diverse perspectives to understand not just Latin America, but the global context in which Latin America rests today.” Adds Co-President André Buscan, “We saw changes in Latin America, Europe, and the US with a rise in populism and nationalism, all these really broad, global topics. So we decided to focus more globally this year, and that is why we chose the title of the conference, ‘Enacting Change’.”

While Salas and Artavia’s panel was focused on enacting change in the political realm, they both stressed the interconnectedness of different sectors, countries, and stakeholders. The increasing emigration of young talent in Latin America to places with more opportunity, Dr. Artavia argues, is evidence that the region’s “social contract” has eroded. He posits that strengthening a shared vision for the region across sectors - a vision that can withstand disruptive developments such as ICT’s - may restore the strength of the region’s social contract.

Salas stressed the importance of cross-sector collaboration as well, arguing that increased transparency and citizen engagement will reduce the mutual distrust of the private and public sectors in the region, allowing for more frequent and more effective collaborations. Salas shared the Democracy Lab’s vision for utilizing art and pop culture to increase public engagement, and was excited by the audience’s reaction: “Seeing how excited the undergraduates were by the Democracy Lab’s vision was the highlight of the conference,” says Salas. “When you are told you have to color inside the lines in order to make an impact, it can be liberating to see an example of blending traditional research methodology with a new, and pretty unusual vision.”

For more on the Latin American Business Club at Boston College, and information on next year’s conference, visit their website.