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A panel of experts agree female empowerment, entrepreneurship, and physical activity are the key factors in promoting growth

At the Clinton Global Initiative late last year in Rio de Janeiro, a panel of experts from the public and private sector addressed the issues most important for growth in Latin America.

The panel – made up of Grupo Omnilife and Angelíssima CEO Angélica Fuentes, Nike Inc. CEO Mark Parker, and BTG Pactual CEO André Esteves – addressed the theme of “Mobilizing for the Future,” and highlighted three specific themes for Latin America’s future success: female empowerment, support for entrepreneurs, and physical activity.

To Angelica Fuentes, CEO of Grupo Omnilife, increasing female participation in decision-making is among the pillars of sustained development in Latin America. In order to boost the percentage of women in top corporate and government positions from the current 15 percent to an IADB target of 35 percent in ten years, Latin American countries must improve access to education for women, and give them land ownership and access to finance to start small businesses, Fuentes said.

In the private sector, companies must truly implement policies that allow women to advance in the workplace, such as mentoring and training, and narrow the wage gap to allow women and men to be treated equally.

Support for entrepreneurs – both female and male – is also key, panelists agreed. Developing an entrepreneurship culture in Latin America is also key to promoting private sectordevelopment, said Andre Esteves, CEO of Banco BTG Pactual.

“We think we should not only provide good advice and credit lines but also permanent capital to the private sector so it can develop,” said Esteves.

Latin American countries should also improve access to capital markets to promote the success of early stage companies, he said.

Physical inactivity was the third topic addressed, and receives little attention, said Nike Inc’s Mark Parker. Physical inactivity is a global epidemic that has severe health consequences and hurts economic growth.

“We are dealing with a generation that is the least active in history of the planet,” Parker said during the closing panel of the event. “There is real cost in not investing in making kids more active.”

Tackling this issue is key to promote sustainable growth in Latin America, where improvements in employment levels and wage gains has triggered fast lifestyle and demographic changes, leading to an increase in inactivity, especially in younger people, and to chronic diseases such as obesity.

Brazilian children, for example, are the least active in Latin America. If current trends continue, Brazilians will be 34 percent less active in 2030 than they were in 2002, according to the Inter-

American Development Bank. Nike announced last month a $16 million partnership to improve physical activity among kids in Brazil.

Inactivity leads to lower productivity and to delays in the entrance in the labor market by young people, who today make up 40 percent of the world’s unemployed. It also means shorter lifespans and billions in healthcare costs. In Latin America and the Caribbean alone, 20 million youths neither study nor work (the so-called “ninis”), according to the IADB. Meanwhile, 56 percent of employers in the region are struggling to hire due to a lack of skilled labor.

Still, indicators have improved across the board in the region. Ten years ago, nearly half of Latin America’s population lived in poverty, compared with a third today. Growth of the middle class has been astounding and is one of the most important driver of economic expansion in the region today: in the past decade, the middle class in Latin America grew 50 percent, and now represents 30% of the population, according to the World Bank.

“Changes will be faster going forward, and how we achieve success will depend on how we can increase productivity, how we improve access to education, and how we boost women participation in the economy,” said Luis Alberto Moreno, the IADB’s president in closing remarks.

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