Ten years of impactful work in the region: The Adrienne Arsht Latin American Center at the Atlantic Council

A decade ago, when the Adrienne Arsht Latin American Center at the Atlantic Council opened its doors, only a handful of Latin Americans had heard of the Atlantic Council. “Now, we’ve become a well known entity in many countries across the region,” said the Director of the Center, Jason Marczak in an interview with Latin Trade. How did it build its current relevance?

Are there specific traits or features that can be identified as the distinctive marks of the
Latin American Center’s activities?

Our work from the beginning has been focused on showing a different perspective on Latin America and the Caribbean and elevating the region’s importance to stakeholders, other than those that have long-cared about the region.

But to elevate the region’s importance beyond those stakeholders in the U.S., in Europe, in other other parts of the of the world, and also within the region, our work has been very focused on a single or mission: to achieve greater socioeconomic prosperity in the region.

We look at what are the the new tools. What are the things that are being done right and need to be accelerated, and what are things that are missing from the agenda.

From the get go, our focus has been also to bring political economy issues into policy-making. Political economy is an increasingly critical component of how we think about policy and about the role of the public sector. This is why from the beginning we took a very focused approach on the stakeholders that we consistently involve.

We work closely with regional, and European governments and, of course, with U.S. government and Congress. Also with U.S., European and Latin American companies. This has been important because it is ground that was not being filled, and we have tried to fill.

Another important constituency we ensure is involved and with which we collaborate closely is multilateral institutions. We work with a number of different institutions, global and America-focused because the multilateral community is a key pillar for the region.

We are not a Chamber of Commerce, nor a traditional academic think tank. We are somewhere in the middle. We’re in this space that didn’t exist before, which takes into account the perspectives, and the needs of the business community to further invest in the region.

At the same time, taking into account the broader academic perspective and finding ways to marry them. I think it is a unique way that allows for policy to move forward with a committed set of stakeholders.

It’s a different approach altogether?

We don’t like to just write a paper to say ‘I am the coauthor of a paper.’ Part of the reason that you don’t see a study coming out of here every two weeks is that everything that we do involves getting the input and the ideas of the stakeholders that are currently impacted by the issue and of those that might be impacted by the recommendations we put forward. This, I think, is very unique. It takes a lot more time. It’s a lot more deliberate in the efforts.

In this process of consultation we don’t always get everybody to agree, but getting that input into pretty much everything we release is important.

It also gives a little bit more longevity to the ideas, because they become reflective of not just the thoughts of an individual author or two, but of of a much broader constituency.

So we end up doing a lot of working groups, a lot of task forces. Everything that we do is very deliberately balanced between representation from, say, the U.S., countries in Latin America, countries in the Caribbean, and also bringing-in the European perspective.

What has the Center been particularly effective at?

I think we’ve been very successful at finding how to keep issues within the region bipartisan in the U.S. Whether it’s our Colombia Advisory Group, where we have a Republican and a Democrat  honorary cochair; whether it’s the consultations we’re currently leading to prepare a US strategy paper, a paper to look at what should be the US strategy in LAC.

I think it is an approach of at a time in which there is, obviously, greater polarization. Bringing together different constituencies to think through some issues, breaks through some of the noise.

This is one of the things that is one of our greatest achievements: breaking through the noise on issues and then defining common ground and consensus where sometimes it can be challenging. Always making sure that we’re taking both a macro and a local approach.

Has this approach been well received?

Ten years ago very few people in Latin America and the Americas knew the name of the Atlantic Council. Now, we’ve become a a well known entity in many countries across the region.

One of the things that we have been always trying to strive for is working with key stakeholders in the region, elevating their opportunities to a broader global platform. That is what we do at the Atlantic Council.

In what we do for the Americas we are frequently working with many of the 16 programs and centers across the organization.

Tell us about the paper the Center is working on about U.S. – Latin America and the Caribbean relations…

We’re going to release it on October 24th, at our 10-year celebration gala. It will look back at the last 10 years in the Center, but more importantly, it will look to the next five years.

Reflecting the way that we work, we put together a strategy group. Its members are half from the US, half from Latin America and the Caribbean, and it involves the business community, foreign-policy-makers, and the civil society.

It brings those different sectors together, but like everything we do, it is not just the recap of a series of working meetings with this thirty-person group, but also of consultations. We invited all the Latin American diplomatic corps in Washington to get their perspectives on what they want for a U.S. strategy with the region.

We talked to the financial community at UBS headquarters in New York, and had many of the risk rating agencies other other companies in the financial industry. We consulted with U.S. embassies and chiefs of missions. We consulted with congressional staff on both sides of the aisle.