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At the IDB, we believe that together we can go farther. Our partnership network is making positive differences in Latin America and the Caribbean every day, and this blog is our channel for telling that story. Stay tuned for literature on partnership perspectives, stories from the field, changing trends, outlooks for development and the region, information on ways and opportunities to partner, and more. Thanks for stopping by.

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If Perfection Requires the Hands of Time, How do We Speed up the Clock?

By - Aug 27 2014

clocks-steinsgate_00406066Nearly three centuries ago, French enlightenment writer François Voltaire penned words that would come to reflect progress in a then newly discovered Latin American and Caribbean (LAC) region. “Perfection is attained by slow degrees; it requires the hands of time.” Today, almost 300 years after Voltaire’s death, these words continue to ring true for growth and advancement in LAC. Progress is coming slowly but surely, but if it relies on the hands of time, can we learn to speed up the clock?

Though many challenges remain in LAC, it’s clear that progress is underway. Look, for instance, to Medellin, Colombia. In the second half of the 20th century, Medellin was notorious for its unemployment, lack of services for the poor, urban violence, and unsuitability to public transit. Through diligent and deliberate efforts, however, Medellin cleaned up its streets and proved that change is possible.  In 2012, it was named one of 200 “Most Innovative” cities in the world, thanks largely to investments in public transportation that significantly elevated quality of life.

This sort of slow-moving but long-lasting progress is visible region-wide. Improvements to poverty rates, for instance, have been the target of determined development efforts for decades. Though results were not achieved overnight, the latter of these saw great improvement over a ten year period, dropping from 12.2 percent in 1990 to 5.5 percent in 2010. Furthermore, 2011 marked the first year in which more Latin Americans were classified as “middle class” than “in poverty,” and the Economic Intelligence Unit predicts the region’s economic wellbeing will only continue to improve in the years to come.

However, despite these positive projections and an expected annual growth average of 3.7 percent between 2015-2018, the region still struggles with fundamental problems that slow its development. In the case of citizen security, for one, Latin America remains the world’s most violent region, and frustration over the quality of public services and governance flaws will continue to trigger social unrest.

In light of these improved poverty rates and Medellin’s turnaround, it is evident that, at least when it comes to Latin America and the Caribbean, Voltaire speaks the truth: progress is the result of slow but dogged efforts. But in light of persisting challenges that continue threatening quality of life in the region, we need an approach that will speed up the ticking of LAC’s development clock.

The Agence Française de Développement’s (AFD) (book “Development Challenges in Latin America, Socioeconomic dynamics and Public Policies” offers a solution: regional integration. Published in collaboration with Institut des Amériques (IdA), the book shares an opinion held widely throughout that LAC: that regional integration may be key to accelerating development.

A recent event at the Inter-American Development Bank’s Office in Europe also emphasized the potential of integration. Panelists including Colombian Ambassador Fernando Carrillo, former IDB President and SEGIB Secretary General Enrique V. Iglesias, and Integration and Trade Sector Manager Antoni Estevadeordal applauded the region’s dynamism and resistance to the global economic crisis, while acknowledging its social problems and suggesting regional integration as a possible answer to its woes.

It appears that the IDB and AFD are on the right track to help the region tackle pertinent topics that will, in the words of Voltaire, slowly perfect it with time. However, it’s in the region’s best interest to speed up the clock. By engaging with strategic partners committed to a better understanding of LAC’s primary socioeconomic challenges, this can be achieved. Regional integration is just one means of hurrying along the hands of time. There are others, but it’s a good place to start.

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