12 Top Tips: How to lead Latin America towards future prosperity

The good news is that Latin America is growing again. The bad news is that challenges – rising inequality, security, education – continue to pockmark its horizon. Although growth in the region is expected to accelerate to 2% in 2018 and to 2.6% in 2019, the continent’s leaders have much to do if they are to truly to harness its vast potential and deliver improved outcomes for the hundreds of millions of people who reside within its borders.

To help them address these issues, we present 12 Top Tips from leaders we have previously spoken to from across the region.

1. Data delivers

Pablo Cerdeira, chief data officer, Rio de Janeiro

“From the outset, we had the full support of the mayor and this is critical given our crosscutting approach, which can sometimes bring us into conflict with established city departments. Some departments were initially sceptical of our data-based approach. However, once we were able to demonstrate some good outcomes, by the time the Olympics came around we were working together in close collaboration with almost every department.”

2. Focus on coordination

Paula Acosta, former director of strategic delivery, Colombian government

“It is far simpler to coordinate policies in the abstract than actually implement them in our territories – they are all different. This means we have to really focus on our coordination. Since we have been so successful in the last five years in moving people out of poverty, the task now is to maintain this momentum within a global economic context that is challenging – Latin America is no exception to external pressures.”

3. Legitimacy matters – in Mexico and beyond

Constanza Gomez Mont, co-founder and director of PIDES and Claudia Del Pozo, Project Co-ordinator, PIDES

“Legitimacy is about the relationships between government and citizens, between the individual and their local delegates, deputies and governors, and with the Supreme Court and the Presidency. Trust and legitimacy are also about shared values and equitable decision-making, about ensuring that no-one gets left behind. The government must think about ways of addressing legitimacy and ensuring that ambitious promises go beyond mere words and evolve into real impact across the length and breadth of Mexico.”

4. Partnerships help achieve change 

Claudio Seebach, former head of the President’s Delivery Unit in Chile

“You have to start building relationships early on, partnering with the actual people who are going to do the delivery to ensure a sense of joint ownership of a programme. Without this, you can have beautiful power point decks but nothing will actually get done. The role of the centre is to create the ambitions and push hard, moving people out of their comfort zone if necessary, but it has to be inclusive and you have to spread the credit – this has to be a success story for those doing the delivering.”

5. Focus more on impact

Professor Guillermo M. Cejudo, dean of studies at Mexico’s Centro de Investigación y Docencia Económicas

Impact – as a concept and mindset – has permeated through the Mexican federal administration a lot – but not enough. As in many other Latin American countries, public officials have to work on the one hand with a 1970s-style emphasis on planning, and on the other hand with a more modern emphasis on budgeting by results and performance management. This focus on results hasn’t – yet – permeated enough.

6. Crackdown on corruption

Juan Pardinas, director general of the Mexican Institute for Competitiveness 

“Corruption is quite entangled with the Mexican political system, and we need to make it the exception rather than the rule. Addressing these types of issues will allow us to ramp up the benefits of the wider reforms. This is the key issue for the modernisation and the future of Mexico.”

7. Trust in innovation, not just modernisation 

Nicolás Rebolledo, strategic design consultant and policy platform leader, School of Design, Royal College of Art

“It isn’t just about modernisation, but innovation as well. Modernisation is about giving citizens access to government services, but innovation implies creating new ways of doing it. And this is what we need to do now.”

8. Bridge the planning and budgeting divide 

Mariano Lafuente, ‎senior public management specialist – ‎Inter-American Development Bank

“A major challenge is the divide which exists between planning and budgeting. This means that countries have had all these great plans for the future but no budget support to actually implement what they propose. Usually, it is the budget that drives the process, as opposed to the other way around.”

9. Build trust with business

Salomón Chertorivski, former economic development secretary, Mexico City

“We need to do more to ensure that businesses – both large and small – are aware of all the support systems that are available to them. But the main issue we face is mistrust. Confidence between government and small business was broken because, under previous administrations, the policymakers’ approach was about asking for something from small businesses or making their life more difficult.”

10. Open up the data

Carolina Pozo, former secretary-general, planning and open government, Quito, Ecuador

We decided to start our shift towards open data at a local level. So we convinced the mayor of its merits and promoted the key principles of transparency, collaboration and participation. But we need to think beyond transparency, and work to have real impact and make a real improvement to people’s lives – and we will be continuing to focus on this as the open data initiative grows and develops across Ecuador.

11. Focus on the long-term

Magdalena Alcocer, professor of strategic intelligence at Mexico’s Universidad Anáhuac

“To make an impact, governments have to have a long-term strategy, concentrating not only on the quick and immediate outcomes but also those longer-term priorities. Most of the problems in many countries occur when the administrations end, the programmes end too. There needs to be a greater commitment towards longer-term objectives than currently exists.”

12. Balance aspiration with achievability

Fernando Straface, general secretary to the Cabinet, Buenos Aires

“Aiming high is very important but there is a balance to be struck. You also need to be realistic in terms of the goals that are set. They are aspirational in terms of challenging yourself and your government to achieve something out of the ordinary, but you shouldn’t aim for something that is impossible to achieve because that will create frustration – and being seen to fail is never good from a career perspective.”