I was honored to participate in the 11th World Economic Forum on Latin America, held in Medellín, Colombia, on June, 16-17. I participated in the Panama meeting two years ago and I was, once again, very impressed by the level and richness of the dialogue at this event. WEF is the ideal venue for meaningful conversation about the most profound challenges for societal development. It's where government, civil society and the private sector discuss workable solutions.
I was also very impressed by Medellín – a beautiful city which has overcome major challenges and is now a thriving hub for development and entrepreneurship. Many lessons from Medellín can be derived as Colombia enters its most interesting period in 100 years: the negotiation of the peace process. Logically, the Colombian peace process took center stage last week with impressive interventions from President Juan Manuel Santos, Spain’s former President Felipe Rodriguez and Argentina’s President Mauricio Macri. Today, the government of Colombia announced a bilateral and definitive ceasefire. I am convinced Colombia is set for continued success, as a result of the peace process, good management and structural investments.
I was delighted to participate as a panelist in a televised session on “Entrepreneurship for Prosperity” to discuss a key question very relevant for our part of the world: “In the midst of an economic downturn, after several years of growth, how does entrepreneurship contribute to the prosperity and sustainable development of the economy?”
Latin America is a region of entrepreneurs with great success, but it is lagging behind more business-friendly regions, such as the United States. Hurdles are considerable and must be overcome for this region to fully succeed, including: increased participation of women in business ventures, better access to credit and technical training, less red tape and requirements to open or close a company, the possibility to embrace failure and relentless integration of technology. Importantly, we need an ecosystem that encourages innovation and peer learning.
It is clear that the private sector has a pivotal role to help maintain the social gains throughout Latin America. For our part, the Coca-Cola system has a significant economic impact in Latin America. In addition to the 200,000 direct system employees in Latin America and the 2,000,000 small store owners who derive a significant portion of their income from the sale of beverages, thousands of people and hundreds of communities benefit from our programs that promote entrepreneurship, including 5by20, water stewardship, sustainable packaging and sustainable agriculture.
One of the most rewarding activities during WEF Latin America was a panel hosted by Coca-Cola with the Global Shapers Community. Their youth, brightness and ideas, passion and commitment never cease to impress me. Along with Maria Martinez, a senior executive from Salesforce, and Francisco Suarez from Coca-Cola FEMSA, we were invited to discuss leadership in our personal lives and at work.
As always, the conversation was very engaging and thought-provoking. We had the opportunity to convey four key messages about leadership: 1) Do not be afraid to share what you think; 2) Family comes first: be sure to allocate enough quality time to your loved ones; 3) Change should take place when things are going well: don’t wait for a crisis to take action; and 4) Do not be afraid to be different and ambitious, to take risks and fail.
When asked about what Coca-Cola gains from our relationship with the Shapers, many ideas came to mind, especially the importance of self-motivation and a sense of purpose. Above all, I enjoy and learn from their innovative and thoughtful ideas, and from their honest feedback.
Finally, I was pleased for Coca-Cola to be part of a historic announcement from the food and beverage sector, in which we launched the Latin American Commitment to a Healthy Future – a broad-based public-private organization committed to promoting healthy and active lives, especially in children. It includes food and beverage companies, public health organizations, government agencies and other stakeholders. Founding members include The Coca-Cola Company, Coca-Cola FEMSA and PepsiCo.
After two days at WEF Latin America, I truly believe that sustained and lasting peace is possible and that we will see enormous growth and prosperity for Colombia in the months and years to come.
Alfredo Rivera is president of Coca-Cola's Latin Center Business Unit, which includes Central America, the Caribbean, Venezuela, Ecuador and Colombia. He recently was appointed president of the company's Latin America Group, effective Aug. 1, 2016.