I was privileged to participate in this week’s World Economic Forum meeting on Latin America in Panama that brought together global leaders from business, government and civil society to discuss Latin America’s growth and the future ahead. Latin America has seen unprecedented growth over the last decade, even despite the recent economic downturn. Now, the opportunity is to further capitalize on that growth and bring about even greater outcomes.
For our business in the region, which represents nearly one-third of Coca-Cola’s global volumes, we’ve seen how partnerships, leveraging local supply chain and distribution assets and access to a trained and skilled workforce can drive highly sustainable economic activity and growth.
But, as we work to grow our business, challenges remain. A lack of adequate infrastructure, excessive bureaucracy and a complex and sometimes unfair fiscal system in the region place unnecessary stress on our business and hampers growth. Better balance is needed so that we can use our resources towards innovation and generating greater growth and jobs.
The role of public sector here is critical. It can help to reduce uncertainty, lower economic barriers and invest in such critical public goods as education, infrastructure, small business administration, health and the environment. And I believe the private sector—particularly global business—can and must do more to foster growth in Latin America’s economies.
The right partner is everything. And Coca-Cola is partnering with government, civil society and the private sector to bring even greater value to our business and communities. It is through these partnerships that we can start to make an impact on such critical issues for our business such as training and workforce development. Education is foundational for one’s future employment and personal success. And, we have seen how when you do not have strong elementary and secondary schools, it is difficult to train people for the workforce.
We have done a lot in particular for young people and women to build the right skills and ensure access to finance and even greater opportunity. For example, the Company and our bottling partners are building young talent with programs like Coletivo in Brazil. Working with local governments, NGOs and partners like McDonald’s and Microsoft, Coletivo has equipped thousands of young Brazilians with the skills needed to find jobs in retailing, recycling, entrepreneurship and more since 2009. By the end of 2013, Coletivo models launched 550 programs across Brazil, directly impacting 70,000 people.
Women are also fundamental to the success and growth of our business in the region. Through the Company’s 5by20 initiative, we are fostering women’s economic empowerment with increased activity and targeted efforts across our value chain.
With the middle class booming in Latin America and even stronger integration and alignment across the region, we are optimistic about our business and the future of economies in Latin America. The sustainability of this growth is essential. We recognize that we will increasingly be doing, creating and delivering more with less. Our future growth and prosperity is dependent upon our actions today.
The call to action for growth in the region is a simple one. We must work together to deliver on a shared vision that fosters inclusive growth through partnerships, opportunities for young people and women entrepreneurs and drives sustainability.
Brian Smith is President of the Latin America Group of The Coca-Cola Company. Based in Mexico City, this Group encompasses Mexico, Brazil, Central America, South America and the Caribbean.