Francisco Noguera

Announcing the Launch of NextBillion en Espa?ol

nbe2Today we are announcing the launch of NextBillion en Espa?ol, a new forum to promote and discuss inclusive business models that enhance and dignify the lives of the poor in Hispanic communities.

As said in my last post, we are launching it with the coverage of the Interamerican conference on Inclusive Business, whose opening ceremony kicks off in exactly 10 minutes, in Cartagena Colombia.?Conceptually, it shares the spirit and intention of this site, although focusing on the specific challenges of Latin America. Visually, you can consider this new blog a modest preview of what the “new” will look like once we launch it it early 2009. In fact, the Spanish section will be fullly integrated into under the new website.

A big THANK YOU goes to Rob Katz and and Manuel Bueno for their support and ideas. Also to the members of the Network for Inclusive Markets (AVINA and FUNDES) who key promoters of this initiative and will be instrumental in the purpose of developing local and relevant content for the site.–

If you are interested in reading more about the thinking that went behind the decision of launching this new effort, I encourage you to read on. Hasta pronto!

Why Create NextBillion en Espa?ol?

It is fascinating to see what has happened in the United States and more generally the English-speaking world over the past few years. It can be summarized quite simply: an idea turned into a movement, and it is now turning into action.

The idea was that business and profit could actually serve as a vehicle to integrate the poorest segments of the population into the formal economy. It acknowledged addressing the needs of the poor not as an exclusive role of governments and development aid institutions, but as a shared responsibility of many stakeholders, including the private sector. Moreover, it acknowledged it as an opportunity for the private sector to find new markets and growth opportunities by serving those at the “base of the pyramid”.

Without diminishing the importance of these “traditional” approaches, the group of visionaries saw business, profit and the market as means to bring critical goods and services into the hands of the poor? and were able to crystalize this idea on paper and effectively spread it. They saw these as the ideal means to tackle what has been named the “the BoP penalty”, realizing potentially attractive profits while dignifying the lives of the poor, their ability to discern and make decisions on their own, thus being able to dream of a better future for their children.

The idea generated interest and a promising reaction among business leaders, academics, students and NGOs. It generated curiosity among many stakeholders, who were eager to see where and how it was successfully being put into practice. It generated a need for a space in which this ideas could be? developed further by discussing its practical potential and shortcomings; in which successful and otherwise applications of it could be highlighted and discussed; in which persons and organizations that shared this vision could come together and explore avenues of collaboration.

A separate group of visionaries saw this opportunity and created almost four years ago, and it has grown to become a “go-to” place for everyone interested in studying the role that business and the private sector can play in addressing the challenges of poverty and environmental degradation. hosts a community of practice around the “base of the pyramid” idea, focused in the English-speaking world. Paraphrasing Seth Godin, if you take an idea or a vision that is shared by many and add a vehicle through which they can connect to each other and keep building on each other’s arguments, you’ve got a movement. This is what NextBillion envisions hosting. A movement around an idea that continues to gain traction as it has turnes into action in the business world; in the many academic programs allocating resources to the discussion of this idea; in the number of programs and organizations supporting and promoting social entrepreneurship; in the number of conferences and discussions dedicated to ways in which market discipline and social benefit purposes can work together.

Many of the action examples highlighted above and where innovative and successful BoP ventures have surfaced take place in the English speaking world. Take India and east Africa, for instance. The “base of the pyramid” activity in those countries has been so burgeoning, each would merit a space like all on its own. However, the challenges of poverty grow at a rate faster than any of the known approaches to address them, and although they share many inherent characteristics all over the world, each region has specific audiences, characteristics and circumstances that merit close analysis and a targeted conversation.

This, combined with a vision of creating a movement in Latin America similar to the one that has taken place in the English speaking world, is the thinking behind the decision of launching a Spanish language version of

The Base of the Pyramid in Latin America

It is timely to offer a brief reminder of what the BoP looks like in that region of the world. The analysis conducted by WRI and IFC showed that almost 10% of the 4 billion people living at “the base of the pyramid” were located in Latin America. 360 million people to be exact, who live under conditions that make their integration into the formal economy a different challenge that that of the BoP in regions like India and Africa.

To begin with, Latin America is the region in the world with the most unequal income distribution. Indeed, many of the region’s largest cities exhibit living standards that resemble the wealthiest American and European cities. They are, however, surrounded by slums whose misery resembles the condition found in the poorest regions of the world.

Secondly, Latin America is a fragile state on its own right. BoP activity requires a minimum degree of support and belief in the power of free markets and private enterprise. This region, however, lives under states that are generally more fragile and growingly adverse to the promotion of such models. Take the recent phenomena in countries like Venezuela, Bolivia and Ecuador, where recent government actions seem to discourage rather than encourage private enterprise. Under these circumstances it is increasingly important to make the case for inclusive private sector activity. In other words, markets and private enterprise face a challenge of proving their not-only-for-profit motives in the region, which we believe can take form in initiatives like those discussed in the forum of

Thirdly, Latin America faces challenges of reconciliation in which inclusive businesses can play a critical role. Along the same lines exposed in the previous point, this region urgently requires a business culture that promotes inclusion and reconciliation among conflicting parties. Take Colombia, for instance. The country still suffers from an easy-money culture sponsored by drug dealing and stark violence that continues to threaten much of its population, the poorest being the most vulnerable.

No government-led effort will be sustainable against these, unless lasting economic opportunity is provided for those living at the base of the pyramid. The same can be said for the thousands of ex guerrillas and paramilitaries that will eventually rejoin society as the conflict comes to an end.

So Why NextBillion en Espa?ol? What is it and what is it not?

These are only some of the reasons why we believe that a detailed and more nuanced analysis of BoP activity in Latin America is timely. We believe that doing so in the local language of at least the larger part of the region is equally important, thus deciding to start an experiment called NextBillion en Espa?ol.

This will not be a “repackaging” nor a direct content translation of the current, although relevant content may be published in both the English and the Spanish language blogs. It will rather be a dedicated space in which the challenges and opportunities of inclusive business in Latin America will be discussed.?

It is our intention for this resource to become one that can be accessed and used by a large portion of the Latin American population and our vision that it will help create a movement similar to the one that has been able to create for the English speaking community.

Hopefully we will soon be covering venues with thousands of enthusiastic students from Latin America discussing social enterprise, like the one we covered recently in Philadelphia; or a Latin American discussion on Social Capital Markets; or a “TED Latin America”.

You’ve got the idea. That is our vision and this, NextBillion’s modest contribution to achieving it.?

We welcome and encourage your ideas, suggestions and open participation.