El pasado 13 de noviembre de 2014, tuve el honor de ser galardonado por uno de los tanques de pensamiento más influyentes en Washington D.C., The InterAmerican Dialogue. Este premio lleva el nombre de”Civic Engagement”, y reconoce cierta labor de interés social e involucramiento en temas como promoción de desarrollo e inclusión de las personas. Este ha sido un gran orgullo para mí, además ratifica y, de alguna manera, valida el esfuerzo que hacemos en ser parte de las soluciones y procesos de mejora del país. A continuación les comparto mi discurso de aceptación.
Thank you very much Enrique García for that heartwarming introduction. Thank you also to our host, OAS Secretary General José Miguel Insulza, and Dialogue President, Michael Shifter.
Dear Members and Friends of the Inter-American Dialogue,
It is truly humbling to stand before you to receive this award. I receive it not only on my own behalf but also on behalf of the committed donors, board members, staff members and citizens that have believed in the transformational initiatives mentioned by Enrique García. The importance of this award cannot be understated. Transforming a Nation is a process fraught with uncertainty and tribulations. But there are also many rewards, and seeing tangible changes in Guatemala is the most rewarding of all. My father, who died while trying to improve development in our region, taught me that a country is only as good as its citizens… and that we each have a role in shaping its future. Your validation of our work reaffirms our commitment towards building a more prosperous and just Guatemala.
It is gratifying to stand before an audience that is committed towards improving our region. I want to thank and celebrate each and every one of you and your work. The Latin American region has undoubtedly made progress over the last century, but for most of our countries the rate of progress is far from sufficient. The expressions of social conflict and the often desperate vote that favors outlandish populist promises are all symptoms of mounting levels of discontent. It is with a sense of urgency that we must grow our economies faster and in a more inclusive fashion.
We’re in the early days of an increasingly important North-South relationship. Even though Guatemala is small, it could play an important role in furthering that trend, to the benefit of the region, as it represents the southern border to NAFTA and a choke point for licit as well as illicit flows. In that light, please allow me to share some of the insights we’ve gathered on this journey towards improving our country.
Very early on in this process we realized that we can’t plan for every scenario because there is simply too much noise and volatility to be handled by our ill-equipped institutions. President Perez Molina summed it best in one of our first meetings when he said that he felt “frustrated” by the lack of progress due to meager institutional competencies. Therefore, we must focus on enhancing a few key capabilities – identifying the ones that have the most impact - and then letting the future take care of itself.
What are those key capabilities? They are most-likely country specific, but these are the foundational pillars that have provided the basis for our work in Guatemala:
First, Strengthening Institutions. We do this by engaging citizens and encouraging them to bolster our often run down government institutions, so that they can effectively and efficiently do the work that they’re meant to perform. We understand that our donations, albeit millions of dollars to date, are but a drop in the bucket relative to our national budget. Therefore the emphasis has to be on “alter”ing the behavior of public institutions as opposed to becoming an “alter”native to those institutions. Our most recent work in this regard targets the eradication of corruption that is corroding our institutional framework.
Second, We’ve come to realize that security and justice are necessary preconditions for other developmental initiatives to flourish. Just five years ago we were the 3rd most violent country in the world, with a homicide rate of 46 per 100,000. Heeding the wisdom of the Maslow Pyramid, we need to satisfy the basic need for personal safety before we can move on to more substantive matters. One of our projects, Alertos is using social media to empower citizens to report criminal incidents and track crime in their neighborhoods. Projects like Alertos and other Security and Justice initiatives have contributed towards reducing the homicide rate from 46 to 31 in just 5 years.
Third, Dialogue. Dialogue is fundamental in building consensus around a long-term roadmap with clearly delineated priorities. Developing the skills to articulate trade-offs and to develop societal agreements are particularly critical in a country such as my own, where no political party has ever occupied the presidency more than once. The private sector backed MejoremosGuate initiative, seeks to provide a platform for consensus towards that long-term development agenda with short-term actionable projects. Some of those short-term projects have included outlandish ideas such as GuatemalaVisible, which improves the meritocracy and transparency of Supreme Court designations by publishing the resumes of the judges being considered, and the inventive Innovation Lab that works with 25 sectors of the economy to boost their potential for job creation.
Fourth, A plan is only as good as the people that implement it. Or, as one of our donors constantly reminds us, “people is policy”. In its first year of operations, the Guatemalan School of Government has become the leading post-graduate educator of future civil servants and is truly disrupting the prevailing logic of cronyism. We plan to accompany that effort with changes to our civil service code and we would welcome your help in exploring ways to promote true meritocracy and thus avoid the pitfalls of perverse political incentives.
And finally, Quality of Education. My father, who devoted part of his life as a university professor, taught us the value of a quality education. I firmly believe that Education is the most important long-term capability that we need to build to break free from our poverty trap. However, it is also the most elusive. Often, short-term agendas imposed by various interested parties distract us from what should be the central actor of the educational system: the kids. The reality in Guatemala is dire as only 24% and 7% of our graduates pass the basic reading and math exams, respectively. This is largely driven by the fact that less than 40% of the teachers pass those same tests. Through FunSEPA, we are continuously looking for new ways to apply technology in a cost-effective manner to turbo-charge quality and leapfrog over years of “gradualism”. We’ve provided computing access to over 400,000 public-school kids and have trained over 70,000 teachers in the usage of technology as a teaching tool. Most recently, I am very excited about the results of our groundbreaking experiments with Khan Academy.
The path is not necessarily linear nor are all of the answers self-evident but building these aforementioned capabilities has guided our work. Our recipe has also included high doses of technical research as well as experimentation. The Dialogue has been a great ally, providing a platform to present research, such as our fiscal paper.
We’ve experimented with technology, social media, process mappings and a whole host of unconventional ingredients to create “out-of-the-box” solutions. In doing so, we have steered away from “Pilot projects” but rather favored experiments that have national impact from the outset. We’ve learned much from successful projects around the region and look forward to honoring our teachers by “Paying-it-Forward” to others who might benefit from our experiences.
In conclusion, I’d like to thank the people who make our outlandish ideas a reality, those unsung heroes on the ground implementing and executing – the talented staff heading our various projects, the teachers, the volunteers… They are proof that, as my grandfather, Carlos Paiz, used to say, “if we can dream it, we can achieve it”. It is thanks to their hard work, and your recognition, that we can make our dreams of a better and more peaceful future a reality. My deepest gratitude to my wife, my family and to all our donors for supporting me and all of these crazy ideas. I hope that we may continue to work together and exploit the synergies of public-private collaboration, so that we can leave the world a little better than how we found it.
Thank you and Good night.