From potential to reality: MIT Latin American Conference focuses on economic development

Jonathan Weisleder, MBA 11 and Alvaro Uribe Velez, former president of Colombia

A great way to measure the success of an event is the educational value of its content. Based on that, our recent MIT Latin American Conference was a huge success. Not only did our speakers openly discuss sensitive topics such as the need for democracy and security, but participants were amazed by how much they learned from — and were inspired by– the speakers.

With the theme, “From Potential to Reality,” we invited business and government leaders from throughout Latin America to discuss the opportunities and challenges for economic development in their countries. A repeating message throughout the event was that the opportunities in the region are immense and the key is execution.

Keynote speaker Angel Gurria, secretary-general of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), perhaps summed it up best when he said, “The combination of stable economies, vast natural resources, and a young population with growing access to education provide the necessary elements for success.”

Panelists in the sessions on entrepreneurship shared his optimism, noting that there has never been a better time to start a business in Latin America. Pointing to Brazil as an example, panelist and Internet entrepreneur Alec Oxenford observed that with 40 million people stepping out of poverty to create a middle class, the opportunities are plentiful. “Just imagine all of the things you could offer these people,” he said.

Speakers noted that the main ingredients currently lacking in Latin America are good businesspeople. Attributing this to a lack of business education in the region, they encouraged aspiring entrepreneurs in the audience to join forces with local entrepreneurs in Latin America.

The final keynote speech by Alvaro Uribe Velez, former president of Colombia, addressed the need for security. He explained how in Colombia, they created a “triangle of confidence” in which confidence is supported by three pillars: security with freedoms and democratic values, investment with social responsibility, and social cohesion.

The sold-out event, which was attended by nearly 400 students, alumni, faculty and business and government leaders, surpassed our overarching goal of enhancing MIT’s presence in Latin America and involving the MIT community in the development of Latin America. We’re already looking forward to next year’s conference!

Nhaim Khoury and Sharon Ruggieri are MBAs Class of 2011 and co-organizers of this year’s MIT Latin American Conference

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