Richard Nixon once mentioned in private to a young Donald Rumsfeld that “Latin America doesn’t matter. No one gives a darn about Latin America.” And while the former President would eventually get into trouble for saying and doing more incriminating things, the comment does show the condescending fashion in which the U.S. has viewed the region.
Things have changed somewhat as globalization and the relative rise of other countries has made the U.S. and Europe look beyond their borders for opportunities. Today Mexico is the U.S. largest trading partner and Brazil’s potential has been put in the same promising category of India and China. But the region is still largely ignored and misunderstood, an attitude exacerbated by the current crisis and its emerging protectionist overtones.
For many Latin America is still a place full of banana republics. These stereotypes are fueled by troubling social conditions such as the escalating drug-related violence in Mexico. And while these stories show a side of the region that needs to be addressed, they don’t convey a more complete picture that also includes growing youthful consumer markets, greater modernization, as well as a consistent support for democracy. This misrepresentation has to change if Latin America wants to become relevant.
The region needs a drastic makeover to reflect its progress during the past decades, to grant greater momentum to continued reform, and to attract committed foreign partners. This must begin with an engaging creative story that talks about both the innovative things being done in the region as well as future possibilities. Telling a story is in no way a replacement for real structural change, but as they say, perception breeds reality, so we must recast the story to inspire change from within and to attract foreign partners. The allure of our culture is one of our greatest assets so we must embrace it.
I recommend we do this by tapping into the region’s young creative generation to frame a new story. Latin America possesses one of the world’s youngest populations, a group that is increasingly connected and inspired through new media. This generation is also empowered through past and present Latin American artists that have made the region’s music, film and popular culture known and respected the world over. This powerfulcombination of youth, technology and creativity can grant Latin America an edge in a global economy that is increasingly driven by ideas. How do we do this? Latin American countries must first realize that its “corrupt and backwards” image problem is an obstacle that impacts them all as well as critical sectors of their societies, making a coordinated response critical. A joint response allows for a more massive impact, putting the continent on more equal footing vis-à-vis Europe and Asia. To accomplish this, but without creating red tape, I recommend the creation of an independent public private sector “innovation and creativity” corporation, for lack of a better term, involving major Latin American countries and some of their most dynamic and innovative minds from the worlds of business and the arts. The goal should be to develop an extensive and sustainable set of funded programs to cultivate new creativity and innovation industries that can fix the Latin American brand. I purposely chose the term corporation because if done well, culture can be a great source of strategic revenue for the region.
The first part of the exercise will be the creation of the vision for the entire program. At the core is answering the question of why Latin America matters to the rest of the world. Working on this seminal exercise should be some of the region’s best writers, directors, graphic designers, entrepreneurs, etc. The end result will be our version of England’s “Cool Britannia” strategic creative platform back in the nineties, which propelled an English way of thinking around the halo of creativity and innovation, positively impacting everything from business to fashion, and from literature to politics.
An important concern is that this initiative go beyond the surface level, meaning just an ad campaign or a story focused on only one industry, such as what many Latin American countries have been doing for many years around tourism. For this to work creativity an innovation need to truly become part of the societal structure. Key elements of the program would be ongoing support for creativity and innovation at the educational level, the creation and support of creative enterprises in conjunction with entrepreneurs or established companies, and other forms of exchanges that systematically create incentives for creativity and innovation.
This holistic focus on creativity and innovation would then allow for ongoing marketing communication that create products through powerful forms of discourse such as film, advertising, social media, music, festival, innovation talks and conferences, among many others. These initiatives, by always highlighting the region’s creativity and innovation will reinforce demand for Latin American ideas. And it will be this demand that will fuel Latin American’s creative economy, and its more inspiring new face to the world.