Tomás Bermúdez
Country Representative
View from the Top

Social Programs Bridge Mexico’s Two Realities

Fri, 06/29/2018 - 17:21

Q: The Update to the Institutional Strategy (UIS) 2016-2019 targets a reduction in inequality in Latin America and the Caribbean. What results have you seen in Mexico?
A: One of the bank’s objectives is to improve competitiveness and close inequality gaps. In Mexico, some institutions work relatively well compared to others in the region. The country has a significant commercial relationship with the US and while this has led to economic growth, it has been slow and uneven. The result is the creation of two Mexican realities, one with OECD development levels and one that significantly lags.
We are working on social protection and social programs and I think those implemented in the country have been successful. We need to start thinking about how we can link these social programs to the manufacturing sector. For instance, in its 20 years, the Prospera social program has helped people overcome poverty.
Q: What specific programs is IDB implementing in Mexico that are having a positive macroeconomic and microeconomic impact?
A: We are working on a project with CONAFE, which is part of the Ministry of Public Education. This project involves providing educational services in the most marginalized areas of the country. In these places, CONAFE has developed schools especially for teachers who are trained as educators, even though they might not have a teaching degree. The project also includes the implementation of virtual libraries in those locations to provide kids with access to more content. This has been a very successful model that we are trying to replicate in other countries.
We are also working alongside the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to improve prenatal and postnatal care in Chiapas, including the distribution of medications through a digital platform. All our programs have a national scope but we are focusing mostly on the south of the country because we believe the region requires special intervention. If lagging areas are left untouched, the social gap in the country will widen and impact its competitiveness and economic growth. This approach is a kind of Marshall Plan for the southern part of Mexico. The country needs to work on several areas, including public services, the government’s ability to respond to its citizens, infrastructure and the creation and connectivity of value chains.
Q: What is the bank’s approach in gender equality, climate change and rule of law?
A: Gender equality is a sensitive issue in Mexico because when you analyze inclusion of women in the Mexican manufacturing sector, you realize it is among the lowest rates in Latin America. In Mexico, only 5 percent of board members are women. This issue is a business opportunity since there are many studies that suggest that broader diversity results in increased productivity. In this regard, the quotas system that has been implemented in the public sector has been highly effective. I think the private sector has the will to change things but it moves too cautiously. This is an area in which Mexico lags when compared to other Latin American countries.
Rule of law is another complicated issue. The 2018 presidential elections were defined by the population’s perception about rule of law and corruption. Mexico has good legislation in this regard. The problem lies in the enforcement of those laws. IDB has helped with everything related to the creation of the National Anti-Corruption System and we also can help in the creation of the country’s Public Prosecutor’s office. A potential solution to the corruption problem is to attack it using technology. I think there is much to do in terms of AI and data sharing between governmental agencies.
Regarding climate change, Mexico is on the front lines in Latin America. During Felipe Calderón’s administration a great deal was done in this area. Given that the objectives set were fairly ambitious, Mexico’s capabilities to comply with them are what worries me. Even so, when you compare Mexico with the rest of the region, the country’s contribution to the fight against climate change has been significant.