The Center for International Private Enterprise recently hosted an event on Digitalization in Central America: Strategies for Regional Transformation and Recovery. On June 10, 2021, the group, which focuses on supporting private enterprise and market-based democratic reform across the world, brought together four leaders from the George W. Bush Institute’s Central American Prosperity Project (CAPP) to discuss possibilities for digital growth in the Northern Triangle countries of Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador.
As part of CAPP’s Future of Work initiative, the discussion was moderated by Matthew Rooney, Managing Director of the Bush Institute-SMU Economic Growth Initiative, and featured Marcos Andrés Antil, CEO and Founder of XumaK; Mey Hung, Walmart Corporate Affairs Leader for Honduras and Guatemala; and Kathia Yacaman, Executive Vice President at Grupo Karim.
The discussion centered on ways Northern Triangle and Central American countries can promote investment and encourage companies and workers to get involved in the region. Transparency, licensing regulations, and workforce training were identified by the panelists as some of the more pressing issues and opportunities for growth for governments and industry leaders.
Marcos Andres explained that the issue is not a lack of talent in the region. He pointed out that, at least in his experience in Guatemala, there are many skilled people who are willing and able to learn. The fact that half of Guatemala is bilingual, while many others in the country are even trilingual, proves to Andres that the workforce is intelligent and capable, but in need of better training and direction for those wishing to enter the workforce.
Yacaman echoed this sentiment, spending much of her time discussing the failure of governments and organizations in the Northern Triangle countries to provide adequate, useful training. While Yacaman said there were often training programs in these countries, they were usually small and unfocused, and therefore often resulted in only wasted resources and unprepared workers. The need for focused, in-depth programs that teach skills that will be useful in the future is greater than ever, especially with movement towards a digital world, something COVID-19 proved as inevitable, according to Yacaman.
Mey Hung agreed that the move to a digital society and workforce is something Latin American countries do not want to get left behind on. She pointed out that digitalization means transparency, something the region struggles with and is currently lacking. Hung said more transparency means better understanding and increased trust, therefore, more competition and investment.
Though each panelist had a different background and involvement in Latin America, they all agreed that digitalization is a powerful opportunity for governments and businesses in the region. A shift to a digital world would be a shift towards increased transparency but would also need to be accompanied by investments in training and education so the talented, but undertrained population, could take advantage of the opportunities of the digital world.
Programs like the Bush Institute’s Future of Work Initiative should continue to investigate possibilities for economic growth in countries across the world. Additionally, by bringing persons that are familiar with and involved in the region to the table, such programs can effectively identify the most pressing issues and most effective solutions available in these countries. The willingness to work is there, but now Latin America must effectively ride the digitalization wave and ensure no talent is left behind.
By Rachel Sims