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2010 Forum: Latin American ministers discuss crisis induced unemployment and poverty


Over 35 ministers and officials in charge of social affairs, representing 17 countries throughout Latin America, met today at the UN headquarters to discuss social policy innovations to respond to the economic crisis. The Third Forum for Social Strategic Thinking in Latin America, held on February 22 and 23, was opened today by Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Muhammad Yunus, a pioneer in the field of microcredit. The Forum was sponsored by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP)-Regional Bureau for Latin America and the Caribbean and the Spanish Agency for International Development Cooperation (AECID, in Spanish), through the Spain-UNDP Fund Towards an integrated and inclusive development in Latin America and the Caribbean.

While Latin America is beginning to glimpse positive signs pointing towards growth in 2010, the global economic crisis has nevertheless increased the number of the region’s poor by 9 million in 2009 and has added another 2.5 million individuals to the ranks of the unemployed in the region. These figures were cited during the first day of the meeting,

"The region is on track to achieve the Millennium Development Goals, but the effects of the global economic crisis – combined with the food crisis – threaten to jeopardize the gains,” said UNDP Administrator Helen Clark. "For this reason social policies play a key role to promote human development, and the region shows several good examples – particularly through conditional cash transfer programmes.”

Latin America and the role of social innovation

Governments in the region have reacted quickly, according to their varying institutional capacities and resource availabilities. Many have strengthened job security plans and social programs as a means to mitigate the negative effects of the crisis.

Conditional cash transfer programmes have played a substantial role in the design of such social policies. Oportunidades (Opportunities) in Mexico, Bolsa Familia (Family Grant) in Brazil, Familias en Acción (Families in Action) in Colombia—along with others programs—are currently reaching over 22 million households in 17 countries in the region, covering 101 million people, or 17 percent of Latin America and the Caribbean’s population.

“The financial crisis can be seen as an opportunity,” said Nobel Laureate Muhammad Yunus. “This is the moment to redesign social programmes, stimulating social businesses and self-employment for the poor, particularly women. Human beings have unlimited capacity. All we have to do is to free them from the chains that we have put around them. If you ask me how to fight poverty, I’d sum it up like this: credit.”

"Latin America is witness to a new generation of participatory social policies, insofar as civil society is increasingly involved in the process of their creation", said Bernardo Kliksberg, Chief Adviser of the UNDP Regional Bureau for Latin America and the Caribbean, and Director of the Spain-UNDP Fund.

Kliksberg also launched the book It is difficult to be young in Latin America, gathering the main results of the Second Forum, which took place in 2008. The report highlights the challenges faced by young people in the region, further exacerbated by the economic crisis.

The officials gathered today and tomorrow in New York will analyze social innovations that they have developed, and will share information on the design, implementation, logistics, scope and evaluation of social programmes.

Forum for Social Strategic Thinking in Latin American

Also speaking at the event are the Associate Administrator of UNDP, Rebeca Grynspan; Officer in Charge – Bureau for Latin America and the Caribbean, Niky Fabiancic; the Director of the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), Mirta Roses; and the Head of Multilateral Cooperation for the Spanish Agency for International Cooperation (AECID) and José Moisés Martín Carretero. Permanent Representatives to the UN and UNDP Resident Representatives from 17 countries in Latin America are also participating in this year’s Forum.

About the Forum

The Forum for Social Strategic Thinking in Latin America is a space for dialogue and debate on political and social issues in Latin America; it brings together participants representing the highest level of decision-makers in the region. Its purpose is to provide a comprehensive and multi-sectoral long-term vision of current and future priorities for the social agenda.