Andrew Theodotou is an intern in the International Trade Administration’s Office of Public Affairs. Andrew is a sophomore at Georgetown University.
“People are our most valuable assets,” Under Secretary of Commerce for International Trade Francisco Sánchez pointed this out in his remarks to more than five hundred senior government officials, private sector leaders, university representatives, and students gathered at Georgetown University. The conference, held March 12-13, was officially titled “Making Latin America and the Caribbean a More Equitable Society: Education, Economic Growth, and Corporate Social Responsibility”.
The focus of the event was to facilitate a high-level dialogue on the importance of education as an economic driver for competitiveness. The event attracted representatives from more than fifty universities throughout the hemisphere, many represented at the dean or university president level.
Each of the addresses, dialogues, and roundtable discussions specifically highlighted the need to cultivate human capital in the Americas. They encouraged cooperation between the public and private sector throughout the hemisphere to achieve this goal and stressed the benefits afforded to all parties involved.
Participants discussed new ways to foster social and economic development in the Western Hemisphere as well as initiatives that have already been put into place towards this end.
In 2010, President Obama launched the “Change the Equation Initiative”, a CEO-led effort to bolster education in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). Knowledge of these subjects has been identified as a key asset in today’s workforce and a powerful driver of economic growth. Many of our neighbors in the Americas have initiated similar efforts, such as El Salvador’s “Supérate”, a program sponsored by Microsoft which offers after school training in computer science and English language training. Such programs demonstrate the increasing role that the private sector plays in improving our education systems and overall economic competitiveness.
A key focus of this event was President Obama’s 100K Strong Initiative, which seeks to increase the number of U.S. students studying in Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC) to 100,000 while attracting the same amount from the LAC region to study in the United States. By increasing the number of foreign students studying in U.S. universities, this will create an increase in service exports for the United States and ultimately help stimulate domestic growth and job creation. In addition, the event strongly focused upon forging new linkages across the hemisphere as a means of sharing best practices and identifying new ways to share research and collaborate.
Programs like these are motivated by the idea that weak education systems are a major barrier to socio-economic development, even in the United States. They are also built on recognition that cooperation is essential in the solution to this problem. If governments can work with businesses to promote workforce development, then a whole economy can grow. If businesses can play a role in teaching their workers today’s essential skills, they can create jobs. And finally, if students can collaborate with their peers in other countries, they will build a mutual understanding and facilitate positive trade relationships in the future.
The conference at Georgetown University aimed to advance these relationships, with hopes that they will fuel competitive economies and lead to a higher standard of living and greater social equality.