Education: The Path to Overcoming Inequality

By Luis Porto, and Betilde Muñoz-Pogossian, Guest Blogger

Learning processes are both the cause and the consequence of different systems of social interaction, and should be analyzed within this framework when designing and implementing educational policies.

Many of us have heard, for example, that if we know where a person lives – if we find out their postcode or address – it will be easy to predict not just their educational path but also their opportunities for social mobility, for developing a decent life, and for actively contributing (or not) to the transformation of their communities and their countries. This because “where someone lives” provides relevant information about the context in which that child develops, not only from the socioeconomic or demographic perspective but also from the perspective of the set of human rights that person accessed (or was unable to access) even before birth, thereby affecting their psychomotor development: overcrowding, the mother’s education, or nutrition in a person’s early years are some of the factors that impact their cognitive and learning abilities.

This is confirmed by the fact that, despite important investments in education in the Americas in recent decades, reflected in the boost to education budgets with respect to GDP to amounts similar, in some cases, to OECD countries (6%), we still see that the right to access a quality education remains a pending issue for the region. What evidence is there that we haven’t reached the education goals our people deserve? If we look at the results of international exams such as PISA, participating countries in the region occupy some of the lowest spots in the ranking. Problems with school attendance and learning remain and worsen the gap in inequality among groups according to their socioeconomic strata, and in view of other characteristics that produce further situations of discrimination and social exclusion.

To cite a few statistics: at the pre-primary level enrollment reaches 66%, although in some countries it stands at 90% and in others at 20%. In the case of primary education, where the region has a coverage rate of 95%, structural socioeconomic factors have prevented its full universalization. Likewise, the region has seen a very slow advance in average growth in secondary enrollment, which has reached 50%, and just 25% of youths and children in the poorest quintile finish their secondary studies, compared with 75% in the richest quintile.[1] According to UNICEF, 1 of every 3 school-age children is not enrolled in secondary school, and 30 million youths/adolescents work informally and in difficult conditions. This situation is more severe among migrant and disabled populations. Among these groups, only between 20% and 30% attend school.

The persistence of unsatisfactory results at the education level in the region, and of inequality in the Americas, invites us to reflect not only on the results of the practices and policies implemented up to this point but also, fundamentally, to review the intervention methods and the extent to which they address, in combined or isolated form, the factors impacting the success of teaching and learning processes. How is our vision of education and the functioning of our educational system contributing today to the aim of overcoming inequalities and building more inclusive societies? Thinking about this is crucial so that education continues to be socially valued as a basic tool of human development.

It is precisely this that the Organization of American States, in cooperation with Inter-American Dialogue and the CAF Development Bank of Latin America, seeks to do with its “,” a theoretical-practical first exercise that aims to contribute a comprehensive look at the field of education, with its analysis highlighting the importance of paying attention to the socioeconomic conditions of students and their families, and the need to think about the pedagogical offering in a comprehensive way to adjust it to the cultural capital of students and their communities. It is an exploratory paper that seeks to shed light on educational practices that can make up for, or attack on some level, the “prior” inequality of access to personal rights. It is not a recipe book, because as already mentioned, it’s not always possible to translate educational practices that have yielded positive results in certain contexts, certain educational communities, certain aspirational frames of the identities in which people and their families are incorporated, etc…

The text is organized into five sections, covering variables such as malnutrition, socioeconomic background, disability, and access to adequate housing and health services, among other important factors for child and youth educational development that are not always analyzed comprehensively.

Chapter 1 of the Inter-American Guide focuses on child development, prioritizing the discussion of why it is important to deal with inequities from an early age. As the document notes, early childhood is a critical period for interventions that seek to reduce educational and social inequality and poverty in general, as these early years are decisive for children’s physical, cognitive, and socioemotional development. It is during these years when the formation of abilities that help children with lifelong learning is fortified or falls behind. On the basis of empirical studies (Naudeau, Kataoka, Valerio, Neuman, and Elder, 2011), the Guide specifies factors such as poor diet, little stimulation in the home, and/or lack of access to quality care or preschool centers as the cause of many children not developing at the level they should. The document proposes strategies to boost the development of life skills at an early age, such as home visit programs, establishment of child care centers, and better access and quality in early education, among others.

Primary education is a critical time in education provision. While early childhood (years 0 to 5) is the most important period for brain development in humans, it is in primary education that the bases of academic knowledge are laid and such essential skills learned as reading, writing, and doing basic mathematics, which are important in preparing children for more advanced learning and for life in general.

Chapter 2 of the Inter-American Guide on Educational Inequality deals with free and compulsory primary education as a universal human right, which has led to the near universalization in the Americas of primary school attendance, with many countries reaching a net primary enrollment rate close to 100%.

This section of the Guide maps the challenges that persist in achieving full universalization of primary education and lays out the differing levels of education access, particularly for populations in situations of poverty and vulnerability, as well as indigenous and Afrodescendent children and those with disabilities and special needs. The Guide highlights some of the strategies used to strengthen learning in primary education, including the development of student-centered learning policies, emphasis on reading in early grades, inclusive education, and bilingual intercultural education, among others.

Chapter 3 deals with secondary education, putting special emphasis on the education path of children in situations of poverty and vulnerability. This group may develop learning deficits that cause them to fall behind academically, repeat one or more years, and develop negative attitudes toward school. The complexity of adolescence imposes a set of additional issues that challenge the capacity of educational systems to guarantee the quality and appropriateness of education, as well as these youths’ presence in the educational system. Some of these issues covered in the Guide include the situation of those who never enter secondary education or leave it early due to the need to start working or assume other responsibilities, including the situation of young women faced with early maternity as well as those who from a young age have responsibilities associated with domestic work and unremunerated care. How, then, can educational systems transform secondary school to reduce inequality, in doing so improving graduation rates and learning levels among youths living in conditions of poverty and vulnearbility? Among the strategies mapped in this chapter of the Guide are the use of conditional cash transfers, implementation of tutoring and mentoring programs, and school reentry, among others. The final section of the text lists the main lessons for implementing strategies to reduce educational inequality, that is, specific recommendations that can be useful in planning these actions and equity-oriented educational policies.

This contribution from the OAS, in connection with Inter-American Dialogue and support from CAF Bank of Latin America, aims to overturn the aforementioned adage that says “if we know where someone lives, if we know their post code or address, we can predict their educational path.” This document starts from the premise that inequality of access to basic human rights is one of the most important causes of educational inequality, and only by dealing with them in a comprehensive manner can we begin to have the desired results for children and young people in the region. At the OAS we believe we can contribute to connecting actions so that universal rights are expanded and made concrete in the region and to promoting the recognition of the rights to equality and freedom from discrimination. Education is one of the key tools to achieving this.

**The points of view expressed here are those of the authors and do not represent the position of the OAS.

[1] UNESCO (2014). “The State of education in Latin America and the Caribbean.” The document can be accessed at this link.

[2]UNICEF, “Hechos sobre Adolescencia y Jóvenes en América Latina y el Caribe”. Extracted from: Last visited 17 November, 2014.

Latin America’s High Gini Coefficients

During an interview with the Global Foundation for Democracy and Development, the Secretary General of the OAS, Luis Almagro, said that the phrase, “more rights for more people,” “has to do with the situation in the continent… the continent that is the most unequal in the entire world.”

What Almagro was referring to is the high level of income and wealth inequality in Latin America. The rich in Latin America earn a large portion of the total income, while the poor have a very small share. Comparatively, the region is wealthier than Sub-Saharan Africa or South Asia, but the distribution between the rich and the poor is worst in Latin America.

One way to demonstrate Latin America’s level of income inequality is through the Gini coefficient, a standardized measure of income distribution among a population. The Gini coefficient or index is a number between 0 and 1 calculated by taking all people in a population and ordering them by income level. Based on the distribution of incomes, the Gini index predicts income gaps between two randomly selected individuals in a population[1].

A higher Gini index indicates greater inequality: a score of 0 means that every person has exactly the same amount of income, while 1 signifies that all the income in the country is held by a single individual.

In Latin American countries the Gini coefficient is often between .4 and .5. In 2015 Brazil’s Gini coefficient was .51. For comparison, in Russia, a country home to some of the world’s richest oil magnates, the Gini index is about .38[2].

Executive Secretary of the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean, Alicia Bárcena Ibarra argues that one reason the region has such high Gini coefficients is because of its revenue systems that are too greatly focused on consumption taxes and which disproportionately impact low and middle-income earners. Low tax rates for multinational companies as well as high tax avoidance hurt the situation, she says[3].

As Almagro suggests, another reason income inequality is so high is because of disparities in rights. Certain groups, women, children, indigenous communities and rural farmers, have much less access to education and health services, for instance.

With “more rights for more people,” Latin America would make significant progress in cutting back income inequality and reducing some of the world’s highest Gini coefficients.

[1] Kenton, Will. “Gini Index” Investopedia. February 6, 2019. Retrieved from:

[2] Bárcena Ibarra, Alicia & Byanyima,Winnie. “Latin America is the world’s most unequal region. Here’s how to fix it.” The World Economic Forum. January 17, 2016. Retrieved from:

[3] “Gini index.” 2017. The World Bank. 2017. Retrieved from:

#GoverningForInclusion: A Women’s inclusion agenda for Better Democracies in the Region

Betilde Muñoz-Pogossian, PhD
Director, Department of Social Inclusion
Organization of American States
Twitter: @BeticaMunozPogo

A review of the progress made in terms of inclusion at the regional level suggests that although there is ample consensus on the right to suffrage as a basic political right, as mechanism to redistribute political power and as mediator of socio-economic inequalities, there are still important challenges to the second facet of people’s political rights: the right to be elected. This is specially so for women, who frequently do not compete on a level-playing field. In this regard, the asymmetries that are manifested in the socio-economic realm are replicated in the realm of electoral competition, significantly limiting the possibility of redistribution of political power via elected office. Three key reflections are worth mentioning:

  • On candidate selection processes: Candidate selection for presidential and general elections (for congressional and subnational elections, among others) is one of the most important decisions that a political party makes, as a collegial body. The rules for candidate selection, and the leadership in charge of this, have the potential to promote more equity and political inclusion. This is so because political parties are said to be ‘the gatekeepers’ of political power. Twelve of the 18 countries in Latin America use some institutionalized mechanism for candidate selection. However, political practice shows an important gap between the group of political activities and militants in a party and the group that ends up being nominated for electoral lists. An example that illustrates this disparity directly affects female party militants. According to International IDEA data, whereas women constitute 50% of political party militancy, they barely represent 20% of political party leadership, and a similar percentage in the electoral lists. This is generally so for Latin American political parties unless there are positive discrimination measures in place such as quota or party laws.
  • On the general consensus about the need to create opportunities for women’s inclusion: The existence of quota laws in Latin America reveals another ample consensus, namely, the need to create opportunities for the political inclusion of women and compensate for the obstacles that emerge as a result of other types of inequalities, including socio-economic inequalities. Between 1991 and 2013, fifteen Latin American countries adopted or used quotas[1]. For 2018, the debate in some countries transitioned towards parity. Six countries (Argentina, Bolivia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Mexico, Nicaragua) have adopted political parity measures for national elected posts[2]. The risks associated with political inequalities occur both in terms of the electoral offer to the electorate and in electoral competition, as well as in the exercise of power. Women and other groups in situations of vulnerability generally experiment differentiated conditions of access to this power.
  • On the financing of electoral campaigns: The political financing system, and particularly of electoral campaigns, has a direct effect on the capacity of candidates to compete on equal terms. This is generally so given the fact that the asymmetries in the access to campaign resources determine the level of equity in the exercise of the right to be elected. In cases where access is unequal, candidates do not compete on equal conditions. Women generally have less access to financial resources for their political careers and their campaigns and have less access to the networks where these resources can be found. Moreover, parties tend to designate more men for winning districts, under the expectation that they have more chances of winning than female candidates[3], and generally give women less resources. Thus, the need to regulate and reform political financing systems to generate more equity in electoral competition.

Today it is unquestionable that there has been important progress in the region regarding women’s participation in politics. But this progress has not necessarily translated in equivalent representation in political party leadership or in elected office such as congress, where women’s representation, regionally, is still around 22-24%.  The focus of the work needs to continue to be guaranteeing women’s inclusion in political decision-making processes. This helps ensure they can enjoy their rights. This improves the quality of the decisions that emanate from our political systems, and their participation also improves the democracies of the region.

*Opinions are personal. They do not represent the views of the OAS.

[1] Argentina, Mexico, Paraguay, Bolivia, Brazil. Costa Rica, Ecuador, Panama, Peru, Dominican Republic, Venezuela, Colombia, Honduras, Uruguay (2014), and El Salvador (2013).

[2] Archendi, Nélida and Maria Inés Tula. “Cambios Normativos y Equidad de Género: de las Cuotas a la Paridad en América Latina” in América Latina Hoy, 66, 2014, pp. 47-68.

[3] Ohman, Magnus (2018). Gender-Targeted public Funding for Political Parties. A Comparative Analysis. Stockholm: International IDEA.

UN Observance: International Day of Peace – September 21st

international day of peace (Earth map furnished by NASA)

In 2016 the global economy lost $14.3 trillion to violence and conflict in purchasing power parity (PPP) terms (Global Peace Index 2017). This is equivalent to 12.6 percent of the world Gross Domestic Product (GDP), or 12.6 percent of everything the world produces and consumes!

Join GFDD on September 21st to help commemorate the International Day of Peace.

The General Assembly has declared this as a day devoted to strengthening the ideals of peace, both within and among all nations and peoples.

The theme for 2017 is “Together for Peace: Respect, Safety and Dignity for All.”

The theme honors the spirit of TOGETHER, a global initiative that promotes respect, safety and dignity for everyone forced to flee their homes in search of a better life. TOGETHER unites the organizations of the United Nations System, the 193 Member States of the United Nations, the private sector, civil society, academic institutions and individual citizens in a global partnership in support of diversity, non-discrimination and acceptance of refugees and migrants. It was initiated during the United Nations Summit for Refugees and Migrants on 19 September 2016.

“In times of insecurity, communities that look different become convenient scapegoats,” said United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres. “We must resist cynical efforts to divide communities and portray neighbors as ‘the other’. Discrimination diminishes us all. It prevents people — and societies — from achieving their full potential.” He added, “Together, let us stand up against bigotry and for human rights. Together, let us build bridges. Together, let us transform fear into hope.”

refugees leaving Hungary

This year, the International Day of Peace will focus on engaging and mobilizing people throughout the world to show support for refugees and migrants. Its messages will be shared with communities hosting refugees and migrants as well as people concerned that refugees and migrants may bring physical and economic insecurity to their lives.

The Day will highlight solidarity with refugees and migrants and showcase the shared benefits of migration to economies and nations, while also acknowledging legitimate concerns of host communities. Ultimately, it will be about bringing people together and reminding them of their common humanity.

Young people will have a vital role to play. For example, they can volunteer to welcome and help refugees and migrants in their communities. They can also extend the hand of friendship to young refugees and migrants who they might meet in their classrooms and neighborhoods.

To find out what events will be taking place in your area please check out this virtual map:

Why Impact Investment Can Be an Effective Tool for Social Development

jenna_headshotBy GRT Guest Blogger Jenna Giandoni, GFDD Fellow and Author of Impact Investing in the Dominican Republic

In April of this year, the Global Foundation for Democracy and Development organized and moderated the panel, Why Impact Investment Can Be an Effective Tool for Social Development, at the World Bank Group/IMF Civil Society Policy Forum. As a keynote speaker, I had the honor of presenting my research on impact investing conducted in the Dominican Republic. In November, while visiting the Dominican Republic, we will be fortunate enough to present the findings for audiences not only interested in understanding the world of impact investing but also who have the intention of applying this information that has the potential to advance economic development in an environmentally and socially sound way.


Through my research and continued profession in the international development and renewable energy sectors, I continue to promote impact investments and the necessity for implementing a triple bottom line approach. Impact investing and the role this investment strategy should play in developing countries, specifically the Dominican Republic, is a concept that could significantly alter the fate of not only individuals in developing countries but of the country at a macroeconomic level, as well. The highlighted companies in my research were identified through outreach while working as a Fellow in the Dominican Republic. The businesses represent a larger array of companies that could benefit from impact investments, primarily operating in the environmental sector, a sector widely neglected in traditional investment strategy. These businesses serve as a glimpse into the world of renewable energy and sustainable agriculture in the Dominican Republic, while offering insight into the potential of impact investing throughout the country and the globe.

With that said, let us briefly examine impact investing. According to the Global Impact Investing Network (GIIN), impact investing includes “investments made into companies, organizations, and funds with the intention to generate measurable social and environmental impact alongside a financial return”. Marguerite H. Griffin of Northern Trust further categorizes impact investors into three categories: impact first, investment first, and catalyst first. Essentially, impact first investors are driven by maximization of impact, whereas investment first investors are primarily interested in market-rate or premium returns on their investment. Catalyst first investors are investors who seek to give or invest in collaborations to build the impact investing industry and infrastructure.

Because of the expected US$30 trillion transfer of wealth expected over the next several decades into the hands of those who have a different approach to investing compared to their predecessors, impact investing is receiving far more attention in order to prepare for this transfer of wealth and ideology. Fortunately, impact funds provide market rate returns and above as measured against comparative non-impact investment funds.

Impact investments are not only receiving attention in developed countries. Many organizations such as the International Finance Corporation (IFC) have begun to make impact investments in developing countries such as the Dominican Republic. The IFC issued 5-year 10.5% Taino Bonds in December 2012, representing the first domestic placement by an international triple-A rated issuer in the Dominican Republic. Again in 2016, the IFC issued 6.5 year 8.75% Taino Bonds to assist the development of microenterprises. Other organizations and financial institutions, such as the Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC), have stated their intent to follow suit with future investments in Latin American and Caribbean nations, specifically in the environmental sector. Environmental entrepreneurs, such as those operating in sustainable agriculture, ecotourism, and renewable energy, can all have a positive impact on the environment. These businesses have an environmental focus incorporated into their business model, recognizing the severity of climate change, and have a desire to minimize the environmental effects associated with human activity.

Beach DR

The Dominican Republic, like man y developing countries, is extremely vulnerable to the effects of climate change. USAID’s Climate Change Vulnerability Assessment Report outlined the vulnerability of islands such as the Dominican Republic to climate change, serving as a warning for policy makers and the private sector that have historically neglected environmental considerations, especially in the business sector. The result of these impacts could have overwhelming effects on local populations and the international community. Hurricanes, for example, are expected to increase in the coming years as we have continued to witness in recent months. The journal, Nature, and the US Department of Energy further confirmed that stronger hurricanes in the Caribbean region are likely to grow even more intense as a result of global warming. As sea levels rise, areas that were once dry are now under water in the Dominican Republic and local fishermen observe the effects of climate change as they watch mangroves disappear and flooding increases. Additionally, inefficient farming practices throughout the country in relation to fertilizer usage affect the entire fishing industry as increased runoff into the waterway system kills coral reefs which protect smaller fish. Higher temperatures are also predicted in the Dominican Republic due to climate change and even the slightest changes in temperature could have drastic effects spanning across countless industries including but not limited to agriculture, energy, health, tourism, and infrastructure development.

Wind Farms DR

Fear not. It is not all doom and gloom. Impact investing provides a comprehensive solution to climate change. The businesses highlighted in my research include sustainable dairy, tilapia, and cacao businesses along with solar and wind farms. It is these types of businesses that have recognized a responsibility to maintain a balance in the ecosystem while not sacrificing financial gain. They are pioneers leading the way, carving in stone, shaping what will be the future of the business sector. For if we continue down the current destructive path, making investments with no consideration for social and environmental impact, we will truly become lost as a species. The world will survive, but it is our time to take responsibility and support these burgeoning businesses. The time is now to invest, impact invest.

Find out how here: Four Ways to Get Involved with Impact Investing

For investors, advisors, and fund managers: GIIN’s Impact Base