Paul Vega

About Paul Vega

My name is Paul Vega - EAYLF alumnus of the inaugural Shanghai forum and the Munich forum. I am an entrepreneur based out of Manila, Philippines. I also spent 7 years with McKinsey in Manila, New York and Frankfurt. Prior to that, I was a private equity investor based out of London. Happy to share my thoughts and observations from our on-going country trip and forum in Argentina. The last time I was in Argentina was over 30 years ago - so much has changed. Stay tuned. Looking forward to your comments and postings. You can contact me also on paul@vega.org

Second Report from the Northwest Trip: Salta to Jujuy Province
Second Report from the Northwest Trip: Salta to Jujuy Province avatar

Second Report from the Northwest Trip

 by Nandani Lynton

Salta to Jujuy Province

San Salvador, the capital of Jujuy province, is a non-touristic town that gives a good view of local life in the Northwest. Like most towns we have seen it is built around a main square of trees and flowerbeds surrounding a hero’s statue, with the town hall on one side and the cathedral on the other. Narrow streets are lined with two and three storey buildings, some modern, many painted in different bright colours, and some in adobe. The sidewalks are full; people are out and about.

The street in San Salvador that houses the Fundacion Prosecto Ser clinic

Here we visited two NGOs. The first is Fundacion Prosecto Ser, which provides low cost health care. There is a free health system in Argentina but the waits at hospitals to see a doctor are long, often an entire day. The alternative is to visit a private doctor, but they in turn are expensive. So Prosecto Ser runs low cost clinics with doctors who volunteer their time. Patients pay the equivalent of €3 for an annual membership and then €1 to see a dentist, €3.50 to see a gynaecologist and so on. The clinic is small and clean. The income covers the costs of the clinic and (old) medical devices, which means that Prosecto Sec is self-sustaining.

A break for coffee to digest the NGO visits

The second NGO, ProYungas works to support biodiversity in the Yungas region in Salta and Jujuy provinces. In 2002 the Yungas, an area with various belts of forest, grasslands, lagoons and lakes, that are crucial as water reservoirs for local towns, was declared a UNESCO biosphere. Initially funded by the French foundation FFEM, ProYungas now has 3 offices and works to maintain the cultural and natural heritage of the region, especially focusing on biodiversity. This is tricky, as the agricultural industry, mostly soy or sugar plantations and logging, owns 80% of the land in the Yungas. The area has national, provincial, municipal, private, and other jurisdictions so the Foundation mediates between them and is proud of facilitating many cross-sector dialogues.

ProYungas’ motto is consensus over conflict, so they seek non-confrontative and non-militant methods, cooperating with other NGOs and local and indigenous communities.

The offices of ProYungas where we had an impressive presentation

ProYungas is financed through large international projects, through projects with companies such as Ledesma, a local sugar company, or multinationals such as Shell – that are related to the preservation of land and nature, and finally through local sponsorship for tiny projects. There is little government funding but recently there was some money allocated to protecting land. They are currently creating a product quality certification called Produktos Yungas, testifying to sustainable production of local textiles, honey, woods, and so on. Carrefour, for example, will be carrying firewood with this sustainability stamp. They are also working together with the European organizations Alliance and Planfinance that give microcredits to small producers. In addition, ProYungas publishes guides to biological and cultural diversity of the Yungas areas that are used in schools.

Other projects include mapping and managing the region spanning Argentina, Bolivia and Paraguay. ProYungas also manages the Provincial Park Portrero de Yala where it researches, puts up signage, builds fences to keep cattle of the indigenous populations out of some areas and takes an educational program into the schools. The park has boars, ocelots, pumas and rich birdlife but most of the animals are hard to spot. Conservation is difficult to make sustainable, hence attempts at money generators like the Produktos Yungos sustainable production certificate. Such a project costs Pesos 500,000 (about €100,000) for three years. ProYungas is now working to establish co-operations with organizations in France and Brazil for the long-term management of protected areas.

We left the NGO visits impressed with their commitment to the local communities but wondering what their existence says about civil society or the lack of it in Argentina. With a per capita GDP over USD 14,000, Argentina is richer than Turkey and has natural resources so why don’t they finance the maintenance of their forests? Part of the answer from the NGOs is the need to develop awareness of sustainability and the value of their environmental riches among the general population and government. These are some issues we expect will be discussed at the Forum in the coming days in Buenos Aires.

The trip was completed with a dinner and cultural performance in Salta – dinner for many being the grilled steaks to which we have become accustomed accompanied by impressive Gaucho dancing and a band. We turned up for the flight to Buenos Aires and the Forum lacking sleep but definitely full of impressions and memories.

Nandani Lynton

 

 

Quality Growth and the Pursuit of Happiness
Quality Growth and the Pursuit of Happiness avatar

Some Reflections from Day 1

First of all, it was great to see so many familiar faces, old friends, and fellow alumns of previous young leaders fora. Over the years, this has become one of the great benefits and pleasures of being part of the young leaders network. Kudos to everyone working hard in the background to make this all happen for us here in Buenos Aires!

I wanted to share my key takeaways from one of the afternoon roundtable sessions on the meaning and implications of “Quality Growth”, which also included a discussion on the importance of Happiness in society. As a former McKinsey colleague of mine recently joined the Kingdom of Bhutan’s very own Ministry of Happiness, I was keen to find out more on the topic during the roundtable discussion.

It was a candid and lively session hosted by Prof. Ming-Yu Cheng from Malaysia. She drew on her own research on this topic, including insights from her work with the World Economic Forum, to solicit additional inputs and perspectives.

“Quality Growth”

When I came across this term earlier this morning, it conjured up other oxymorons and euphemisms in my mind like “Quality Time” with family and friends, which should be a familiar concept for all us “busy people” attending the forum. Kidding aside, was “Quality Growth” – one that by some definitions also ensures sustainability, inclusiveness, equality, and happiness – even possible or just a pipe dream of rich(er) economies that could afford it?

Don’t get me wrong. On paper, Quality Growth of course makes sense. The pursuit of growth can’t just be about pure materialism in terms of bigger paychecks and bigger cars and bigger houses to match. I figure, if you uplifted China and India to the per capita energy consumption and industrial output levels of North America, we would soon have to find a new planet to live on. So is there a way to pursue some reasonable rate of economic growth while respecting the environment, basic human rights, and the overall pursuit of happiness?

The discussions came up with themes along the familiar lines of how to measure growth, what the reasonable growth rate would be, and if growth even made sense as a primary metric at all. After all, hasn’t the relentless focus on GDP growth fuelled the exploitation of natural resources and other factor inputs, especially in many developing countries? There are endless examples of deforestation, poisoned rivers, forced labor, and other man made disasters that underline this point.

However, the tradeoffs and values related to economic growth are often very contextual, especially when we look at it from a developing vs developed market perspective. What a developing economy might view as a legitimate and fair price to pay to drive growth, alleviate poverty, and ensure the basic survival of its citizens in many cases, will surely be viewed very differently in developed markets, where aspirations and ideals have gone way beyond serving the basic needs of society. You can say many things about China and it’s economic policy agenda, but by some measures there has also been no other country in history that has uplifted so many people from poverty within such a short time frame.

We have seen the opposing perspectives on “Quality Growth” most blatantly in the very closely linked and on-going debate on climate change and greenhouse gas emissions targets. Many developing economies view these proposed restrictions as outright efforts of the industrialized world to limit or deny their legitimate right to economic growth and undermine their competitiveness. After all, some might argue that it isn’t too long ago when industrializing and former colonial powers deployed the very same growth and expansion tactics that they frown upon today.  Of course, this is painting it a bit black and white, but there are clear polar opposites on the question of “Quality Growth”.

On top of that, it would also be foolish to put all developed countries into one bucket on this topic. The Rhineland-type social market economies of continental Europe are quite different from Anglo-American free market economies, and both camps would surely have very different definitions of “Quality Growth”, especially when it comes to the role of central government, regulation, taxation, and private sector target-setting. It’s hard to find consensus on this topic even among the league of advanced economies.

So at least in my mind, there is not yet a clear answer to the question of what “Quality Growth” really means, not to mention how to measure it. Far more experienced economists, researchers, and policy makers are working on the issue, as witnessed during the World Economic Forum. The best I layman answer I can offer at this stage is a somewhat unsatisfactory (and typical consultant’s) answer: “It depends”.

First posting from Salta, Argentina
First posting from Salta, Argentina avatar

Iguazu Falls - at the tri-nation border between Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay

Fellow Forum participants,

I wanted to get things started with a post on the road, as some of us have already hit the ground in Argentina. I am currently in Salta, a provincial capital in northern Argentina, along with other forum participants who joined the country pre-tour. Our diverse and fun group hails from Germany, Singapore, China, Malaysia, the Netherlands, and the Philippines.

It’s been a fascinating couple of days in the country, starting off with Buenos Aires, a quick flight over to Iguazu, and another flight to Salta. First impressions of Buenos Aires have been quite impressive – the energy and bustle of an emerging economy coupled with the old grandeur of a country with European heritage.

Having spent a full day exploring the city on my own, I was struck by the contrast between the glitzy new offices, condos and venues at the Port Madero waterfront (which remind me of the London Docklands and Canary Wharf) versus the leafy and posh neighborhood of Recoleta (which could easily be mistaken for streets on the Upper East Side or South Kensington). In any case, Buenos Aires promises to be a great venue for this year’s forum!

Our first stop took us to Iguazu Falls and National Park – recently voted as one of the world’s seven world wonders, and rightly so. Even those of us, who have had the chance to visit Niagara and Victoria Falls were awestruck by the forces of nature and the magnitude at display in Iguazu. Despite the aviation strike, rough weather and crowds, all of us agree that is was definitely worth the trek to get there. There is nothing quite like it.

Our second leg has taken us to Salta, one of the largest cities in northern Argentina. Using Salta as a base camp we explored the wonderful indigenous village of Purmamarca a few hours drive away, including the famous Cerro de Siete Colores, the Hill of the Seven Colors. Words cannot describe the landscape and the vast mountain ranges we crossed over the past 48 hours, including an ascent to over 4,000m above sea level and a stop at the Salinas salt lakes with their moon-like surface.

On the way back from Purmamarca, we also had a chance to visit an award-winning NGO engaged in community building work in Abra Pampa. The Asociación de Mujeres Warmi Sayajsuqno, founded by Ms. Rosario Quispe and a core group of perservering indigenous women, has sought to alleviate the challenges of high local unemployment, famine, and an exodus of the working men to the big cities. In addition, local industry appears to have caused contamination of soil and water, which poses severe health risks to the local population.

Through a combination of micro finance loans, skill and capability building, and job creation schemes linked to local cottage industries, the NGO has done a great deal to help the community. Against all odds, these women continue their daily struggle to make a difference for their families and community members. My hat goes off to them. Coming from a developing country myself, the Philippines, I can relate to the uphill battle they face against industry, government, and other vested interests.

Let me stop here for today. Stay tuned for more posts once we return to Buenos Aires. / Paul@Vega.org