Vera Kiss writes:

The Futures Company’s recently published Future Perspective “The Coming Decade for Latin America”  highlights that companies can effectively build opportunities in emerging Latam markets only if they understand regional diversity. As the report emphasises, Latin America is a region of contrasts, economically and culturally.

Solid growth and political stability have made many financially better off, with 40 million people rising from poverty to middle income status in Brazil alone.  More active social policy and increased support for education have also opened up opportunities for previously excluded social groups.

New language around ethnic diversity has emerged alongside these social transformations. If companies want to succeed in the region, they will increasingly have to understand the cultural impact of evolving identities.

The numbers about Latin America’s ethnic diversity are well known: Colombia and Mexico are both home to over 60 indigenous languages, Brazil has the largest population of people with black ancestry after Nigeria, (and the largest number of people of Japanese ancestry outside Japan) , and over 50% of Guatemala’s population belongs to its numerous indigenous groups.

Historically, most groups of non-European background tended to be poorer, and have been sidelined by the marketing efforts of many international companies. This will change as many groups move into higher income segments and have better access to education. For example, most Brazilian states now have affirmative action policies at their public universities. Alongside the expansion of scholarship programmes since the Lula presidency this has been important in broadening  educational access in a country where the income gap between college graduates and non-college graduates is three times the OECD average.

This trend also surfaces in the political and cultural sphere. Evo Morales is Bolivia’s first indigenous president, and the famous Afro-Peruvian singer Susana Baca was appointed last year as Peru’s Minister of Culture. The Afro-Brazilian percussion group Ile Aiye, known for its controversial policy of including only black musicians is now sponsored by the semi-public petrol company Petrobrás, bringing it into the mainstream.

Companies need to grasp the subtleties of this cultural transformation. Brands could easily be caught out if they fail to understand the diversity of Latin America’s people as much as that of its countries.

 

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