Ask Bill Clinton: What Are the Countries Where Government and Business Best Cooperate for Social Change?

Former President Clinton on examples of cooperation from around the world
Photograph by Charlie Engman for Bloomberg Businessweek

Illustration by Jaci Kessler
John Chambers, chairman and CEO, Cisco Systems
Which developed or emerging country do you believe has the best model for governments and businesses working together to solve economic and social challenges? And what can leaders learn from this example that will help them drive growth while improving the lives of their citizens?”

There are lots of good examples. In Europe, Germany kept unemployment down after the financial crisis with a system that encourages employers not to lay people off and supplements the costs of keeping them on the job. Finland has made dramatic progress in its educational system. In Asia, Singapore’s government/business alliance has produced robust growth and visionary development, especially in biotechnology. And don’t forget that 6 of the 10 fastest-growing economies over the past decade are in Africa. Those that are doing best are moving forward on human and resource development, maximizing trade and investment, as well as more effective aid, and integrating the work of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) into their national development strategies.

In Latin America, Costa Rica has branded itself as the green economy of the future: 93 percent of its electricity is from renewable sources. Most of that is hydropower; ample geothermal and solar potential could make its energy generation 100 percent green. Twenty-six percent of its land is in national parks, and its forest cover increased from 41 percent to 52 percent over the last decade. Already its per capita income is more than twice the Central American average.

Mexico and Brazil have enjoyed robust growth and declining income inequality. In Mexico, large expansions of the university system produced more than 100,000 engineering graduates last year. And Mexico City has gone from being an environmental nightmare to a model of green development, with clean air, green buildings, and more tree cover. Latin American economies are expected to grow almost three times as fast as higher-income nations in 2015 while doing groundbreaking work on social and environmental issues.

Brazil’s success is rooted in having three effective presidents in a row whose policies led to robust growth and declining inequality. This was accomplished through empowerment of the poor, including paying the poorest families to send their children to school and for regular checkups. President Lula [da Silva] reduced rainforest destruction by 75 percent per year. For five years Brazil has used more cane ethanol than gasoline to power its cars, and its cities have been aggressive in seizing opportunities to adopt green technologies that promote both sustainability and growth.

In both Mexico and Brazil, there’s a very high level of cooperation between government and the private sector and NGOs. In Mexico, the Carlos Slim Foundation has financed the university education of 250,000 young Mexicans and is working with my foundation on innovative initiatives to empower farmers, fishermen, and women entrepreneurs in Colombia and Peru.

In 2011, I went to Manaus, on the edge of the Brazilian rainforest, to a conference to discuss how Brazil could get the energy its growing population and economy needed without destroying the rainforest and displacing tribal people who have lived there for thousands of years. The governor of Amazonas was there, along with the minister of the environment and the mayor of Manaus. Representatives from oil and electric companies and cane ethanol producers were there, but so were advocates for the native tribes and the rainforest. Everybody from right to left, from government to the private sector to the NGOs. They were all sitting around tables talking respectfully to each other about what to do about this problem. We all have to do more of that to tackle increasingly complex and interconnected problems.

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