With the major developed economies still anemic, 2011 saw again the developing world taking the lead in driving world economic growth.  Chinese demand and investment continued to push gains in Latin America and the world, even as Brazil passed Great Britain as the sixth largest economy.  Africa, long a bystander to economic progress, grew at a rate of 5% on average with some national economies doubling that figure.  The difference was stark.

 

2 011 was also a year of contradictory indicators.  A recent World Bank study shows poverty rates have fallen across the globe in the past two decades, already achieving the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) of halving poverty by 2015.  Another MDG met in 2011, according to the World Health Organization, is access to safe drinking water, which has reached 89% worldwide.  Literacy has surpassed 80%, and nearly 70% of the people in the world can now communicate by cell phone.  These are human achievements to celebrate.

But at the same time, global emissions of greenhouse gases also reached a record high, surpassing worst-case projections, even as pressure on natural resources and biodiversity increased.  With few exceptions, income inequality rose across the planet, as well as consumption rates of energy and non-renewable inputs.  Habitat and natural stocks continued to retreat and indicators show climate change is happening faster than even pessimistic estimates predicted.
 
And it is not just in nature that we see signs of imbalance.  Protesters took to the streets from North Africa to Moscow, from Chile to Wall Street.  Popular pressure to end dictatorship, or to expand access to opportunity, has breached the surface of our digital globalized world, where it can snowball unpredictably.   There is an underlying suspicion among many that the systems in place are entrenching the privilege of a few instead of advancing the common good, and that our children’s future is being mortgaged in the process.

In this context, one might ask, is it futile to speak of sustainability?  As the 20th anniversary of the 1992 United Nations Conference on the environment approaches, there is a growing perception that while we have advanced on several fronts, we have failed to make those advances sustainable.  We are not even sure what sustainable means anymore.  Is economic growth sustainable?  What global consumption levels can our natural systems support?  What development priorities are most urgent, and is development itself an outdated concept?  The one agenda item we seem to agree on is the need for change, but there is little agreement on what change should look like. With such fundamental disagreements, the UN will be hard pressed to show progress at the Rio +20 conference this year.
 
At Avina we anticipate that the next years will not resolve but rather intensify the contradictions we see today:  scarcity amidst apparent abundance, technological gains amidst loss of natural systems and biodiversity, more people connected and participating in the global dialogue even as narrow interests strive to increase their hold on power.  And around us, the planet is warming and we cannot predict how that will affect society and the natural systems that we rely on.  What can we do about it?
 
Plenty.  The challenges are complex. Solutions will have to involve diverse coalitions incorporating multiple perspectives and new agendas promoting innovation and uniting around shared goals.  We will have to learn new ways to work across borders and across sectors, seek common ground with opponents, and of course, we will have to adapt and find more effective ways to operate and do business.  These are precisely the areas where Avina and its allies put their best energy, and I am pleased to report that 2011 saw many advances, some of which you will find in this Annual Report.  I will briefly mention three which targeted global, regional and local bottlenecks.

It is clear that GDP is an insufficient gauge of a country’s wellbeing.  There is a broad international consensus that we need new measures of progress beyond the economic indicators nations use.  In 2011, several leading thinkers and institutions, including Avina, decided to provide alternatives.  The Global Social Progress Index (GSPI) is an attempt to meet the need for non-economic measures reflecting a broader understanding of human wellbeing, including indicators for health, security, education, knowledge, environment and opportunity.  The GSPI will identify where a country has achieved a high level of social progress and where action is needed to find new ways to solve persisting problems. It will improve the ability of leaders to focus their efforts and investments in the policy areas that will have the greatest contribution to improving lives sustainably.  The initial data set for the GSPI will be developed in 40 countries in 2012, and launched the following year.  Our goal is to help identify the right metrics, so that we can strive for the right things.

In 2011, human civilization crossed a threshold to become predominantly urban.  In the coming decades, our cities will add 3 billion new people even as the rural population begins to decline worldwide.  The cities we live in will either provide the solution to our sustainability, or represent its main obstacle.  Latin America is the most urban part of the developing world, currently 78% urban.  Avina is one of a group of organizations working to make Latin American cities part of the sustainability solution.  Our partners form a growing network of citizen movements in more than 60 cities across the region, from México to Argentina, all looking to build inclusive platforms for mobilizing diverse sectors of their communities.  The groups are actively defining quality of life indicators and goals to make city government participatory, transparent and accountable.  It was this type of citizen mobilization that succeeded in changing ordinances in Rio de Janeiro and Córdoba this past year.  The mayor’s office in these and other cities is now required to have an administrative plan with clear goals for monitoring performance.  Avina is committed to learning with the sustainable cities network, especially regarding how citizen action and involvement can lead to improved quality of life for all inhabitants.

Despite Latina America’s abundance of fresh water, the highest in the world, 50 million people in the region still lack access to clean drinking water.  It turns out that poor access has as much to do with social inequality as with hydrology.  Although access has been recognized as a basic human right by the UN, at least 40 million people in the region, mostly rural, provide their own drinking water and sanitation in the absence of public or private providers.  Despite their important role, these community management organizations often exist in a legal limbo, with little opportunity for improving infrastructure, providing training and securing financing.  That is why we were encouraged when six hundred community water leaders from 12 different Latin American countries met in Cusco in 2011 at the invitation of Avina and other partners.  The leaders shared their challenges and best practices, forming a regional network to provide mutual support and increase their visibility.  One of their aims is to become a recognized voice in water policy and decision-making in their countries of origin, to improve water services and extend their coverage to the thousands of hardest to reach communities on the continent.
 
These are but a few examples of how Latin Americans are working on the front line to build solutions to global, regional and local challenges.  The world is increasingly looking to the developing world for leadership and innovation, and at Avina we are convinced that Latin America has a vital role to play.  I am proud to chair the board of a Latin American foundation dedicated to the proposition that this region is capable of contributing sustainable models for improving well-being, both in the region and globally.  To be effective, we know we must join forces with a diverse coalition of individuals and institutions both within and outside the region, reaching across boundaries, sectors and cultures.
 
I would like to thank my fellow board members for their continuous role in building Avina as an institution.  I also want to recognize the Avina’s team across Latin America for their hard work, professionalism and heartening results.  Of course we accomplish nothing at Avina without the partners, allies and co-investors with whom we collaborate and learn.  We are honored to work with them.  And finally, I would like to offer our thanks to VIVA Trust for its ongoing support, and to our founder Stephan Schmidheiny for his commitment to Latin America and for the vision and values he instilled in our institution which guide us to this day.
 
Brizio Biondi-Morra
Chairman

 

Brizio Biondi-Morra

 

The world is increasingly looking to the developing world for leadership and innovation, and at Avina we are convinced that Latin America has a vital role to play.