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Chile, Costa Rica Targeted for New U.S. Business Fellowship Program
Diplomatic Pouch / December 7, 2012

By Larry Luxner

Chile and Costa Rica, considered the two most competitive economies of Latin America, recently helped inaugurate the International Business Fellows Matching Program (IBFMP) — a new U.S. initiative to promote the exchange of ideas and best practices among the region’s small to medium-sized enterprises (SMEs).

Muni Figueres, Costa Rica’s ambassador to the United States, joined her Chilean counterpart, Felipe Bulnes, at his residence for the program’s Nov. 20 launch.

“This is a very joyous occasion in which there’s no complaining and no criticism,” said Figueres, eliciting laughter from the 30 or so dignitaries in the audience. These included Francisco J. Sánchez, U.S. undersecretary of commerce for international trade; Roberta Jacobson, assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere affairs, and Matthew Clausen, vice-president of Partners of the Americas.

“As we move further to expand our export base, we must put in place more effective policies to support entrepreneurship, develop small and medium-sized businesses and strengthen their export and investment capability,” said Figueres. “This program addresses precisely that. Ultimately, what we really want to do is generate opportunities for small and medium enterprises that will improve their prospects for participating in global value chains, which is the new order of the day.”

Under the IBFMP, 30 mid- to executive-level professionals from Costa Rica and Chile will be chosen through an open process by their respective governments and industries. Partners of the Americas will work with these professionals to find meaningful placements in U.S. businesses and organizations.

The six-week fellowships are aimed at helping Latin Americans better understand U.S. business practices in the area of value chains, procurement, manufacturing, marketing and management.

“For a small country like Costa Rica, which has moved a very far distance from exporting a few commodities in the early 1980s to its present state of exporting high-value added products and services, it’s crucial to develop domestic conditions that will bring in FDI, and to harness investment for sustainable development,” said Figueres.

“The International Business Fellows Matching Program offers a priceless opportunity for SMEs in both Chile and Costa Rica and will contribute to opening their horizons, expanding their knowledge and empowering them by sharing best practices with their counterparts in the United States. The added beauty of this program is the symmetry that’s going to come out of it. It will also offer American companies linkages to the Chilean and Costa Rican markets.”

Jacobson said the matching program is a tangible outcome of President Obama’s visit to Chile in March 2011.

“The idea is to focus on best practices, on what everyone does best, to build more inclusive societies. This is really what President Obama’s partnership for initiatives is all about,” she said. “It’s a race to the top, and we know we compete with each other to ensure our young people are as creative and empowered as they could be.”

Jacobson, whom we recently profiled (see “State Official Makes Her Mark On Rising Western Hemisphere, October 2012 issue of The Washington Diplomat) noted that only 2 percent of U.S. small businesses actually export, which translates into a “huge potential” for growth.

“Small businesses are often where the greatest number of jobs come from,” said Jacobson, the first woman ever to occupy this particular position at the State Department. “This matching program connects enterprises from across the hemisphere, mentoring and creating relationships that will last well beyond the six weeks of someone’s fellowship.”

Added Sánchez: “Good things happen when business leaders get the chance to exchange ideas. Businesses here are ready to share and learn. We are all ready to build on the great economic progress that has been made over the years in this region.”

Clausen, whose Partners of the Americas will run the program on a day-to-day basis, said his agency’s mission is to connect individuals, volunteers, institutions, businesses and communities, and “change lives” through lasting partnerships.

“We’ve seen the power of fellowships. Our experience with previous fellowship programs shows that well-matched exchanges yield impressive returns on investments,” he said. “I won’t be surprised if in five or 10 years we’ll be reflecting on how remarkably business partnerships have grown across the region. We’ve seen it happen before, and I have no doubt that now it’ll happen again.”

For more information on the program, visit www.partners.net.

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