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Latin American Scholars Gain Leadership Advice

October 8, 2010

The recent financial crisis has made public service more important than ever, former Chilean President Ricardo Lagos told 40 university students visiting Brown University from across Latin America on Monday.

The Botín Scholars arrived over the weekend and attended a welcome event where Lagos spoke about public service and democracy as a Brown professor at large. They are part of a 10-week program, “Leadership, Liberal Arts and Public Service in Democracy’s Extension,” that seeks to generate a network of university students from the region who are committed to public service and reform of civic organizations. The program is led by Fundación Marcelino Botín, in association with the Watson Institute for International Studies and the Center for Latin American and Caribbean Studies at Brown. After a week of study at Brown, the Botín Scholars will travel to Spain.

“Through public service, you can return to society what society has been able to give to you,” proclaimed Lagos. He talked about challenges facing the next generation of public servants in Latin America, from income distribution to harnessing information technology to the rules and regulations of international labor.

Renowned for economic and social development in Chile, Lagos spoke about finding a balance between markets and policy.

“What is the relationship between state institution, market, and society?” Lagos asked the students. “In any democratic society, are markets alone going to shape our entire society?”

Lagos’s questions served as an appropriate introduction to the first week of the program, where students are engaging in intensive study to understand the value and impact of public service. They are attending lectures, completing coursework, and engaging in group activities that explore Latin American public service. Lectures and coursework draw from anthropology, economics, history, philosophy, political science, and sociology.

Botín and the Watson Institute complement each other well, said Watson Institute Director Michael Kennedy in his welcome address. Participants can experience a teaching style central to both and share in the commitment to determine how to improve policy outcomes and extend public engagement. 

“We can’t do this kind of work without extraordinary collaborations across the University and across the world,” Kennedy said. “We hope this program is meaningful for you this coming week and in the weeks ahead; we already know it is profoundly important for us.” Kennedy told students.    

The creation of public servants, “well prepared and committed to the goal of their countries’ development” is central to the program, Botín Director General Iñigo Sáenz de Miera said.

He emphasized that the strength and solidity of Latin American institutions is the first condition for the social, economic, and human development.

“I believe that this is very important for Latin America as a whole. I think that we are prepared to build an important resource to strengthen our public institutions,” he said of the new program.

Saenz de Miera suggested that it might seem strange to think that 40 students could achieve “such a task” but told students, “We think we have found talent, and we are betting on you.”

The 40 students were chosen from over 600 applicants. Ricardo Ortiz of Mexico City and Juan Pablo Saa of Santiago, Chile are two participants. Both find the program promising. 

Ortiz studies law in Mexico City and intends to pursue a political career. He was struck by Lagos’s role in the program.

“I admire him as an example to the rest of Latin America as the creator of the moderate left, something we had never had in our country,” said Ortiz.

Saa is in his fourth year of schooling for occupational therapy and intends to work in the public sector to provide better health care for citizens, especially those with disabilities. He sees strong bonds being formed among participants, even as they hail from different countries.

“We are feeling very comfortable with one another, and our relationships are growing quickly. We are all passionate about the same issues,” said Saa.

The interchange of ideas between the young Latin American scholars and Brown students and faculty is meant to form a solid platform for the remaining nine weeks.

Watson Institute Deputy Director Geoffrey S. Kirkman ’91, faculty coordinator of the program at Brown, summed it up this way: "This first cohort of Botín Scholars at Brown is truly an impressive group. I have been struck by their passion to give back to their countries and their shared dedication to a better future for Latin America. While there are many similarities among their perspectives across Latin America, they are learning just as much from their differences. It has been an intense first week for them, and they have risen to the challenge. As they leave Providence and head to Spain, we look forward to continuing to follow their exploration of public service and leadership as they blog on the Global Conversation."

By Watson Institute Student Rapporteur Brittaney Check ’12