Democratizing development: Inequality in Latin America

Global Leadership Roundtable

São Paulo, Brazil

November 2023

In partnership with the HBS Latin America Research Center

Video thumbnail

Welcome | Bienvenido | Bem-vindo!

Latin America has experienced remarkable economic growth in recent decades. Many of its key economies have been transformed, and numerous companies have become global industry leaders. Despite this significant wealth generation, the region still struggles with "inequality of opportunity," in which individuals and families face barriers beyond their control, preventing them from improving their circumstances.

Government policies to address these inequalities have varied widely, from Chile’s Chicago School model to Venezuela’s socialism, but none have proven fully successful. Businesses traditionally have focused on investing, innovating, and creating wealth.

Recently, however, there has been a growing call for business leaders to take a more active role in creating an economic system that works for everyone. In November 2023, the Institute for Business in Global Society (BiGS) partnered with the Harvard Business School Latin America Research Center to convene leaders from across the region to discuss the role of business in addressing inequality. Seventy executives from industry, academia, government, and the nonprofit sector, along with nine Harvard faculty members, met in São Paulo, Brazil, to explore actionable measures that Latin American enterprises can take to drive inclusive prosperity and upward mobility.

Learning resources

At BiGS, we want to make resources and learning materials accessible regardless of your location. In this section, you will find key reading materials from the HBS BiGS 2023 Global Leadership Roundtable in Latin America, case studies, videos, and more.

Roundtable report

Democratizing development: How business can accelerate economic mobility

This report details a BiGS 2023 Global Leadership Roundtable in Latin America event focused on the appropriate and feasible role that private firms can play in addressing persistently high levels of economic inequality in Latin America.

SP report mock-up

BiGS Voices: Latin America

Dive into the heart of Latin American business with #BiGSVoices. This compelling interview series brings you the perspectives of global leaders whose values are consistent with the mission of HBS BiGS.

Tune in to hear insightful conversations with CEOs from across the region about businesses' pivotal role in addressing economic inequality in Latin America.

Businesses taking action

Leading businesses in Latin America are pioneering initiatives that advance economic equity. This video highlights key actions by these companies to promote economic mobility and offers valuable insights for CEOs and business leaders who are passionate about fostering economic equality. Watch the video to learn more about these inspiring efforts and how they shape a more equitable future.


Carlos Danel, chairman of Gentera and cofounder of Compartamos Banco

Carla Sarni, CEO of SaluS Participações

Woods Staton, executive chairman of Arcos Dorados

Video thumbnail

Background report: Inequality in Latin America

This report provides an overview of the persistent inequalities that exist in Latin America. It was provided to attendees of the BiGS 2023 Global Leadership Roundtable in São Paulo, Brazil, as pre-reading for the event.

  • Cover of Sao Paulo Pre-Read Report

    Inequality in Latin America

    This report examines persistent inequalities in Latin America, exploring their historical roots and socioeconomic impacts. The report discusses how these disparities affect education, labor markets, and government policies, and suggests approaches for businesses to address these issues.

  • Cover for the pre-read report in Spanish

    La Desigualdad en América Latina

    Este informe examina las desigualdades persistentes en América Latina, explorando sus raíces históricas y sus impactos socioeconómicos. Discute cómo estas disparidades afectan la educación, los mercados laborales y las políticas, sugiriendo roles para las empresas en la resolución de estos problemas.

  • Cover for the LatAm report in Portuguese

    A Democratização do Desenvolvimento: A Desigualdade na América Latina

    Este relatório examina as desigualdades persistentes na América Latina, explorando suas raízes históricas e impactos socioeconômicos. Discute como essas disparidades afetam a educação, os mercados de trabalho e as políticas públicas, sugerindo papéis para as empresas na resolução desses problemas.

Case studies

Participants at the BiGS 2023 Global Leadership Roundtable in Latin America used these three case studies to debate business's role in addressing economic inequality.

  • Beyond the Barricades: Chile (2023)

    By: Debora Spar, Willis Emmons, Leonard A. Schlesinger, and Ruth Costas.

    Chile, often considered among Latin America's greatest economic success stories, suffered a shocking wave of protests in October 2019, as its citizens demanded reforms across healthcare and education systems, and protested inequality and rising costs of living. Although business drove growth, it was also the sector that had escaped the troubles that beset so many other parts of the country. Moreover, Chile´s economic performance in 2022 was lackluster. What had gone amiss with one of Latin America’s most successful economies? And who had the power, and responsibility, to make changes?

  • Botswana: A Diamond in the Rough (2005)

    By: Laura Alfaro, Debora L. Spar, Faheen Allibhoy, and Vinati Dev.

    In the years since independence, tiny, landlocked Botswana has gone from being one of the world's poorest nations to becoming a stable, prosperous state, blessed with the highest sustained growth rate in the world. This case highlights the role that foreign direct investment (FDI) has played in this success, as well as how strong local institutions have helped to harness the benefits that the foreign investor--here, the giant De Beers company--has brought. Also, examines how Botswana was able to avoid the natural resource curse that has haunted so many other resource-abundant countries.

  • House of Tata: Acquiring a Global Footprint (2009)

    By: Tarun Khanna, Krishna G. Palepu, and Richard Bullock.

    Chronicles the globalization of the Tata Group, one of India's largest business groups. Since 2000, many Tata Group operating companies have aggressively built international businesses, particularly through overseas acquisitions. After describing the globalization rationales and approaches of the major Tata Group companies, the case asks students to consider whether Tata Motors should pursue the acquisition of the Jaguar and Land Rover brands owned by US-based Ford Motor Company.

  • The Globe: Segmenting the Base of the Pyramid (2011)

    By: V. Kasturi Rangan, Michael Chu, and Djordjija Petkoski.

    The bottom of the economic pyramid is a risky place for business, but decent profits can be made there if companies link their financial success with their constituencies’ well-being. To do that effectively, you must understand the nuances of people’s daily lives, say Rangan and Chu, of Harvard Business School, and Petkoski, of the World Bank.