It is often very difficult for workers to organize in Colombia because only a portion of them are legally allowed to do so. Often labor laws trump union rights, the union leaders said. It can also be flat-out dangerous to be involved with unions: According to one presenter, over the years this particular group has seen 25 of its members assassinated, 18 jailed and 7 driven from the country.
Escuela Nueva, where the conversation was more positive, focusing on successful improvements to education. Founder Vicky Colbert explained that much of the education NGO's philosophy has revolved around "learning for change" -- encouraging low-income areas to adopt modern pedagogical methods, such as collaborative learning and community engagement.
Latin America's education system is still very teacher-centric, Colbert said. A teacher from 100 years ago would not be lost in one of today's classrooms. But thanks to some simple tools, training and knowledge-sharing networks produced by Escuela Nueva, teachers are learning how to better serve their students.
|Jeff and Naveen with one of our dinner guests.|
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Dispatch from the social policy team
The day began at Hospital Universitario San Ignacio with a conversation about Colombia's health care delivery system with a professor of medicine. He criticized La Ley 100 because it deprioritized primary care services and public health interventions, resulting in a rise of communicable and chronic diseases. He explained how the incorporation of insurance companies using fee-for-service payment has led to the fragmentation of health care delivery. Insurance companies urge patients to pick and choose parts of their health care depending on which provider within their network provides a particular service (e.g. diagnostics, treatment, follow-up, rehabilitation, etc.) for a lower price, rejecting the idea of comprehensive, patient-centered health care which has proven to reduce costs by at least 20%.
When the conversation transitioned to a discussion about racial health disparities and diversity in the health care workforce, the doctor had less to say. However, he insisted that there was no discrimination against Afro-descendants in universities and that it was actually easier to get social services if one identified his/herself as a minority. To further his argument, he identified a medical student of African descent at the university who was especially "brilliant and interesting."
For lunch we made our way to the Office of the President to meet with the director of the Agency for the Reduction of Extreme Poverty which is housed in the Department of Social Prosperity. He described their innovative program Reunidos that combines social work, private-public partnerships, and social innovation initiatives to eradicate extreme poverty. When describing income generation activities geared toward Afro-descendants, he explained how Afro-descendants were especially talented in "culture and sports" in addition to other unnamed "industries".
Later that afternoon we made our way back to Pontificia Universidad Javeriana to meet with a professor of health policy and the former secretary of health in Bogotá. Though he is a medical doctor, he insists that his primary role in Colombia is as a social activist. He discussed Colombia's denial of racial discrimination and institutionalized racism in his personal and professional experiences. He discussed his efforts to improve primary care in Colombia and his research on social and environmental determinants of health. He has started projects that promote urban rejuvenation and "city health" in order to improve the living conditions of Colombia's poor as a means to improve their health status.
Dispatch from the human rights team
In a hectic day at the office, the human rights group met first with a Colombian NGO working primarily with the multisectoral issues surrounding displacement and the needs of displaced populations. The group's research suggests that a connection exists between military presence and displaced populations. Through the lens of human rights, the group has observed the disproportionate number of homicides, incidents of violence, and number of active paramilitary groups in departments most affected by displacement.
Dispatch from the security team
The security team began early by meeting with Fundacion Ideas para la Paz. Founded in 1998, the think tank is committed to monitoring conflict, negotiations, post-conflict, business sector, and security/police issues. This was a good opportunity for us to talk to two experts on the Bacrims. In our conversations with them, they discussed the origins of the Bacrims as they had evolved from the paramilitary groups in Colombia. They, too, referred to the Bacrims as neo-paramilitary groups because of much of the same leadership and membership in these older incarnations. Our hosts also reiterated the importance of the government addressing the Bacrims as well as the FARC.
|Our host at Corporation Arco Iris explains the origins of the Bacrim.|
Dispatch from the business and trade team
|The business and trade team at Fundacion Ideas para la Paz.|
Worker training in Colombia is unique in that the nation is conflict and post-conflict simultaneously. Thus, ex-combatants must be reintegrated into society so that they will not return to guerrilla warfare or coca farming. In training combatants companies also limit the amount of violence carried out in the communities where they are working. Ensuring human rights become good for business and not just a part of corporate social responsibility (CSR).
After meeting with the union with the larger group, we headed over in the rain to Proexport to meet with Camilo Andres Ayala Patino. Proexport falls under the Ministry of Commerce, Industry and Trade and has 24 international offices. The goal of the organization is to increase Colombian exports around the globe. In 2012 Proexport's focus is regionalization of trade. This will be accomplished by sharing information about international markets with businesses, offering export training and adapting Colombian businesses so that they can be successful in the international market.
Camilo stressed the importance of education for business owners. Once owners learn how to effectively package, brand, and prepare for international logistics, they can more successfully integrate into the global market. In the era of the Free Trade Agreement (FTA), successful market integration is especially important as companies with more exposure to international trade will be more successful in competing with global organizations.
After leaving Proexport we had time for a cup of coffee and then headed to Escuela Nueva to learn about the meaningful work being done by Vicky Colbert and teachers around the world. Our jam-packed day ended with a delicious dinner at Tabula with policy leaders. Whew! This is our last full day in Bogota. Tomorrow we will be heading to Cartagena. Stay tuned!