In the midst of Mexico’s presidential election and the heated debate on who is the best candidate, we are reminded of the myopic and paternalistic view citizens still have of this emerging democracy. It is not uncommon to hear people saying they will vote for a candidate because he/she “is the one that will put an end to poverty” (or some other priority development issue) as if the responsibility and power to do so lies solely in an ever-powerful and almighty political leader.
My intention is not to undermine the role government plays in paving the way for development and growth through policies that promote and attract investment and catalyze job creation and opportunities for economic transformation. But the fact is that our political leaders cannot and will not do it alone. For this reason, it is comforting to learn that MIT’s Technology Review recently awarded and recognized 10 innovative young (under age 35) Mexican individuals whose ideas and creations provide a beacon of hope for the country’s future value development.
Mexico needs more people like José Manuel Aguilar from Monterrey, whose participation in developing procedures and a biotechnological platform to make H1N1 vaccines more readily available throughout the country helped stop an immeasurable amounts of deaths during the 2009 crisis. Or 31-year-old Ana Laborde, whose company has developed a patented bioplastic with 70 percent made from Agave waste (the plant used for Tequila manufacturing) and is 100 percent recyclable. Inventions like these are a challenge the country’s mentality of being a provider of raw materials with little added-value to industrialized nations.
Given the national scarcity for jobs, 29-year-old Rodrigo Martínez challenged the traditional recruitment processes and in 2010 launched Wowzer. This platform uses social media and multimedia components to push the boundaries of job creation by building bridges across talent. Another committed leader is Manuel Wiechers, a 25-year-old industrial engineer whose company, Iluméxico, is responsible for bringing electricity to over 4,000 people in 60 rural towns in Mexico thanks to Prometeo, an intelligent and renewable solar energy panel technology.
Mexico needs the innovative ideas of Javier Gomez, who at age 25 has developed affordable mobile technology to detect heart problems; and Damar López Arredondo whose work in transgenic farming significantly reduces the need for fertilizer use.
These and other young individuals (learn about them here) present inspiring stories of leadership. They are examples of committed Mexican nationals who in their journey for self and professional growth have found ways to contribute to society and give the country specific tools for future development. They provide proof that today and tomorrow, Mexico can abandon the simplistic idea of creating competitive advantage through low-wage manufacturing or natural resources. These 10 individuals create their competitive advantage from an abundance of another, more valuable resource: knowledge.
Does Mexico really want a president who promises to eliminate poverty by waving a magic wand (read their unrealistic proposals)? The answer should be no. I’m hopeful that the country would prefer to vote for a president who understands his/her role in ensuring the promotion of further innovation and development.
The country would benefit from a broader understanding of investment in education. This does not mean merely opening up more low-quality schools run by unionized teachers who fight performance evaluations, but by investing in high-quality upper-level education and creating an improved technical and engineering capability and skill-building mechanism.
A personal tribute to these young leaders and all value-creating citizens. And to MIT and its Technology Review affiliates and sponsors in Mexico (UNAM, BBVA Bancomer, Microsoft, CNN México and others), who by recognizing them with this prestigious award helps their work in the way that more Mexican institutions should.
*Arjan Shahani is a contributing blogger to AmericasQuarterly.org. He lives in Monterrey, Mexico, and is an MBA graduate from Thunderbird University and Tecnológico de Monterrey and a member of the International Advisory Board of Global Majority—an international non-profit organization dedicated to the promotion of non-violent conflict resolution.