Latin America is fast becoming one of the most interesting entrepreneurial environments in the world. With 8% of the world's population, even as recently as 2010 it was filing just 2.6% of the world's patent applications, but things are changing and innovation can be found in all corners.
Yet for most Latin Americans, this innovation cannot bear fruit, delivering greater prosperity in their everyday lives. This is because corruption and a lack of social mobility are still their reality. That is the conclusion of my recent study on the region using Prosperity Index data published in the European Scientific Journal.
Latin America and the Caribbean as a whole have seen great economic expansion in many sectors, with notable development in countries such as Brazil or Mexico. Entrepreneurship has witnessed great expansion as a result in part of a world phenomenon: the increase of mobile and internet communications. For every 100 people in the region there are 115 mobile phones, and countries like Panama rival with Finland in this account.
While the importance of entrepreneurship for economic development is widely acknowledged, lack of social mobility and inequality prevent the full fruition of its positive effects on society. The same is true for corruption. The importance of governance is clear even in the mobile phone and internet era.
Measurements of uneven economic development confirm the levels of inequality and lack of social mobility that the region is widely known for. Haiti, Bolivia and Paraguay are the 3rd, 5th and 9th most uneven countries in the 142 countries included in the Index. Chile, Paraguay and Panama show their levels actually increasing in 2014 compared with 2009.
People's perceptions of corruption have increased in countries such as El Salvador and Colombia, while Trinidad and Tobago and Jamaica present the highest levels of the region. While full democracies tend to do better on the whole - in Uruguay, only 47% see corruption as a widespread problem in the country, placing between Belgium and Japan in this measure -, corruption is still one of the biggest concerns for Latin Americans.
There are, of course, big disparities within the region. While some countries like Chile, Costa Rica or Uruguay are showing really encouraging signs of improvement in recent years, others are presenting grave signs of despair. Besides Haiti, which has had to face a long list of natural and man-made disasters, Venezuela is the least prosperous country in Latin America and the Caribbean. In fact, Venezuela is the country that has seen its prosperity decline the most globally, with issues across the board on the economy, governance, personal freedom and even social capital.
In spite of these disparities, analysing the Index reveals some overarching trends that need to be addressed by the countries in cooperation. Only with the implementation of anti-corruption and social mobility tools, can communications technology contribute for innovation, growth and prosperity.