SVN Member Advancing Sustainable Cuban Economy
Eric Leenson says country has enormous potential to demonstrate what’s possible for sustainable development
Monday May 7, 2012 -- Camille Jensen
Social Venture Network (SVN) member Eric Leenson is among a consortium of people and organizations helping advance a sustainable, local economy in Cuba.
The founder of Sol Economics says the work that builds on his lifelong passion for Latin America and social business started nearly two years ago when he visited Havana to research socially responsible enterprise and encountered much local enthusiasm for the topic.
The timing was right, recalls Leenson, who says he and fellow SVN members had visited Cuba in the early 90s and found the country wasn’t ready or open to economic change.
But this time things were different. Leenson says Cuba’s economic difficulties along with the rapidly evolving policy landscape makes the adoption of social enterprise models particularly viable and, perhaps, even necessary. While much of the older generation is still loyal to communism, younger people especially want more and new opportunity.
Under the helm of President Raúl Castro, the Cuban government has begun to implement a multifaceted package of economic reforms transferring a large number of jobs from the public sector to newly-expanded private sector activities and decentralizing many national economic activities.
Simultaneously, the Cuban state continues to gradually increase the role of foreign direct investment within the framework of overall planning.
Given the period of immense change, Leenson says Cuba’s fate rests at a critical junction: a crossroads that if managed correctly can avoid the pitfalls experienced in other communist countries to become a beacon for what’s possible in designing a new economy.
“In the big scheme of things, I think that Cuba has enormous potential. It’s got incredibly well-educated population, probably the best educated population in Latin America. It has incredible social capital, (a) health-care system and it’s very well organized,” Leenson tells Sustainable Solutions.
“Cuba has the possibility of becoming an amazing experiment of scaling up this idea of a social solidarity economy in a way that we don’t have in other places.”
Leenson is playing a critical role in seeing this come to fruition, helping organize a consortium of Cuban and international organizations discussing the potential for Cuba creating socially responsible enterprise, which includes social enterprises, co-operatives and corporate social responsibility initiatives on the part of foreign investors.
In less than a year, the group, which includes AVINA Foundation, the National Association of Economists and Accountants, and the Center for the Study of the Cuban Economy has successfully helped organize meetings with Latin American leaders in the field, co-sponsored visits of a Cuban delegation to Brazil, and convened a broad cross-section of Cuban and international actors for a historic conference in Havana.
Leenson says the events are translating into actionable plans by influential actors on the island, including the creation of a multi-institutional Cuban working group and plans to hold follow-up events in 2012.
“I am very pleased with the possibility,” says Leenson.
To learn more about socially responsible enterprise and local development in Cuba, click here.