March 20, 2018

Latin America Initiative Spearheads Georgetown’s Engagement in the Region

From 2016 to 2017, Georgetown advanced its engagement with Latin America through the Latin America Initiative (LAI), a university-wide platform that strengthened the university’s research, teaching, and dialogue with leaders from the public sector, business, civil society, and academy.

Supported through the generosity of the university’s Latin American Board, the LAI addressed three themes of critical importance to the region: governance and the rule of law, economic growth and innovation, and social and cultural inclusion. Activities included public events, faculty grants, and a student fellows program.

“The Latin American Initiative was an opportunity for us to articulate and commit to a vision for Latin America for the whole university,” said Father Matthew Carnes, S.J., director of Center for Latin American Studies (CLAS).

Expert Convenings

More than 20 public events addressed current and future challenges facing Latin America. Prominent leaders and practitioners visited Georgetown, such as Under Secretary for Political Affairs Thomas Shannon and Colombian Ambassador to the United States Juan Carlos Pinzón. The LAI also convened regional experts for topical conferences like “The Future of NAFTA and North American Economic Integration,” which explored new dynamics in U.S.-Mexico trade relations.

“These events allowed the world to become more aware of what Georgetown is working on in Latin America,” said Ricardo Ernst, managing director of the Latin American Board and professor in the McDonough School of Business. “They created moments that reflect on current and future issues surrounding the Latin America region.”

Faculty Research with Impact

The LAI awarded collaborative seed grants to Georgetown faculty working on critical issues in the region. Grants supported projects such as the Political Institutions and Law in the Americas database. Led by Diana Kapiszewski, an associate professor in the Department of Government, the database seeks to centralize intelligence-keeping regarding the region’s constitutions, codes, laws, and courts.

Vice President for Global Engagement Thomas Banchoff, whose office helped to coordinate the grants program, emphasized the importance of interdisciplinary collaboration.

“Georgetown faculty were already doing great research in Latin America,” he said. “The seed grants gave us the opportunity to foster important new projects and to deepen connections with scholars based in the region.”

Opportunities for Students

A key goal of the LAI was to involve the next generation of leaders with the university’s work in Latin America. Undergraduate and graduate student fellows were able to meet experts from across the hemisphere, assist with faculty research, develop their professional networks, and contribute to online forums.

“The LAI provided me opportunities to not only build my academic skills, but also to become friends with professors, staff, and other students from various programs,” said Tipaporn Attasivanon (G’19).

Christopher Valdes (G’19) had the opportunity to work with John Bailey, professor emeritus in the Department of Government, on a project that examines informal economies in Mexico and Colombia.

“Another LAI fellow and I were digging through databases, contacting government officials, and reporting our findings on a weekly basis,” said Valdes. “The fellowship was a great opportunity to gain research experience and work closely with a professor doing work in my field.” 

Building Lasting Partnerships

Through the impulses provided by the LAI, Georgetown’s outreach to the region continues to grow. The newly launched Georgetown and Latin America website will serve as an online hub for the university’s work in the region going forward.

According to Carnes, one positive legacy of the LAI is lasting partnerships across the university’s campuses and schools.

“There has never been a time where the communication between the School of Foreign Service, the School of Business, the College, and Law Center have been better aligned on Latin America,” he said. “I think what we’ve done is create a bigger space to operate, a networked space where people really understand and work well together.”