University hosts Concordia Americas Summit to foster social impact partnerships


The two-day conference — featuring University of Miami leaders, experts and students on engaging panels — explored topics ranging from COVID-19 to China’s influence on Latin America.

The Concordia Americas Summit – a two-day international forum that brings together cross-industry decision makers, changemakers and influencers to forge partnerships to address critical issues facing the Western Hemisphere – opened Wednesday at the Shalala Student Center at the University of Miami and continues Thursday with another full day of panels.

President Julio Frenk welcomed attendees along with Eduardo Padron, President Emeritus of Miami Dade College, and Matthew Swift, CEO and Co-Founder of Concordia.

“As technology makes the world smaller, collaboration becomes all the more vital,” said Frenk, who described the forum as “a meeting point for people, ideas, geographies and cultures.”

Frenk emphasized that current and former heads of state, business leaders, public servants, researchers and activists who attend the annual forum are rooted in a common bond and desire “to see this hemisphere reach its full potential.”

Swift expressed her gratitude to the University for bringing the rally back to Miami for the first time since 2016, when it launched as a regional event.

“There was a flexibility and a pragmatism in our partnership with the University which is incredible and frankly it needed more. It’s very impressive and incredibly important for Latin America,” Swift said. He highlighted the forum’s model which provides a space for leaders and decision-makers from the public and private sectors “to come together organically.”

A mid-morning panel moderated by Norma Kenyon, Vice President for Innovation and Chief Innovation Officer at the Miller School of Medicine, explored how public and private partnerships, such as building solar panels in the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, an isolated mountain range in northern Colombia, and another using garbage trucks to track and compile crime and transportation data – advancing environmental sustainability and energy projects clean while preserving respect for indigenous cultures.

In the session “China’s Growing Influence in South America,” political science professor and China scholar June Teufel Dreyer examined how China’s Belt and Road Initiative has produced mixed results . Dreyer pointed out that China has used investments in development projects to expand surveillance and intelligence gathering, such as in Venezuela with the “carnet de la patria” (an identification document that includes a personalized QR code), and she noted that Japan and Taiwan are also much more active in the region today.

Felicia Knaul, Director of the University’s Institute for Advanced Studies of the Americas and Hemispheric and Global Affairs, moderated a session on “Opportunities and Challenges in Health in the Western Hemisphere.”

Knaul, a health economist and expert on health systems in Latin America, pointed out that the COVID-19 pandemic has revealed huge health inequalities in the region and that women have borne the greatest burden to provide care for their families. She cited the need for the region to engage in cross-sector partnerships where healthcare organizations should work through community-based poverty programs to provide more effective service delivery to the poor.

Furthermore, she acknowledged that opportunities have arisen as a result of the pandemic, such as telehealth, and called for the expansion of these developments.

Knaul noted that the vast majority of those providing health care in the region, paid and unpaid, are women and that the persistence of this “underpaid, unrecognized and exploited” workforce is a major contributor to poverty in the region.

“There is a huge need to recognize the work done by these women and train them for paid work on how to care for patients, especially for the growing aging population in Latin America,” Knaul said.

Frenk moderated an afternoon session focused on lessons learned from the pandemic and what needs to be done before the next public health crisis.

“The world is at a crossroads and depending on the decisions we make now, we may either face another crisis and a long-term structural problem, or we may learn from the pandemic to build, not a new, but a normal better for the future,” the president said.

Jose Mas, CEO of Mastec, co-owner of the Inter Miami CF soccer team, and college administrator, hosted an afternoon session with four varsity student-athletes exploring how sports serve to build engagement young people.

Mas spoke with Demetrius Jackson, who earned undergraduate and graduate degrees and excelled on the football team; Debbie Ajagbe, an athletic star who recently earned her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in mechanical engineering; Lou Hedley, a fourth-year Australian masters student on the football team; and Croatian-born Karla Erjavec, who recently completed her undergraduate studies and is entering her final year of eligibility for the Canes women’s basketball team.

The student-athletes highlighted how playing sports, especially in college, has broadened their life goals and dreams and increased their potential to express themselves and advocate for others.

“As a woman of color, I used to be the only one in the room in STEM classes and in so many places,” Ajagbe said. “But here at the University, I am no longer the only one. And I learned to lean on others and start building community and using the people around me to lift me up – and to speak up not only for myself, but also to speak up for others.

Laurie Silvers, Chair of the University’s Board of Trustees, closed the day by offering an overview of sessions exploring the most pressing issues facing Latin America.

“A theme resonated throughout,” Silvers said. “The only way we can hope to secure a bright future for our region is to work together. I am encouraged by our experience today and hope you share the University’s commitment to working towards shared solutions.

Watch the Concordia Summit of the Americas live stream from anywhere in the world.


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