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R. Mendez: Address to World Summit 2013


PhotoPanama, a developing country with high economic growth rate and "a sea of opportunities" still faces the challenge of inequality where a large group of people live submerged in poverty. A lack of access to basic needs leads to frustration, violence, child labor, and association with criminal groups, especially dedicated to the sale and trafficking of drugs.

From my experience at Casa Esperanza, an NGO aimed at promoting development opportunities for families in extreme poverty and eliminate hazardous child labor, we realized that for a country to achieve real peace, freedom, and democracy we must eradicate poverty and the lack of education.

Our attention was focused during the 1990s on children and adolescents working in the streets and the fields. We soon realized that these children are the symptom of the reality of families and communities in poverty, lacking basic conditions, lacking access to quality education, and experiencing hostile human relationships that disintegrate families. Therefore, we developed a model of comprehensive care to influence the different components:

  • Family: Family Guidance and Family Income Generation
  • Child development: Education; Personal and Social Development; Sport, Recreation and Culture
  • Strengthening Protective Community Networks, and
  • Promoting more effective public policies.

As an NGO, we had the opportunity to develop successful methodologies that allowed children and their families to achieve new goals in life, especially in education.

NGOs can serve as laboratories for testing methodologies which then can be scaled up, but on the other hand, they have a limited scope for changing the wider social reality.

Hence I decided to opt for seeking a position that would allow me to exercise more leadership in social policy at the local (municipal) level, and today I am honored to be the mayor of the capital district of Panama City.

In the social field we give priority to the programs that benefit those who are most disadvantaged and give them access to the opportunities that the rapid growth and dynamic economy of Panama provides to its citizens. That is:

  • Employment counseling and connection with training courses.
  • Mobile medical clinics for primary health care
  • Campaigns against HIV, violence, and environmental degradation
  • Improving the quality of education for students through Internet access and tutoring
  • Child care in specialized centers
  • The promotion of healthy lifestyles by providing new and improved sports facilities and parks, and through the organization of sports and training activities (Metropolitan Games).

We have a great opportunity to reduce inequity if we maintain economic growth and if we all make a commitment -- the national government, city government, civil society, churches, and private sector. We can engage the entire population in this process, especially the poorest, because only this way will we bring peace and development.

General Context

Growth and inequality

  • Total population 3,504,483 (2010)
  • Sustained economic growth above 8% in the last three years (2009-2011)
  • Persistent inequality: 40% of families, with fewer resources, earned 10.4% of the total income; meanwhile the richest 10% accounted for 38.6% of the total income
  • Overall Poverty: 29.8% (2010)

For more information about World Summit 2013, click here.