Enduring Reform: Progressive Activism and Business Visions of Change in Latin America’s Democracies

Enduring Reform examines the connections between the new face of progressive, civil-society-based reform in Latin America and new kinds of openness to reform on the part of the private sector.  The project’s original and exciting contribution grows out of the interviews our authors have done with businesspeople in six Latin American cities where innovative reformist projects have been working on-the-ground for substantial periods of time. The six case studies analyze these striking examples of reform and show how, in a democratic context, businesspeople must grapple with and at times endure changes they do not welcome.

Enduring Reform documents a degree of business openness to progressive reform that would have been unthinkable before the 1990s in Latin America.  At the same time, we show clear limits to businesspeople’s acceptance of reforms produced by civil societies and governments in democratic contexts, limits that call into question expectations that democracy will diminish poverty and create more just societies.

Our cases include worker-owned factories in Buenos Aires, Argentina; participatory budgeting in Porto Alegre, Brazil; the Afro Reggae Cultural Group in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil; schools for indigenous adults in rural areas, Cochabamba, Bolivia; the new indigenous presence and indigenous organizations in San Cristóbal de las Casas, Mexico; and the ‘3 for 1’ migrant remittances program in Zacatecas, Mexico.

We show that the ways in which businesspeople perceive and understand reform shapes their responses as much or more than economic interests do.  This includes how reforms become visible to businesspeople, how reforms are represented and understood, the extent to which reforms are crafted using a business language, how elites characterize poor and marginalized people, and how businesspeople understand society and politics.

This knowledge about key economic actors in the current moment of globalization and financial crisis deepens our understanding of the dynamic of progressive reform as it plays out in particular sectors and locations across Latin America.

Analysis of the individual cases and comparative findings of the Enduring Reform Project will be presented in depth in the forthcoming book, Enduring Reform: Progressive Activism and Business Visions of Change in Latin America’s Democracies, Jeffrey Rubin and Vivienne Bennett, eds., Pennsylvania State University Press.

Project website:

Enduring Reform

The Enduring Reform Project is funded by The Open Society Institute, CURA, and California State University, San Marcos