2008 was a year that reminded us of the critical moment in history that our generation occupies. The global financial crisis, as well as the energy and food crises, made painfully clear not only our interdependence but also the fragility of the global systems we rely on for trade and distribution of goods and services. Growing population and consumption have given us all a lesson in the economics of scarcity. And scarcity increases tension among competing interests. Most now agree that the international protocols and infrastructure of the twentieth century that still govern our global transactions will have to be reconfigured to better protect the planet and benefit its people. It is quite a challenge this generation faces, and Latin America is at the center of that challenge.

Latin America is blessed with formidable natural, economic and cultural wealth, which will make it a key player in emerging global realignments. In economic terms, few democratic countries have free-market economies of the size and diversity of Brazil and Mexico. With respect to public policy, a significant number of governments are testing new formulas that have the stated aim of increasing social benefits for long-excluded populations. The next round of post-Kyoto international talks will likely focus on adaptation in countries like Peru, where the effects of water scarcity due to climate change are already a reality, as well as avoided extraction and deforestation, especially in the nine South American countries of the Amazon basin.

From Mesoamerica to Patagonia, world economic instability has given new relevance to the role of civil society in bringing out the best and buffering the worst of business and government. Society is pressuring government to reinvent itself as an efficient and transparent instrument better able to represent collective interests. At the same time, business is challenged to build the economy of tomorrow on a foundation of ethics and innovation. The move toward greater corporate accountability and social responsibility over the past decade has matured into innovative capitalism that uses market tools to solve social problems, and inclusive business approaches that generate wealth for the underserved majority.

These are market opportunities that need to be pursued in a time of growing scarcity and instability. The question AVINA asks itself and its partners each day is how we can best use our human, financial and network resources to help tip the balance in favor of sustainability across the continent. That is why in the Paraguayan elections this April, AVINA, along with our partners and other institutions, contributed to creating the conditions for the fairest, freest and most transparent elections in Paraguay’s recent history. Similarly, as the threat of violence grew in Bolivia between a centralist government and separatist elements, AVINA and its diverse partner base mobilized en masse to promote dialog, respect and peaceful settlement of differences. In Ecuador, AVINA and its partners took advantage of the drafting of a new constitution to contribute concrete proposals developed in a participatory process, 80% of which were incorporated into the ratified document. In the Amazon basin, AVINA supported efforts of dozens of the region’s institutions to form alliances and common cause across sectors and international borders, even as deforestation rates spiked upward in Brazil and extractive industry tried to remove environmental safeguards in Peru. Meanwhile, AVINA collaborated with hundreds of waste picker cooperatives in eight countries of South and Central America in hosting an international recycling conference in Bogotá aimed at transforming the recycling industry, in Latin America and worldwide, into a more efficient instrument for the creation of environmental, economic and social benefits.

As AVINA enters its 15th year, the lessons learned are a source of renewed insights. We know now that AVINA, as one of the few independent Latin American institutions dedicated to the sustainable development of the continent, has a special responsibility to help identify the priorities facing the region, and to bring focus to the responses to key challenges.

Our original vision that placed leadership in a central role for change to occur has shown us over time how change that tips the balance can be developed. We have seen local leaders and institutions drive social transformation, especially when united by a common cause and operating across sectors and peer networks in an ethical way that builds trust and reciprocity – what some call social capital. Social capital – that mesh of relationships, trust and organizational platforms – allows people to reach agreement and work together more easily. It is a multiplier. AVINA has found that targeted investment in social capital is the most efficient investment we can make to manage continental challenges that demand scale, such as climate change, transparent government, and inclusive markets. In such discoveries, we are not alone.

In 2008 AVINA joined forces with other institutions in multi-year co-investments to promote several continental scale opportunities for change. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and AVINA are supporting the alliance of Latin American recycling cooperatives as they create thousands of jobs and improve conditions for workers and the families of waste pickers in six countries of South America. This agenda for joint action was designed directly by leaders from the recycling movement.

The Multilateral Investment Fund (FOMIN), the Social Development Ministry of Brazil, the Dutch cooperation agency ICCO, and partners from the private sector have come together with the Movimento Nacional de Catadores and AVINA to expand the competitiveness and community outreach of recycling cooperatives in five Brazilian urban centers. At the same time, the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) and AVINA are collaborating to launch the Latin American Donor Index, an innovative new database designed to promote and track the growth of philanthropy in Latin America. These and other institutional alliances demonstrate a conviction that to contribute to impact at a continental scale, donors must work together to coordinate support for shared agendas designed by leaders in the region.

AVINA would like to thank all those who provided feedback on last year’s Annual Report. As this was generally positive, we have maintained the same format this year, providing an account of our achievements and brief descriptions of important results, offering an explanation of strategies for change within the continent, transparent feedback measures for our stakeholders, and videos on the work of our partners. Embracing the digital age, we are presenting this year’s report solely online. Through Internet publication we can reach a wider audience, offer multimedia content, and contribute to sustainability by, among other things, conserving trees and reducing carbon dioxide emissions during paper production.

AVINA is aware that the contributions we are able to make are possible due to three key assets: the leadership of a community of key partners and allied institutions, the dedication of the members of the AVINA team, and the financial commitment of the VIVA Trust to our mission. We want to thank all of these key stakeholders for helping us reach our impact and performance goals for 2008!

Early in 2008, AVINA held its first ever Plenary Meeting in the Brazilian city of Curitiba. Our entire team attended and actively participated, and also benefited from the presence of the AVINA Board, the presidents of VIVA Trust and GrupoNueva, and the virtual participation of our visionary Founder Stephan Schmidheiny. On this occasion we focused on establishing a set of ambitious but achievable five -year institutional objectives, the first being a measurable contribution to at least 10 relevant changes of continental scale by the end of 2012. The very real challenges that our partners and their communities face every day demand no less, and the initial progress over the course of the year has been promising. The future will require that we keep raising the bar. We have tried to capture some of that progress and promise in AVINA’s 2008 Annual Report, and are pleased to share it with all those who, like AVINA and its partners, are committed to a sustainable vision for Latin America.

Brizio Biondi-Morra