"Latinos - the Net and Globalization"

Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC)
The Role of Hispanics in Globalization Business Forum

Washington, DC

Giselle Fernandez,
Business Woman
Television Broadcaster

September 29, 2000



Buenas tardes everyone - Good afternoon.

Imagine this -- a young child in Mexico is able to switch on his hand held video game and after a couple of seconds gets a message back from a kid in the U.S. who asks, "Can I join in?" And with a click of the "yes" button, they can start playing together as if they are in the same room.

No language barriers. No borders. Two kids from across the world united like brothers by the universal language of technology. All they need is that all access pass to globalization -- which is just another word for a world without borders.

In another window -- into Peru, a circle of Incas women artisans may never have stepped foot outside their pueblos but they are selling their wares world wide on the Internet and bettering their lives. It's a win/win. The world also learns about an amazing ancient culture.

In an even larger window -- take a look at the hip U.S. owned Nickelodeon now penetrating Latin America's lucrative entertainment market in Brazil.

Or better yet -- the Atlanta based BellSouth pumping $1.5- billion into Venezuela's Telcel, the regions largest cell phone company. Or how Spain's flagship internet venture Terra.com who recently acquired the 4th largest U.S. portal Lycos.com for $12.5-billion.

It is so clear that Hispanics in every corner of the globe, whether from a village, a big city, a mom and pop shop or a huge conglomerate, we are no doubt at the forefront of this amazing high tech economic revolution.

The world over we are the hot market, whether in the U.S. or in Latin America, one thing's clear ... being brown now is thee toast of the town. Brown is thee new color of money.

I'm delighted to stand before you today as one small example of the amazing opportunities available today ... especially to Hispanics. We compete like never before, on a more level playing field ... with a field of dreams more expansive and inclusive and promising than ever before because of this wondrous web called the Internet.

If I am lucky, you know me from my nearly 15 years as a television journalist where my forte was always telling the big story from the human experience.

I always found that the best way to convey a big idea was to distill it down to the very core components that comprise the whole picture. The spokes that make up the wheel. The human beings who log-on ... connect with others and weave a web.

When you describe this high tech embrace this way, it's so ironic that there are any in our community who would fear the Internet and all it promises.

Our very culture is centered around connecting with others ... building relationships ... doing all we can to build better our lives and those of our children.

There is no other community that can humanize the World Wide Web or embrace all its offerings like we can. For us, its simply about remembering that this big word called globalization all begins with a finger on a key ... a face and a screen ... in a village, in your home, at your office.

From wherever you are, no matter the color of your skin or what neighborhood you come from, you have the world at your fingertips.

I explained it to my niece this way when she asked how the internet works...

I said, Mija -- when you are in your backyard holding your globo, your bright big balloon on a string, you know you hold the whole world in your hands right from where you stand.

The string, chula, is no different than the wires and pipes that interconnect us all to the real world ... a World Wide Web of dreams.

This is thee very image fueling Hispanics to log on faster than ever.

And it's our numbers that are so impressive. In the U.S. 37% of Hispanic households are on line. By 2003 there will be 31-million Internet users in Latin America, growing at almost 45% a year. E-commerce with Latin America will increase from $167-million in 1998 to over $8-billion by 2003.

This is driving big business to our doorstep begging for our business. What does globalization then mean for us? It means we hold the whole world in our hands. Finally, we've got 'em by the short and curly's. Now it's all about carpe diem ... seizing the day.

That is what my company SoyMujer.com (I am woman) is all about. It's a p-to-p. Heard that one yet?

It's a "path-to-profit." A path to the promise of a better life.

At Soymujer.com, we call it the great solution. The path-to-profit. The direct line to empowerment. All made possible by going global. My company targets the maverick Latina businesswoman in America. Why?

Because we Pica! It is the Latina who is the powerhouse in our community who holds the purse strings ... she is the very force who is brand loyal, who makes most of the economic decisions in our families. She is the force that drives our $400-billion dollar a year purchasing power and spends more than $200 dollars a month just on telecommunications services. You think that is something?

It is projected that the Hispanic purchasing power will grow to $650-billion by 2003 and by 2025 will reach $1-trillion.

It's the Latina who I am focusing on because of her amazing entrepreneurial energy, self reliance and tenacity to, despite all odds against her, take action to secure her own destiny.

With limited access to credit and investment capital to build a business, she is beating the odds and starting businesses 4 times faster than any other demographic.

The statistics tell it all.

Between 1987 and 1996 alone, the number of Latina owned businesses grew by 206% compared with 47% for all businesses, according to the National Foundation for Women's Business Owners.

Now that may only comprise a small 5% of all women owned businesses, but no group came close in growth rates, particularly in traditionally male dominated fields.

The number of Latina firms rose 428% in construction, 389% in agriculture and 338% in wholesale trade. Overall sales by Latina owned enterprises grew by 534% and employment by 487%.

And they call us a macho culture?

This is just the beginning. We're breaking our own paradigm. Working no longer comes with the same stigma it once did for Hispanic women. And while we still battle big problems with a rate of teen pregnancy and 3 times the high school drop out rate as whites, we are showing amazing potential.

Between 1973 and 1996, our drop out rate has declined from 55% to 33% and the number of Latinas holding bachelors degrees has gone up from 4% to 10%.

I am proud to be a part of such an amazing sisterhood working hard to secure better lives for our children and community.

I believe so much in her and our collective potential to transform and empower our community, that my company, SoyMujer, is specifically designed to erase the barriers that have held her back for so long.

We've identified the barriers.

The digital and credit divide that keep her from competing. The lack of access to education, training, technological assistance and corporate alliances that would help her to build a business beyond sole proprietorship. The lack of access to investment capital that would enable her to expand and go global.

SoyMujer erases these barriers by giving her direct access to capital through a network of powerful corporate partnerships and then giving her alliances with private and government investment capital tailor-made to accommodate her unique equity challenges.

We are building an impressive fund financed by some of the nation's leading Latina leaders across the nation with the express purpose of re-investing in our Latina start-ups and doing so with our own Tiffany designed criteria for collateral that is more pertinent to our experience.

Access to business acumen, computer and software training, credit building techniques and marketing strategies are some of the regular series of seminars that SoyMujer will soon offer, and is an extension to our on-line services delivered right into the target community ensuring that content leads to action.

Not only do we offer corporate America access to the quintessential opportunity to reach the most prominent Latinas and provide a unique link to the best and the brightest in our community, but SoyMujer also offers our members access to virtually unlimited goods and services at preferred rates. Everything from shipping costs, to preferred telephone rates, to business supplies and anything else that our Latina businesswomen use in their business lives.

It's not just making sure Hispanics have access to computers, SoyMujer is committed to building a Hispanic intellectual labor force. Right now, only 4% of Hispanics in the U.S. hold jobs in Internet technologies. It's not only imperative for our future, the economic future of this country depends on it. Already 60% of all jobs today require technical skills.

I am not just plugging my company -- although I do hope you will all log-on when I launch late in the 4th quarter.

You see, I really believe by targeting the barriers that keep us from competing, and eliminating them -- then we have every shot to go Global and transform not only our lives, but enrich the world we live in with our maverick contributions.

That's the beauty of globalization -- but you've got to first go local to go global. I believe we have to build from the inside out. Unless we have a firm foundation, we cannot be poised or positioned to take full advantage of this new economy which is our destiny, the destiny of all global citizens.

The Small Business Administration under the maverick leadership of Aida Alvarez, has tripled the number of loans to Hispanic businesses and has really helped more in our community than ever before.

But still, there are way too many who when reading the fine print are not eligible for SBA loans because they traditionally lack the equity and credit history required to qualify.

We could certainly learn a great deal from OPIC.

Under the impressive helm of George Munoz, OPIC has supported small, medium and large American businesses extending into some 140 developing nations and emerging markets around the world.

Investments of more than $121-billion which have in turn generated $58-billion in U.S. exports. This has helped to create 238,000 American jobs. OPIC knows that stabilizing foreign countries by investing in their economies only empowers our own by creating better trading partners.

That is also the solution at home ... SoyMujer's solution.

Imagine, with more than 30-million Hispanics in this country, a community poised to become the largest ethnic minority in the nation. Whose young demographics are logging-on in record numbers. What is possible? It's as unlimited as the potential of the Internet itself.

I am especially excited because of our connection to Mexico. Sixty-five percent of Hispanics in this country are of Mexican descent. Under the upcoming leadership of Vicente Fox, who embraces the wonder of the Internet and champions stronger ties and trade alliances with the U.S., borders are breaking down. The possibilities with our closest neighbor are thrilling.

In the same way, SoyMujer is building strategic partnerships with big business to create more opportunities for our communities. I'd like to see corporate America, private and government sectors also partner with us like never before. We can all learn from government agencies like HACR, who are doing just that to assure these high powered alliances.

It's not charity ... it's in our best interest. Economic growth in this country cannot be sustained any longer without us. We are a gold mine waiting to be mined.

This is why there is such a stampede racing to figure out how exactly to access us, and have an opportunity to do business with our market.

On-line the possibilities are staggering.

Forrester Research Inc. of Cambridge Massachusetts reports that 43% of us are now on-line, whether at home, school or work. And according to Forrester, this is just the beginning.

The numbers are said to be even more impressive in Latin America, where one study reports that the number of Internet users will reach 22-million in 2001 ... growing faster than anywhere else in the world.

But as you well know, trying to seize the day, not to mention, beat out U.S. giants from capitalizing on what should be our turf, is not as easy as just clicking "control, alt, delete."

One thing we've learned is that content alone is not king. Dot coms that one day gave birth to billion dollar babies are throwing the baby out with the bath water.

B-to-C's turned B-to-B's. It's as complicated as Shakespeare. But the question is not, "To be or not to be." IT'S HOW TO BE ... how to succeed. How to empower and turn a profit all at the same time is the mystery.

As yet, not even the big wig Latino-run Web sites have locked up the Hispanic market. In fact, not one yet has any profit to show for their efforts.

Even the most successful, Star Media, has lost at least $72.4-million on revenues of $7.3-million since its launch. QuePasa.com has lost at least $10.6 million on no revenue since its inception, leaving people to ask "que paso?"

What's the lesson?

We're still learning it. Ese es el chiste.

Here's what's clear, The "H" in Hispanic does not stand for homogenized. We are a complex and diverse community with unique cultural needs.

And because we are going where no one has gone before, we will have to listen very carefully to the voice of the customer ... as Kodak so poignantly reminds us to do if we are to "capture our moment."

But it's not so easy -- who we are is a mixed bag. The statistics alone offer a tough road map.

On the one hand, studies say we are logging-on like mad, while other studies warn of a dangerous digital divide that others still insist is just a digital lag.

Leading Latino researcher Dr. David Hayes Bautista from UCLA says the divide is a lot of hype ... that things are looking up because we are fast catching up.

This, while a report released by the U.S. Department of Commerce states that low income Hispanics have only a one in ten chance of being connected to the Internet and are falling dangerously behind.

Trying to make sense of our marketplace with all these conflicting mirrors is confusing. But as a journalist over the years, one powerful lesson I learned is that the truth has many faces. And that each face is as real and telling as the other. Each as important to understanding the full story.

All these differing statistics reflect a truth about who we are today. We are a growing middle class logging on in droves. We are also a burgeoning lower class desperate to not fall through the Net. Both are true mirrors. Both are true reflections.

Our challenge is to include us all in this big new global gateway to the future. Hispanic households still are only half as likely to own a computer as white households, and two and half times less likely to log-on.

Ultimately the place we carve out for ourselves will only be as strong as our weakest link.

But I must say ... I'm more hopeful than most.

I am, yes, troubled by today's divide ... but all indications show that nothing will stop this revolution from its inclusive huge embrace. There is no turning back. There is no locking the gates. It's just a matter of time and we're moving at warp speed.

I'm inspired alone by the incredible success stories despite low computer penetration, that shine like beacons for all and give us a glimpse into the future of what could be possible if more of us were wired in.

For example -- let 33 year old Miguel Rosa give you hope. Living in San Francisco, he created LatinoGear.com that he built from his basement and is now taking off. He says he grew up wearing Nikes and wanted to design something that spoke to him and motivated Latino's to embrace their own unique style. He sells his fashions on-line and contributes 2% of all his Internet sales to the Hispanic Community Foundation for educational scholarships.

It's the best of globalization -- access to compete on a level playing field. And opportunity to reinvest and empower your own community and the world with a proud and unique heritage.

The same examples can be found in Latin America, even though we are a very different marketplace. They too have profound and unique challenges to overcome.

At the core of these problems is an out dated and inflexible legal system that affects Internet access. So many not only need affordable computers, but intense training and education.

High telephone costs in Latin America are a critical problem and must be addressed soon.

That's why so many countries in the region are calling for de-regulation of the telcom industries. Mexico among them under pressure from the U.S. Government.

But even here there are impressive indications of what's possible when access extends to all.

A good example is the two year old financial service company, Patagon.com from Argentina, which was recently sold to the Spanish bank Santander for $700-million. A fledgling on-line firm full of twenty-something employees teaming with cash from major old guard investment institutions. This is the new face of business in Latin America.

On a different scale -- take Internet gift retailer elregalo.com and its partnership with Mexican retailing giant Grupo Gigante. They sell gift certificates on-line around the world. Their primary target is the money transfer market from the U.S. to Latin America. In 1999, U.S. Hispanics sent $10-billion back home. And it is projected that they will send over $40-billion in 2004.

There is so much opportunity.

Who better to meet our needs than those who want to empower our community as well as profit from it? That's doing well and good all at the same time. That is p-to-p ... the path-to-profit and the promise of a better life.

I close today by expressing the greatest hope I have felt for the future of our community, despite many of our on-line challenges.

I really believe it will be the Hispanic who knows best how to humanize this crazy, fast paced technology ... so we really can make it work for us and not divide us.

It's our nature. Building relationships, respecting multi- culturalism ... a diversity of languages and people. This is the kind of respect globalization must embrace.

I see the very make-up of computers with the same romanticism as I view all who make up its Web. From the inside out ... it all comes down to ones and zeroes.

It's the binary code of computers. Those gorgeous graphics or astounding technological twists that send e-mails, add up figures or display pictures ... they were all made possible by simple ones and zeros.

Just as our bodies are made up of a vast community of individual cells, the Internet is driven by individual ones and zeros. Individual little numbers that when working together make everything possible. Just like us on the Web.

To me, it's the perfect example of the power of the individual in this big idea of globalization in cyberspace.

So far, businesses trying to capitalize on the Web look at the world in terms of markets ... large groups of potential buyers. The Latino community is exactly that.

But we are so much more.

By losing sight of the individual, we are limiting our understanding of the potential, the prospects and the payoff.

We are legion. The one in the many. And there is real power in that reality. And it's that psychology that could empower the best of cyber business ... the best of a multi-cultural community.

I leave you with yet another image. My favorite...

Just as every constellation is made up of a vast swirl of stars, and those stars are made up of a vast swirl of individual molecules, and those molecules are made up of individual atoms ... so is our community and the on-line world made up of a huge number of individual people, each with a name and a dream. Ones and zeroes.

Show a man or woman the way to their own success and they will trail blaze a path so clear that generations will follow. Give them equal access to education, opportunity, training and technology ... they will seize the dream.

If we can help build that path with them, we will have those subsequent generations as business partners. We are legion. Ones and zeroes. Individuals, who at last with equal access can take charge of our own destiny. With the world at our fingertips, we all can be just a click away from making our dreams come true. Dreams as boundless as the Internet itself.

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Copyright © Giselle Fernandez - 2000
All rights reserved.