Cancun_ygl_2008_109_2Last week I had the distinct pleasure of meeting Mexican President Felipe Calderon, along with his passionately engaged and intelligent First Lady Margarita Zavala, at the World Economic Forum, Latin America regional meeting in Cancun, Mexico, in a private Q & A session with many of my fellow Latin American YGL’s.

To say that I walked away impressed with President Calderon and First Lady Zavala would be an understatement. He is a man with a distinct and substantive vision for Mexico, which borders the United States, and the First Lady has the love and substance to support him it seems. A good team.

I spoke to them both about using the power of financial literacy to bring newfound relevancy to his education reform agenda in Mexico, and to use its power to create new tax payers and stakeholders in the Mexican economy and Mexican way of life. The President and First Lady agreed, and next we will discuss how Operation HOPE and the U.S. President’s Advisory Council on Financial Literacy, where I serve as chairman and vice chairman respectively, might assist them in achieving this.

Cancun_ygl_2008_115I firmly believe that the majority of Mexican citizens streaming into the United States are doing so simply to pursue a better way of life, and economic opportunity, for themselves and their families. And while law enforcement certainly has its place, it cannot stop illegal immigration alone (as U.S. Senator Ted Kennedy once famously said, "show me a 50 foot fence and I will show you a 51 foot ladder," or something to that effect). You need opportunity, in Mexico, to do that.  The power of financial literacy – teaching young people the language of money, putting this language into their DNA’s at a very early age, and teaching adults about silver rights, or how capitalism and free enterprise can work for them and empower them – can help to do that. Insuring that every Mexican citizen has financial literacy, a bank account, and access to capital, is a very powerful step in the right direction. Creating self-employment projects, and entrepreneurs, where jobs do not exist. Creating economic opportunity, right there at home, in Mexico. Everyone wins.

As I keep saying, right here in the United States, where 30% of all students are dropping out of high school, and 50-70% of inner city students are dropping out of high school, I say show kids how to get rich, legally. Make education not only important, but relevant, in and to their lives. Make it aspirational; a path to achieving their dreams, and you won’t be able to keep them AWAY from school. Now this is not a Mexican policy, or a U.S. policy, or a black or brown or white policy — it is a human policy. It is called hope, opportunity, and dignity too. A hand up, and not simply a hand out.

I agree with Mexican President Calderon, and U.S. President Bush, and former U.S. President Bill Clinton, when they have said, each in their own way, that "education is the ultimate poverty eradication tool." Because when you know better, you do better.

Mexico is a great country, and the Mexican people could not have been more gracious and welcoming to me while I was there. Thank you.

A special kudos and thanks to my fellow YGL Alejandro Ramirez Magana, CEO of Cinepolis in Mexico, who moderated the session with the President, doing a fabulous job, I might add.  And that’s my friend and fellow YGL Lorenzo Mendoza, pictured here with me and the First Lady. A thank you to Professor Klaus Schwab, who also traveled to be with us in Mexico, who is the chairman and founder of the World Economic Forum (a good man), as well as the fearless leader of the Forum of Young Global Leader community, David Aikman.

One. Meaning you and me.

Onward with HOPE,

John Hope Bryant

Founder, chairman and CEO, Operation HOPE and HOPE Global Initiatives

Vice chairman, U.S. President’s Advisory Council on Financial Literacy

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