More Inclusion for Latin American Ethnic Populations

January 24, 2023

About 30% of the people in Latin America and the Caribbean recognize themselves as of ethnic background. Most of them live in urban centers (80% of Afro-Latinos and 50% of indigenous people), with a marked presence in poor neighborhoods, favelas, “villas” or other marginal areas, and—as a collective—hold unfavorable positions in most socioeconomic rankings.


For example, 17 percent of people living in extreme poverty are indigenous; 13% of Afro-descendants are unemployed and continue to be 2.5 times more likely to live in extreme poverty (likelihood increases to 16% in rural households); almost 4.5 million black women work as household workers (around 30 percent of the total); and their income is on average 25% less than that of the rest of the population.

This reality compels us to find answers that can help ethnic populations play a more pivotal role in productive development, economic growth, digital transformation, entrepreneurship, job creation and, ultimately, all challenges facing modern societies.

The structural causes of these unfavorable conditions in which ethnic populations currently live are not easy to reverse, nor will we be able to address them without inter-sectoral collaboration between government agencies, civil society and the multilateral sector. This path involves learning from successful experiences of other regions, expanding spaces for discussion and collaboration between countries, and strengthening institutions and their programs.

There are several actions underway in various sectors to close the ethnic-urban gap. In Uruguay, for instance, black women cooperatives (UFAMA) of Montevideo are promoting the advancement of housing as a response to the housing issues of Afro-descendant families. In Brazil, technology-based entrepreneurship initiatives supported by Google through its Black Founder Fund are addressing discriminatory barriers to access to credit and investment in black people initiatives. In Colombia, the “Visible Talent” initiative was recently conceived to promote the participation of Afro-Colombians and indigenous people in leadership positions in the public and private sector.

At CAF—development bank of Latin America—, we are also doing our bit.  In Colombia, we are working together with the “Afro Colombia Mission” to devise recommendations and proposals for intervention for the economy, research of the environmental offer, knowledge of the cultural expression of Afro-Colombians and their governance and institutions. One of the most important areas deals with urban environments, their infrastructure, equipment and governance, especially in the Colombian Pacific (Buenaventura, Tumaco and Quibdó). These initiatives will be crucial to boost and promote development policies with territorial ethnic identity and thus overcome the historical gaps that have hindered the aspirations for progress of groups of African descent.

The Colombia Prosperity Fund is another action aimed at closing the socioeconomic gaps of ethnic-racial populations. It is a USD 1.2 billion credit facility to promote sustainable development projects in the regions of the Pacific, the Caribbean and the Santander departments. Professor Jeffrey Sachs recently described it as an innovative effort to promote community-based development, which prompted him to get involved in the design and support of sustainable initiatives for Afro-Colombian municipalities.  

An important challenge in Latin America and the Caribbean is to design territorial planning policies with an urban perspective that consider the new realities of ethnic populations, that understand their potential in the sustainability of urban life and that promote interventions that dignify the environments with greatest concentration of Afro-descendants and indigenous people in urban contexts.

Ana María Baiardi
Ana María Baiardi

Gerenta de Género, Inclusión y Diversidad, CAF -banco de desarrollo de América Latina y el Caribe-

Eddy Marcelin
Eddy Marcelin

Coordinador de Diversidad Étnico-Racial, CAF -banco de desarrollo de América Latina-