The fundamental problem that Who’s Who Wiki addresses is the lack of transparency characterizing the Latin American private sector. This challenge – a formidable one, to be sure – lies in deeply rooted structural deficiencies that prevent societies in the region from consolidating democracy and sustaining development.
These institutional-political, socio-economic, and financial deficiencies date back to the conquista, but grew worse during the 1990s as neoliberal reforms failed to deliver on promises of regional development and economic growth. Instead, corruption and impunity belied free market reforms. The norm became to hand over state-owned enterprises to government cronies under monopoly conditions, which exacerbated a system characterized by elite control over public decision-making.
Crony capitalism, opaque business transactions, and impunity in the private sector ultimately impeded national and regional development. The rule of law and fledgling democratic mechanisms failed to check malfeasant corporations or balance the interests of corporate stakeholders. Instead, corporate malfeasance was foisted on society as a whole, mostly to the detriment of civil society. Lacking information about corporate practices and tools to expose them and insist on better ways of doing business, civil society was left to the mercy of unaccountable authorities and voluntary corporate action ... until now.
Who’s Who Wiki is an open data website combining business intelligence and transparency technology to democratize capitalism in Latin America. It provides communities and other corporate stakeholders with innovative information tools to compensate for structural shortcomings in the region. Reframing the issue of corporate accountability to focus on citizen-driven solutions, Who’s Who Wiki ensures access to symmetric information, furthers public understanding of the corporate social network, and allows for a more efficient allocation of investment capital, improved regulatory control, and increased availability of corporate data.
Who's Who Wiki has four main components: a relational database on corporate elites and companies, a wiki to empower diverse stakeholders, a visualization tool illuminating the corporate social network, and a secure digital drop box for whistleblowers. It also has three levels of innovation:
1) Its underlying concept of citizen-led corporate accountability is new, especially in Latin America;
2) Its unique data represents an unparalleled effort to understand the region’s private sector;
3) And the synergy generated by its technological components towards creating a widespread accountability movement is unmatched.
These innovations plus their relationship to PODER Mexico's three other core activities – strategic corporate research, civil society power building, and corporate engagement and accountability – distinguish us from a handful of groups working on corporate social responsibility in Latin America, albeit in very different ways.
PODER Mexico is a not-for-profit, non-governmental organization whose mission is to improve corporate transparency and accountability in Latin America and to strengthen civil society stakeholders of corporations as long-term accountability guarantors. We accomplish this by leveraging business intelligence, transparency technology, and community organizing to ultimately build a citizen-led corporate accountability movement.
Our Mexican office accompanies civil society groups in Latin America to build decision-making power and, ultimately, a citizen-led movement based on three pillars: 1) information about corporate practices, 2) technology to ensure symmetric information for all stakeholders, and 3) collective organizing strength. The fulcrum of our work is proprietary business intelligence focused on non-outsourceable industries and global cities, which comprise four strategic sectors: energy and extractive, infrastructure and transportation, heavy manufacturing, and finance. We channel information, know-how, and economic resources to civil society stakeholders located at strategic nodes in these four sectors where our work has the greatest long-term multiplier effect.
Our staff in Mexico represent a useful diversity of experiences, including business, economics, legal, journalism, social science, and tech expertise. Ben Cokelet, founder of PODER, tired of corruption and illegality thwarting human rights, leveraged 12 years of experience in the U.S. and Latin America as an advocate, trade union organizer, researcher, scholar, and social entrepreneur to reconceptualize corporate accountability as a citizen-led movement capable of achieving broad economic, environmental, and social impact. In 2009, PODER won the Stern Business School Social Venture Competition at New York University, where Ben was also a Catherine B. Reynolds Fellow in Social Entrepreneurship. In 2010 Ben and PODER also won Echoing Green and Ashoka fellowships.