There are few areas of the world that have been hit harder by the pandemic than Latin America. Despite having less than 10% of the world’s population, the region has accounted for about 30% of COVID-19 deaths. According to the Atlantic Council, Latin America’s economies have contracted more than any period in the last 200 years, with 31 million people losing full-time jobs and some 44 million falling into poverty.

Now, as Latin America begins the long road to its social and economic recoveries, the market expects a new wave of public and private investment to upgrade the region’s infrastructure and kickstart growth and employment. As the recovery gets underway, it is vital that there is a greater emphasis on environmental, social and corporate governance standards, which not only will help prevent past mistakes, but are also proven business practices with a long-lasting impact.

The pandemic has fundamentally changed the way we use data and telecom services, from work from home to shopping for basic goods to distance learning. Before COVID-19, a growing middle class was already driving increases in data consumption. When the pandemic hit, access to data at home went from a luxury to an essential, and the telecoms industry had to adjust – providing more capacity to residential areas than business districts.

With 114 million children still out of the classroom, adequate coverage means the difference between staying on track and falling behind, especially for disadvantaged families. There’s a natural tendency to want to rush the process, but carriers and tower companies with history and experience in the region understand that cutting corners won’t pay off in the long term.

A major reason Latin America has historically lagged behind other regions in data consumption is related to the slow penetration of wireless bandwidth, as many communities receive poor coverage from carriers due to untimely capex deployment – which is one of the impacts of financing decisions being made in faraway boardrooms as opposed to local providers with knowledge of the market.

When Latin American firms partner with communities to develop telecoms infrastructure, the results are both more efficient and more sustainable. Moreover, strong ESG practices aren’t just box-ticking exercises; a focus on the social impact of tower development must inform the entire process to yield the best results.

The first step in any successful engagement with a given municipality is addressing concerns unique to that community. Many cities and towns worry that towers will ruin public spaces or spread diseases––a worry exacerbated by the deluge of misinformation around the coronavirus. Approaching these apprehensions with empathy and integrity is vital to generating community buy-in, as is demonstrating how a tower can add value, rather than detract from public spaces.

Terra Towers and its subsidiaries are proud to have found success in partnering with municipalities to build towers with security cameras and loudspeakers operated by local governments and law enforcement to help reduce crime in public spaces. The initiative has delivered demonstrable impact––for example, Mexico, Guatemala saw a 50% drop in robberies and homicides, and Neiva, Colombia saw a 20% drop in violent crime and a 50% drop in crime overall. Working closely with local officials also allows us to cost-effectively acquire space and deploy towers faster than anyone else, allowing more families to consume data.

Despite the clear benefits of an ESG-oriented approach, it requires local expertise and relationships built on trust––and not everyone is willing to put in the work. Local firms are often under threat from outside actors focused on short-term returns over long-term growth.

In recent years, private equity has aggressively moved into the Latin American telecommunications sector, a trend that is expected to continue, especially considering the capital-intensive rollout of 5G technology. But with this wave of financing come high demands to find margins in every available corner of the business – which unfortunately usually means labor, local contractors, quality of materials, and issues of public safety.

The private equity squeeze is something our company is intimately familiar with. A recent dispute filed in the Florida courts by Terra Towers against Torrecom Partners accuses the minority shareholders of Continental Towers, the private equity firm Peppertree Capital Management andGoldman Sachs,of attempting to stage-manage a squeeze-out merger by systematically blocking growth opportunities, including an agreement with Telefónica to build 200 towers in Guatemala and Nicaragua. That’s 200 communities––families struggling to get by amid the pandemic, kids trying to go to school from home––that could have had access to coverage, reduced crime rates and more local jobs with fair pay.

Worse still, when private equity firms engage in these aggressive and unethical plays to force out their partners, they are risking the assets of their limited partners without disclosing those risks.

Recovering from the pandemic will take years––especially in Latin America, which has been devastated by COVID-19. As the telecoms industry works to ramp up tower infrastructure and increase coverage in the region, we must shift our perspective toward the big picture. If we allow cash grabs and short-term myopia to prevent sustainable development in telecommunications, we risk holding the region back from a recovery it desperately needs.

Enrique Canton is an executive and spokesperson at Terra Towers, Corp., a privately held firm with 20 years of experience building more than 5,000 towers across numerous global markets.