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Latin America's Silicon Valley: That would be Colombia

Última actualización: 18 de junio de 2014
Última actualización: 18 de junio de 2014

Publicado 18 de Junio de 2014 en San Jose Mercury News

By Luis Carlos Villegas

Today, nearly half of the world lives in poverty, including nearly a quarter of Californians. The United States, like every nation, grapples with the challenge of income inequality. Colombia is no different.

But our use of technology to change the lives of millions of our citizens has the potential to transform the way the world thinks about lifting those in need out of poverty.

With a population of 47 million, Colombia is the third-largest country in Latin America and has the third-largest economy in South America. Once unimaginable, Colombia can now boast steady GDP growth of nearly 5 percent on average over the past few years and an unemployment rate that has decreased from 12 percent to just over 8 percent.

While Colombia's transformation has ushered in a new era of prosperity, poverty remains one of the most critical challenges we face.

Through a series of government actions, over the last decade the poverty rate in Colombia has decreased from 60 percent to 30 percent. Clearly, there has been progress, and we are currently unleashing one of the most innovative and scalable plans that could not only help reduce poverty in Colombia but the world over: Plan Vive Digital.

Launched in 2010, Plan Vive Digital is the most ambitious strategy ever implemented by the Colombian government in the information and communication technologies sector. While it is focused on accelerating Internet usage, including in remote regions, and expanding broadband connectivity, its primary aim is to reduce poverty and create jobs.

Since its implementation, Plan Vive Digital has increased broadband Internet connections from 2.2 million to 8.8 million. Household Internet penetration has grown from 17 percent to 50 percent, and Internet penetration in small businesses has grown from 7 percent to 60 percent. One hundred percent of the country's municipalities are connected with optical fiber, and in areas where fiber could not be deployed (such the middle of the Amazon jungle), they are connected with microwave technology. Colombia is also bringing Internet access to rural and remote communities through more than 7,000 Internet community centers called Kioskos Vive Digital.

In addition, the government is supporting more than 40,000 tech entrepreneurs through, an initiative to boost business creation with a focus on mobile applications, software and content. Another effort, a public-private partnership, aims to train 10,000 people in the development of applications for low-income citizens.

But the commitment of the Colombian government to reduce poverty goes far beyond our borders. There is a need to create innovative products and services for the very poor, not only in Colombia but across the globe. With this vision, the country is working to position itself as a laboratory for technology solutions and applications for the base of the pyramid -- know-how that can be exported to other nations facing similar challenges.

Leveraging top talent from U.S. technology companies, future innovation centers will build mobile apps on education, entrepreneurship, health and other basic services, all aimed at improving the lives of low-income citizens.

With Colombia's expertise as a platform, U.S. technology companies investing in Colombia, such as IBM, HP, Facebook, Microsoft and Google, would have the opportunity to gain further understanding of emerging markets, which is critical for international expansion.

A decade ago, if someone suggested that Colombia could be Latin America's Silicon Valley, few would have believed it. But today, Colombia is angling to become an incubator for innovation.

Luis Carlos Villegas is the Colombian Ambassador to the United States. He wrote this for this newspaper.

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