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Salsa Dancing into the Digital Economy

Colombia’s national soccer team famously taught the world how to properly celebrate a World Cup goal; now the nation is poised to teach the world a thing or two about innovation. In 2010, Colombia’s Ministry of Information Technologies and Communications (MinTIC) devised a plan to connect 27 million people, or more than half of its population, to the Internet by 2018. This plan, called Vive Digital, has had many accomplishments, which include increasing the number of Colombia’s Broadband Internet connections from 2.2 million to more than 8.2 million. In the past four years, the Colombian government has reduced the barriers for adoption of broadband technologies, efforts that brought computers and tablets to schools and created a robust network for digital entrepreneurs.  MinTIC has also poured investment into Internet infrastructure, and is in the process of extending fiber-optic Internet access to 96 percent of the country’s municipalities—many of which are isolated in remote areas.

The man behind these aggressive efforts is the minister of MinTIC, Diego Molano Vega.

Mr. Molano wants to solve what he says is his country’s most important problem: poverty. In an interview with the Washington Post, Mr. Molano claims that MinTIC’s policies have helped increase Colombian social mobility, raising over 2.5 million people out of poverty in just three years. He believes that increased Internet penetration has directly correlated to reduction of poverty.

In addition, the government has pushed for more affordable access to computers. This includes cutting import taxes on computing technology, and partnering with the private sector to assist individuals in purchasing their first computer. Mr. Molano claims that some of these technologies are offered for 10 percent cheaper than in the United States.

Now Colombia is making its pitch to the world: “we have competitive advantages in IT infrastructure, come bring our people the applications to use it.” Mr. Molano is hoping that by increasing the number of uses for the web he can increase adoption, which will beget a virtuous cycle of more uses and more adoption. An example of this is Cemex, a Mexican cement company, which Colombia offered monetary incentives to create a web interface that allowed small Colombian businesses to buy their cement online. Before the Internet, Cemex needed to send armored vehicles to collect money for many of its transactions. These new online applications allowed Colombian businesses to buy their cement online for reduced prices, ensured that Cemex would no longer have to go door-to-door collecting payments, and allowed the Colombian finance ministry to track (and tax) the transactions. In 2013, in part because of these efforts, Colombia saw a record $16.8 billion in foreign direct investment.

Other developing countries should look to Colombia and its efforts to expand connectivity, improve IT applications, and help expand its economy. The nation is a shining light in the region for innovation and growth. In four short years Colombia has done incredible things to improve its economy and its people’s well-being, and while it did not take the World Cup this year, just imagine where it might be for the next one.

Photo Credit: Flicker User Squiggle

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