Why coffee farmers need tablets: What we can learn from Colombia’s digital economy strategy

Canadians have been watching and waiting for a digital economy strategy from the federal government since former Industry Minister Christian Paradis promised one in 2010. Three years later and with a new Industry Minister at the helm in James Moore, there’s still nothing to be seen.

Despite calls for a clear strategy from the government, no clear document has been released detailing a digital economy strategy. Meanwhile emerging markets, such as Latin America, are leading the way and showing how Canada should encourage entrepreneurs to stay at home and create lasting legacies. In Colombia, the federal government is investing $12.5 billion USD in the ICT sector for 2013/2014.

Also in Colombia:

  • there are free trade agreements with more than 50 countries including Canada and the U.S.
  • the government continues to be recognized by independent agencies as promoting investment liberalization
  • a full 10 per cent of all government royalties have been earmarked for investment in Science and Technology & Innovation
  • there is a technology infrastructure supported by five underwater cables and a national fiber-optic ring that connects 300 municipalities in the country
  • 175 per cent income tax deduction for investments in scientific and technological developments
  • income received by scientific, technological and innovation projects does not constitute income


Colombia 3.0 Conference - Bogota

Earlier this month I had the opportunity to sit down with Diego Molano, Colombian Minister of Information Technologies and Communications, to discuss why his government is investing in enabling Colombian citizens and businesses to succeed and thrive in this digital age. Here is an edited version of our conversation:

Why is Colombia investing so heavily in the ICT sector?

Colombia is the first country in Latin America to build network cables throughout the country and we’re also including people in the middle of the Colombian jungle. Why? Because technology is an excellent tool to reduce poverty in the country and to create jobs. For example, we are sending 4500 tablets to public schools in one native village  which will be pre-loaded with seven aboriginal languages. These people will have the same opportunity to access knowledge from across the world. They will be able to compete with kids in private schools in New York City and Boston.

Why is this investment so important for the development of Colombia?

Bringing technology to people is to help solve the most important problem we have which is poverty.

But why spend money on technology and not on other things like healthcare or roads and bridges?

With technology we will have access to services like education and even tele-medicine. This in turn leads to more job creation.

How are you measuring the success of these initiatives?

If the private sector is succeeding then this program succeeds. Also, our main goal is to reduce poverty.

How does technology help the rest of the country?

Let me give you an example. Colombian coffee is popular around the world. Now that coffee growers will have tablets they will be able to increase productivity. For example, they will be better able to identify plant diseases and determine coffee prices.

How did this program and initiative begin?

We wanted to involve people so we created a social network to allow people to participate and voice their opinion. 5000 people did! People gave their ideas and the government listened and created programs.  For example, we created programs to  extend the internet into rural areas and to train teachers on using new technologies. Essentially the government crowdsourced ideas from people.

What would you like your legacy to be?

That we reduced poverty thanks to technology. That we gave Colombians the opportunity to learn, participate and voice their opinions and thoughts.

Why should companies around the world look at Colombia?

Just one thing: We have the talent. But be careful. There is a huge and dangerous risk: Our people want to stay in Colombia.

Karim Kanji
Karim Kanji
Karim Kanji is the Canadian Director of Social Media Strategy at iNvolved Media. iNvolved Media was purchased by Active International in 2015. Clients include popular food brands, technology brands and other CPG companies. Prior to joining iNvolved Media, Karim led the paid social media strategy for some of Canada's most popular CPG and confectionery brands for Catalyst/GroupM. Karim started in the social media space when he co-founded and was the President of THIRDOCEAN where he led the creation of digital content for companies including Scotiabank, Ontario Teachers' Pension Plan, Microsoft, Wild Water Kingdom, Palomino Systems Inc. and Techvibes. Karim has also been recognized as a pioneer in podcasting having interviewed people such as such as federal NDP leader Jagmeet Singh, former MLSE boss Richard Peddie, TVO's Steve Paikin, Canadian serial angel investor Dr. Boris Wertz, HootSuite founder Ryan Holmes, Mathew Ingram, Mitch Joel from Mirium and many, many others. As a demonstration of thought leadership, Karim led the development and execution of reports discussing how technology and digital media have impacted industries such as retail, education, health, gaming, sports and banking.

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