Economic View

On the city’s addition to the World Economic Forum (WEF) network and its digital transformation

The WEF decided to place its regional centre for the fourth industrial revolution (4IR) in Medellín, what impacts will this have on the city?

FEDERICO GUTIÉRREZ: In 2016 the WEF held its general assembly in Medellín, and they were able to witness first-hand the ecosystem we have created in the past 15 years. As a matter of policy, we prioritised sustainable social development through investment in innovation, science and technology. Our efforts as a community to reform the image of our turbulent past through innovative social inclusion policies made us a clear choice for the establishment of a regional hub for the 4IR. 

The centre will act as a secure environment for knowledge exchange, where those charged with local, regional and foreign policy-making, as well as corporate executives, technology experts and other stakeholders, will share ideas on the latest trends and technological applications. The overarching aim will see Medellín shaping the future of the 4IR in both Colombia and the wider region. Additionally, as part of the WEF network, we will have access to the competencies, skills and talent available at other global centres – including those in Japan, China, India, Israel and the UAE. 

Nevertheless, as the regional hub for this initiative, we will need to further our efforts to train new professionals to better meet sector demands. Developing capabilities in new technologies, including blockchain, the internet of things and artificial intelligence, will also be crucial in providing companies with the necessary human capital to push this industry forward in the region. In this context, education will be key.

What does Medellín offer to companies catering to the 4IR?

GUTIÉRREZ: One of our competitive advantages includes the presence of Ruta N, the institution charged with developing various programmes and services to promote science, technology and innovation. In recent years, a number of highly rated companies have been settling in Medellín, bringing know-how and contributing to the establishment of the local tech ecosystem. The city’s University, Corporate and State Committee, which was created to act as link between academia, the government and the private sector, has also enabled us to work together to adequately prepare for the advent of new technologies and processes.

In 2014 the city signed the Great Pact for Innovation, which set the stage to increase investment in sectors related to innovation, science and technology from 0.7% of GDP to the current 2.14%. We aim to continue this policy, by increasing this figure to 3% by 2021. 

With regard to human capital, since 2016 the number of students accessing higher education has increased from 43% to 53%, and we are looking to continue encouraging this. We are increasing the number of available scholarships and incentivising internship initiatives abroad for young professionals so they can integrate global flows of information and get acquainted with best practices.

While investors can profit from strong institutional support, a flexible regulatory framework and fiscal incentives, the private sector can also be considered as a partner for development. Currently, private funding accounts for 70% of the total investment in these fields, making it a key participant. 

As part of its transition from being considered the most violent city in the world to the most innovative, Medellín is now a member of the C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group, pledging our commitment to fighting climate change. Our goal of becoming emission-free by 2050 can be exemplified by our numerous projects geared towards providing greener and more accessible public transport across the city.  

How does the promotion of creative industries fit within the city’s strategy? 

GUTIÉRREZ: The so-called “orange economy” is one of the key sectors being actively promoted in Medellín, as it is closely related to emerging technologies. The national government’s promotional policies, along with our own efforts, are strengthening the framework for the protection of intellectual property rights and the issuance of patents and trademarks to boost content creation. The first step in this regard was the establishment of the Perpetuo Socorro, a creative district in the centre of the city.