Innovation is sweeping the world like a public policy version of
gangnam style. By my count, there are more than fifty countries
around the world that have national innovation strategies, chief
innovation officers and budgets. The old saying "no bucks, no Buck
Rogers" is apt here as one country after another announces ambitious
programs. China, for example, has announced a $500 billion
innovation budget. Chile is another country with big innovation
ambitions; the Chilean government declared 2013 to be its Year of
Innovation under the headline Imagina Chile (imagine Chile).
Thus it is a matter of no small significance that last week, on July 30
and 31, a group of innovation leaders from 18 countries, including 12
Latin American countries, gathered in Santiago, Chile for the first ever
pan Latin American innovation summit. As a self-appointed "Johnny
Appleseed" of innovation for the past two decades, it fell to me to
design and facilitate the summit in partnership with the government
of Chile. As evidence of the weight given to this event, the kick-off was
provided by S.E. Sebastian Piñera, President of Chile and Félix de
Vicente, Minister of Economic Affairs.
Why bother to look at Latin American innovation, you might ask? Isn't
this just a land of intractable poverty and insurmountable
development obstacles, teeming with drug lords and corrupt
government officials, while sweetened by the occasional and festive
all-night party set to the sounds of salsa, tango or bossa nova? Doesn't
the old saying about Brazil -- that it is the country of the future and
always will be -- also apply to the region as a whole?
Here are a few snapshots: Medellin, once a notorious hot spot for the
drug trade, was just voted the most innovative city in the world, by no
less an authority than the Urban Land Institute. Corporación Ruta N
there is turning the city's drug lord reputation into a entrepreneurship
city by creating a new environment for innovation, education and
entrepreneurship. Uruguay has supplied a laptop for every child in the
country, with other countries in the region beginning to follow suit.
Movistar Innova, a venture incubator in downtown Santiago, is the
registered address for no fewer than 600 startups.
In Chile, The Economist named Santiago "Chilecon Valley," the Silicon
Valley of Latin America, much thanks to programs like Startup Chile
and the friendly entrepreneurial ecosystem established by the Chilean
government. Startup Chile just accepted its seventh cohort of
entrepreneurs from a pool of 1,386 applications from 63 countries.
Entrepreneurs receive $40,000, mentorship and office space for six
months to launch their ventures from Santiago. And Chile, with a
population of 17 million, has announced a national budget for
innovation of $1 billion, while Brazil's innovation agency, FINEP, has
just put forward a request for over $18 billion to support innovation
initiatives in business, education and research. Meanwhile, the pace of
change is exemplified by Mexico, which jumped 16 places on the latest
global innovation index announced in June 2013 by a consortium of
Cornell University, INSEAD and WIPO.
And the overall trends are no less striking. Latin America is projected
to have a mid-century population of 800 million people, notable for
their diversity, and with an economy rivaling the US and European
economies in size. Achievement of market integration will be a
powerful engine for economic development as innovations of all kinds
are able to achieve scale.
While there may never be a United States of Latin America,
integration is advancing at flank speed and in so doing is redrawing
the global economic map. The latest sign is the formation of the Pacific
Alliance in June 2012. The brainchild of the presidents of Chile and
Mexico, the Pacific Alliance is a bloc of countries consisting of Chile,
Colombia, Costa Rica, Mexico, and Peru that intends a new economic
alliance leveraging its 36% of Latin American GDP. The organization's
goals include free trade and deep economic integration of services,
capital, investment and movement of people. To get an idea of its
significance, the Pacific Alliance if fully integrated would be the 9th
largest economy in the world, surpassing that of India. The inaugural
meeting of the Pacific Alliance will occur in November of this year. As
a mark of how seriously the Pacific Alliance is being taken, some 19
countries requested observer status, including Australia, China,
Canada, France, Japan, South Korea and the United States.
So old stereotypes of no longer apply regarding Latin America. What is
needed now is a re-perception of Latin America's opportunity horizon.
Our summit enabled spirited dialogue among leaders of countries
whose similarities vastly outweigh their differences. It enabled
participants to look closely at the reinvention of education, innovation
policy, entrepreneurship development, design policy and cities
through the lens of an innovation society. Most importantly it created
a community of interest around innovation as a regional agenda with
significance for the global economy.
We should therefore all applaud the fact that the summit concluded
with the intention to hold a second summit in 2014.
For more information, please go to:
www.cumbreinnovation.com for information about the summit
www.largescaleinnnovation.com for information about the Institute
for Large Scale Innovation
www.imaginachile.cl for information about Chile's year of innovation