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Feb 22, 2019

Colombia Reflection - Ben McIntyre

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What an experience! -  7 days in Medellin Colombia, a total of 42 hours flying, and nearly 4 days of travelling. My prospect on business in a 3rd world country has totally changed!

Not only is Medellin a vibrant, mountainous city with diverse landscapes, but also named as the world’s most innovative city in 2013. With a population of over 2.5 million in just one city, the locals and government have become crafty to develop new means of public transportation. Metro-Cables (or what we would otherwise call Gondolas) are a common mode of public transport and have been implemented across the city to give built-up suburbs easy access up and down the valley into the central city. These suburbs would have been essentially isolated in the past, and very difficult for residents to make their way into town. Many of the locals have re-invented their lives by developing new businesses from nearly nothing. In many of the surrounding neighborhoods street art and graffiti is seen on a reoccurring basis, however locals are using this to develop new tourism opportunities, showcasing their distinctive culture from the perspective of past and future. While guided tour groups are constantly passing through, individuals are establishing small stores from their homes, selling branded merchandise and souvenirs reflecting their cultural identity. This innovation continued to amaze me throughout my travels, seeing how local Colombian residents responded to the surroundings around them, in a way to earn an income and develop a new lifestyle for their families. It’s also interesting to note that Colombians take extreme pride in everything they have. The public metro system is kept in immaculate condition and you couldn’t find a hint of vandalism anywhere. This shows how grateful the Colombian people are to have these systems in place, and how everybody does their part to ensure it is well looked after for the future.



Colombia – Not the Place it's Perceived to Be


For many people, an initial thought to the country ‘Colombia’, is drugs and danger. However, this assumption is totally wrong. Amongst my experience while staying in Medellin, there was never a moment where I felt unsafe or worried. Colombia has had a dark past where drugs and violence have influenced the majority, however today, Colombia has totally changed and is no longer the place it is perceived to be. Innovation has significantly progressed throughout the past four years, and it is now very easy for new start-up businesses to become established, with minimal establishment costs. The local Government are doing everything in their power to constantly improve the status of the country, and this is largely due to the progression of the peace treaty. With these changes, the Colombian economy is quickly becoming an attractive business destination and a market where many large companies are moving their resources towards. While large drug cartels have consumed the economy in the past, they are rarely mentioned today, and Colombian residents look past their dark times and live their lives to create a better future ahead. I also found that Colombian people were exceptionally welcoming and had no hesitation in making conversation with unknown travelers. This again reflects their culture and showed how pleased the locals are that tourists are now beginning to travel to Colombia and experience their country. The four Colombian host students we had alongside us throughout the trip were incredible people and wanted to assist us in every way possible throughout the whole journey. These students couldn’t have been more welcoming towards us and become instant friends that we will all never forget.



Colombia - Company Visits and Business Gains


Whilst staying in Medellin, a large portion of our time involved visiting various businesses within the city for a company visit and presentation. This was a fantastic opportunity for us to learn how businesses operate within Colombia and see many of the company values they hold and follow. One of the first companies we visited was ISA, an electricity provider that manages powerlines and energy transmission throughout the majority of Latin America. During the presentation of this visit, it was interesting to hear that their company holds a strong value towards the concept of coopetition, something I had never heard of in New Zealand. Coopetition involves working cooperatively alongside other competitors within the same industry, with the hope of achieving mutually beneficial results for both companies. Instead of attempting huge projects on their own, ISA will look to affiliate and work alongside other companies to establish cohesive plans and create a better result for the end consumers. I found this interesting, as it’s not something we commonly hear of within New Zealand yet tends to be a common reoccurrence within the Colombian business ecosystem. Globant was another interesting company with an office based in Medellin, working to develop digital content. Their office workspace was exceptionally modern, following in the footsteps of what you would expect to see at a Google complex. It was fascinating to hear how they establish their workspace layout, by placing different people with different specialties in pods that correlates to the work they are doing. It was obvious the company invested a significant amount of time into developing new platforms which help employees to become more creative and efficient within their work. Before visiting Colombia, I never expected to see so many high-profile modern businesses within a 3rd world country, and the experience has truly opened my eyes to what is possible. Experiencing Colombia first-hand has been an amazing opportunity, and it was fantastic to see so many ways of approaching business within a totally different economy.