Francisco Noguera

Medellin’s Promising Transformation: ?Cultura E? (as in Entrepreneurship)

Medell?n’s MetrocableRide Metrocable, an impressive system of cable cars that connects to the Metro and carries Medellin’s poorest citizens over the steep hills that host the city’s slums (traveling together with an increasing number of curious tourists). Step down in the uppermost station, and you’ll have a beautiful view of two remarkable buildings that summarize Medellin’s transformation at the BoP level: the beautiful Santo Domingo Public Library, part of a network of five such centers in the city’s most depressed areas, and the neighborhood’s Cedezo (Local Center for Enterprise Development), an equally impressive building that hosts Medellin’s Cultura E (Entrepreneurial Culture), a program led by the city government through a partnership with local Microfinance Institutions. The two buildings summarize the character of the social programs led by former mayor Sergio Fajardo and his successor Alonso Salazar.

Santo Domingo Public Library - Medellin, ColombiaToday, I want to describe the remarkable Cultura E program and set it as an example of how local Governments can successfully engage with the private sector to enact initiatives aimed at the core of what we stand for at NextBillion: the power of enterprise to alleviate poverty and the need for policies that foster the creation of economic opportunity for the BoP.

In essence, a Cedezo is the place where business ideas turn into successful micro enterprises and SMEs. Cedezos are located alongside the Public Libraries in the poorest neighborhoods, hosting a microfinance initiative called Red de Microcredito (The Microcredit Network), comprised of the government-funded Banco de las Oportunidades, as well as 14 private microfinance institutions. The Network allows each entrepreneur to be directed to the institution(s) that can best serve them, according to his or her particular needs, credit history and previous experience. While the Government-funded Banco de las Oportunidades usually serves the city’s poorest citizens, those better off are served by one of the private programs.One of Medellin’s CedezosOn a regular basis, Cedezo staff will invite the citizens from their area of influence to attend Credit Fairs, which are meant to offer information about the financial and non-financial services offered by the different members of the Microfinance Network. This associative and client-centered approach allows the Microfinance industry to work in a coordinated manner; the entrepreneurs benefit from having different alternatives available at a single location and are thus able to make better choices regarding their needs for financial and mentoring services.

Besides providing access to credit through the Network, Cedezos promote Medellin’s entrepreneurial culture through a larger number of innovative initiatives, among which the annual Seed Capital Contest is worth a special mention. Once a year, entrepreneurs from all over the city are invited to submit business plans and apply for government-funded seed capital to launch new enterprises. What if an entrepreneur lacks the skills needed to complete a solid business plan? No problem! Cedezo staff, alongside participating NGOs, are available to help citizens fill out the user-friendly forms designed to complete a business plan. New entrepreneurs also receive special attention and mentoring to incubate their business ideas in a physical space provided by Cedezos until they become ready to take the next step and become independent.

Finally, seven strategic industry clusters are also identified and fostered by Cedezos and the Cultura E program. For example, the most outstanding businesses working in the textile industry (one of Medellin’s key industrial sectors) have been brought together in the past to display their designs on Colombia Moda, sharing the stage with Colombia’s most renowned fashion designers.

Our most beautiful buildings will be in our poorest neighborhoods“, said former Mayor Fajardo in a conference I had the chance to attend last year. I encourage you to include Colombia and Medellin in your travel plans, so you can witness these words being materialized for the benefit of the BoP. Until that day comes, I hope you enjoy watching the video below! Although it is in Spanish, you’ll get a feeling of what this transformation is all about.

Last but not least, watch out for the next generations! It will be exciting to see how this forward thinking policy recipe (high quality education + aggressive mentorship for entrepreneurs) materializes into an economic miracle with the BoP playing a key role.

I look forward to your comments and to learning from other similar models in cities around the world!