Mark these two items onto your long-term radar. Colombia is the country. You heard it here first - Colombia is propelling itself into that position of leader in the digitally converging space - that it will soon in the next decade be called the "South Korea of Latin America". I kid you not. You can throw these words at me early in the next decade if it doesn't happen. But I have seen the ultimate reason for why Colombia will follow South Korea, and pull itself out of the class of Developing World countries and into those of the Developed World (like South Korea did in essentially only 30 years) - and the driver of that transformation will be how much Colombia will evolve into a true "information society" and eventually even rival Singapore, Japan, Finland etc.
And the reason for that - here is the other name you should put into your long range radar - this guy will be famous eventually for much more than being a popular, successful and re-elected President of Colombia - it is Dr Alvaro Uribe Velez, the Presidente de la Republica de Colombia (often called President Uribe in the Western press). This guy is one of the truly rare ones, he might become a future Secretary General of the United Nations or might win the Nobel Peace Prize or something in that class. He's a most popular and successful President of a rapidly improving nation of 44 million very poor people in Latin America, but this man - boy this man will truly still exceed these levels and do more for mankind. I'm sure of it.
What brings me to sing the praises of some obscure Latin American head of state? I spoke today at Andicom the big telecoms event here in Colombia. And while I've done Andicom before, this event today was unique to me. Just that the local Minister of Communciations of Colombia, Maria del Rosario Guerra spoke to the conference - tells you something. I do 20 of these kinds of events every year on all six continents, but it is rare for an event to feature a Minister responsible for the telecoms/mobile/communication sector. Yes, I've done several such events too, but that the currently active Minister for this industry bothers to show up at a telecoms conference in that country, that is a pretty good measure of being at a top-level telecoms event.
But what if the programme lists the opening presentation to be given by the current President (or other ruler) of the country? Could you imagine a TELECOMS conference in London featuring UK's Prime Minister Gordon Brown opening the event? Or a telecoms event in America where George W Bush shows up to give opening remarks? Not in at least one lifetime of conferences all around the world.
But yes, this was no typo. Today (or technically yesterday by the time this blog is finished, its just about midnite here in Cartagena) the agenda featured President Uribe. Not via remote connection either. In person. And for those readers who aren't that familiar with Colombian geography, Cartagena is not the capital, the President needed to fly 2 hours from Bogota just to reach Cartagena (and then return of course). Yet the President addressed this conference.
So - lets imagine any current ruler speaking by some weird happenstance, at a telecoms conference. Say France's President Nicolas Sarkozy speaks at Idate, the big French telecoms event. What would he say, and how long would he speak? It would be 15 minutes, certainly not more than 30 minutes. And it would be a scripted speech, written by his speech-writers of course. It would mostly talk about how great France has been in telecoms, how there are current challenges, but how the Government has been supporting the telecoms industry and that the President hoped the industry could gain great success. And end it with the typical Liberte, Egalite, Fraternite; Vive La France etc. The speech would have perhaps a 5 minute section on telecoms - at best - with a couple of jargon items relevant to this industry (telecoms in this case) that the President would not really know, but were stuck into the "standard speech" to try to make it relevant to this industry. While the President could deliver much of the speech without looking at his notes - when this 5 minute section on telecoms was delivered, the President - any head of state of just about any country - would need to read carefully from paper (or telepromter) the exact words, not knowing the internet from mobile, far less what a 3G was or how something can be social networking..
I don't mean to dump on President Sarkozy or the French, this would be true of the heads of state of just about any country, from China to Finland, from Canada to Kenya.
But no. Not with Dr Alvaro Uribe Velez, Presidente de la Republica de Colombia. No no no, Mr Presidente, no. This man came in with a real speech.
Not some quick notes of 15 minutes. No, Presidente Uribe spoke - get this - one HOUR and 30 minutes - to a telecoms conference (with an audience of 3,000). Many in the audience are foreigners - this is a famed international conference, so he's not even talking to mostly his "voters." There are big delegations from nearby countries such as Ecuador, Venezuela, Panama, Costa Rica etc.
One hour and 30 minutes ? Who is this guy, an ex Ericsson Colombia CEO perhaps? No, this man is not a telecoms geek at all. He's an ex attorney. Lawyer by trade. And no, this was not a scheduling error by his PR people. President Uribe isn't a novice and new to this game. Colombia had a one-term limit in its constitution to the President, but he was so popular in his first term, that the country made an exception for him to allow him to run for a second term. This man has been President of a nation of 44 million people - which still faces a civil war and very bloody continuing domestic narco-terrorism. Yet the attorney has managed to pick up enough of a vocabulary in telecoms to be able to speak on this topic for 90 minutes. Who is this guy?
So yes, you expect something like the "Colombia is great" speech, peppered with how his government is better than previous governments and has been a strong supporter of this industry - ie telecoms. And yes, of course, he is a politician, he did touch on those topics. Out of 90 minutes, he spent less than 10 minutes on his administrations achievements.
And yes, of course this kind of speech will have many "relevant" and "related" issues - such as the current economic crisis and for example schooling needs (and achievements) in Colombia, etc. Typical "politician stuff". Yes, there was plenty of that as well.
But out of his speech about half was solidly on TELECOMS topics !!!!
Who is this guy?
So yes, he must have a good staff and great speech-writer, and perhaps someone on his speech-writing team is a solid geek and knows the jargon. So yes, you'd expect he read the telecoms parts of the speech carefully from the papers of his printed speech.
No. He spoke the whole 90 minute presentation out of a couple of short notes - no printed speech at all (and no telepromter). He spoke of amazing things (for a national President or head of state) such as the technical aspects of calling centres, of using mobile technology to allow electronic payments of toll roads, of e-government initiatives and its finer details, of virtual teaching improving the quality of education (oh my god, really, ohmygod. who IS this guy, if he is fluent on virtual reality, who is he? Is he a secret reader of the CDB blog?). He spoke of the power of digitally connected citizens in a modern democracy ! (His presentation could have been inserted verbatim as a bonus chapter into our book Communities Dominate Brands, the government chapter - and all of it would have fitted in. Yes, he clearly communicated that Colombian electorate and society needs to evolve to capitalize on "communities dominate" ha-ha to improve their democracy!!!!!!! )
He even discussed undersea internet cables both on the Caribbean sea and the Pacific Ocean floor - explaining briefly why the two seas were so different and why the Pacific cable is now needed. How many of OUR READERS could discuss telecoms at this level, on so wide a range of topics and areas.
All of this speaking straight to the audience, not out of a printed speech, and almost never even glancing at his notes. He KNOWS this stuff. He knows THIS stuff? He knows this... STUFF. Who is this guy? A long-sitting respected President of a very "real" country (not some tiny country of a handful of people) and a country facing enormous problems. And somehow this - ex-attorney - had amassed so much knowledge into one of the most complex and demanding industries - as regular readers of our blog know - I often say with a straight face - telecoms is far more complex than rocket science. But yes, President Uribe is fully fluent in the finer points of telecoms and how it impacts a nation on the macro level.
Now, I'm not ga-ga over President Uribe because he happens to know my industry so remarkably well (for a politician). I am ga-ga over President Uribe, because he knows the one industry, that the big United Nations studies have provent to give the biggest benefit to a nation's development. Investing in telecoms and IT infrastructure is the single best thing a nation can do to improve the living standards of any country in the Developing World - bigger benefits than building airports or railroads or highways or water systems or electrical grids etc. The biggest benefit - quantified by the international development bodies - is to invest in IT and communication industries (and of course, increasingly in mobile). And yes, the next best thing for national growth, of cousre, is to invest in education.
And so, President Uribe spent about half of his speech on telecoms matters, and about 10 minutes on the current global economic crisis (and even here he mentioned how it impacts the telecoms sector) - but the only other topic that got about 10 minutes of the remaining time, was... education !!! Yes he talked also about how Colombia is investing in the highways and all the "usual stuff" but yes - to this telecoms audience he also stressed how much Colombia needed to also invest in education - and then AGAIN, he spent a lot of time showing how much the government is doing and will do more, to bring efficiency gains to education - out of telecoms, virtual classrooms and broadband internet connectivity and all !!!!
WHO IS THIS GUY?
So. Let me be perfectly clear. This is the first time ever, that I have heard of a head of state, who truly "gets it" about how critical the investment in telecoms and IT is to any country's development, in any Industrialized Country, or any Developing World country. And he is not only personally convinced about it, he is so committed to it, that he flies 2 hours to visit this techno-geeky nerd conference of telecoms propeller-heads, to speak 90 minutes and fly back to Bogota to continue running his country.
So mark my words. President Alvaro Uribe Velez will propel Colombia into ever more rapid hypergrowth in the IT and telecoms sector. Because of the "perfect storm" of the domestic industry growing, the customers (citizens) gaining and participating, with the government fully engaged - and funding - these developments at such a high priority - this means that Colombia is already today on the trajectory to pass Argentina, Brazil and Latin American leader Chile in this area. It will only take a couple of years and we start to discuss a "Colombian miracle". Who knows, there might be a book there for me too, ha-ha, to provide a parallel case study to my Digital Korea book..
And its not at the expense of education. He and his administration are drastically improving Colombia's education system as well. Now Colombia has the turbocharged engine to push the country in every possible measure, to capture a leadership position in the globally connected information society of the future.
And one last little tidbit. The organizers of the event, Cintel (great guys if you need to work with the telecoms industry in Colombia by the way, super competent) - have a reputation of bringing world class leaders to Andicom annually. So who do we see at the exhibition? South Korea's U-City concept of course (as I discuss in Digital Korea), the shining example of working protypes and commercial products to illustrate how a digital home, a virtual office, an e-health system etc might work. So Colombia is already learning from the world leaders. And this is how serious President Uribe is about it - he spent personally at least 15 minutes, accompanied by the Minister of Communications, in the U-City exhibition, and not just walking past - he was talking with the experts. He knows this stuff.
I am so impressed, truly. And I am so honoured to have been involved in this event today and again, President Uribe even came over to the VIP guests (the other speakers) and shook hands with all of them before he delivered his speech (so I got to also shake hands with him).
I am so totally his fan. Can you imagine if your government head somehow know of a part of what we blog about. I don't mean the head of state was reading our blog or book, but would be that interested that the busy politician would know of Cyworld and Blyk and Flirtomatic and blogging and citizen journalism and engagement marketing? You know that ruler would soon have his/her country on amazing hypergrowth..
So yes, mark my words. Colombia is the rising star of Latin America and we'll soon start to compare it to South Korea. And this man, Dr Uribe, the President of Colombia. He will do far more still in his career, certainly with Colombia and then most likely more on the international scene. He could seriously be a Secretary General of the United Nations one day, that level of brilliance and achievent (and collaboration too). Follow his career..