Colombia is best known for its amazing coffee, emeralds, and roses. Many people know about them from movies and TV shows that highlight these wonderful aspects of the country. Others know Colombia thanks to Gabriel García Márquez and his magical realism.
This is my country, my life and it’s a part of a beautiful and incredibly diverse bigger whole: Latin America, the region I grew up in, and with which I identify myself wherever I go.
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Unfortunately, however, the media often highlights our region’s violent past, the one we are still leaving behind as we close wounds and move forward towards a better future, and it is not easy for us to face it. We all have sacrificed something along the way and share a common burden left to us from our own past.
This is not to try and compare the world’s painful moments to Colombia’s. Rather, I want to state that, despite what’s seen on social media, Latin America has the opportunity to take a great leap and undergo a monumental economic and social transformation.
In 2014, together with an initial competitor and later partner, Christian Van der Henst, I created Platzi to bring first-rate education to all corners where the Internet reaches — not only to a country, but also throughout Latin America or any Spanish-speaking place where required.
Talent is equally distributed, but the opportunities and access to methods, techniques and subjects that mark the future of new generations are not.
I have been lucky. Partly, yes, self-taught, but it shouldn’t have been that way.
Only 30 percent of the Latino university age population manages to attend higher education in the U.S. Families live on a very low income in Latin America, and it takes between six and 11 generations to get out of poverty due to the lack of opportunities.
More than two million students learn to code at Platzi. We were fortunate enough to go through Y Combinator, the best gateway to Silicon Valley. We got their approval, also in the form of investment, and returned home to transform the region.
In recent years we have obtained, in addition to financing, the support of institutions and entities such as the Inter-American Development Bank and the Organization of American States to continue with our mission.
Since then, our students have seen how their progress goes hand in hand with their training. They’ve gained better jobs and more opportunities for the future, and some have even taken the entrepreneurial path. Nothing excites us more than to see how they take charge of their lives and get to be job creators themselves.
In recent years, Latin America has received notable capital injections, both from SoftBank and from leading Silicon Valley funds. Yes, Sand Hill Road has finally looked south of the San Diego border.
Rappi, a catalyst for the economy in its own right, is the spearhead of a dynamic ecosystem. After its success, it has been followed by Kavak, Justo, and Cornershop, acquired by Uber, by the way. There is also Nubank, DLocal and Bitso.
Internet giants like Netflix, Amazon, Uber, Oracle, and Microsoft have not only opened subsidiaries to drive sales, but also rely on the talent and ingenuity of our brains. From our workforce — blue collar to white collar — that is the path we are paving.
Despite this infusion of capital, however, a principal factor is still missing in the region: education. Without training for the challenges facing startups, it will not be possible to grow at the right pace. Or, at least, the one desired by venture capital investors.
The pandemic has given e-learning an unparalleled boost. Investment in edtech increased by 146 percent in 2020, according to a report by the Latin American Venture Capital Association.
Technical talent — so valued, nurtured and revered not only in Silicon Valley — spreads like a weed from nothing, yes, but not completely. You need a base, a beginning, a start that is not always found. That is why our mission at Platzi helps these investments find a fertile field in which to grow. In this way, the intellectual workforce progresses at the same rate as business.
Investment in both physical and telecommunications infrastructure have made Latin America a fertile field for applications, businesses, and startups that solve major challenges. At the same time, the people have embraced fintechs with real conviction.
The intersection between technology and finance already accounts for 40 percent of venture capital investment in Latin America in 2020. Nubank, Bitso, DLocal are all regional unicorns serving millions of people. This has increased the market share in digital services, the facilities that fintech companies and the mobile economy offer help to maintain a more dynamic economy.
Along with finance, insurance and transportation have been the fastest-adopted sectors in the region and I predict we will soon see more competitors in these fields and that these sectors will also be hiring more rapidly.
Now, where will they find the people capable of leading a disruption? Yes, it is true that exorbitant salaries can attract foreign talent. But it’s also true that it is not an easily replicable solution.
Creating this new breed of exponentially minded specialist professionals will completely change the perspective of the region, precisely now, when the eyes of the world are on our ability to get into debt and succeed triumphantly.
We still have a pending challenge, a dream: to build a great technology company on a global scale. That is why we are pushing together. Latin America needs a giant, like Alibaba has been for China, or Samsung for South Korea, or Google, Apple, Amazon and Facebook for the United States — true generators of employment, wealth and a competitive ecosystem in order to have an effect throughout the region.
This is why we want to multiply our support. We must improve education and training to give Latin American people a fighting chance. This will lead us all to a better tomorrow.
John Freddy Vega is founder and CEO of Platzi, a Latin American online education platform empowering countries across the world by helping the next generation of students acquire in-demand tech skills.
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