Are survivors of Colombian conflict the future of a resilient and innovative economy?

by Ashley Lukasik

Born in Colombia but having spent half her life in Europe, Laura Adiwasito Senior’s perspective on her hometown is—to put it mildly—multi-layered. She is devoted to impactful storytelling for public and private organizations all over Colombia. Here, Laura cautions about avoiding a false innovation trend that can’t be sustained.

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How would you describe the current "innovation climate" in Colombia?

A great sign of the narrative shift in our country in the past few years is the emergence of new conversations, many of them related to innovation and entrepreneurship. Five or six years ago, the country started to take stock of our need to emerge as a nation outside the confines of what we were identified with—namely, armed conflict and drugs. This led to a strong wave of initiatives, programs and projects with private and public funding to jumpstart an innovation ecosystem in the country. It began to permeate political, economic and social discourse. Buzz was successfully created. 

Complexity, iteration, risk and experimentation don’t tend to be well received by leaders — especially those in government. I believe the new wave of the Colombian innovation climate needs to focus on supporting those leaders, and activate new ones with disruptive mindsets so that innovation is not just a temporary trend.

How do you see this playing out in post-conflict Colombia?

Lack of empathy is perhaps one of the big culprits in our prolonged conflict. And it is still a major challenge in Colombia. We may have signed a peace accord, but peace transcends a collection of signed documents. We need to instill empathy-driven methods in all levels of leadership (political, entrepreneurial, social, educational, among others) as a starting point. Our society must learn to truly understand others: their struggles, needs, fears and drivers before we can actually talk about peace in practice. Bringing divergent and conflicting points of view to the table is instrumental to being re-building our society based on empathy, understanding and trust.

How does the global business world see Colombia?

There is a forgotten part of Colombia that now needs to be remembered and re-emerge. Outside investors or people looking for talent must look to this Colombia: a diverse and resilient population in marginalized territories that were ridden with conflict, violence and inequality and that have had to absorb the attributes of entrepreneurs in order to survive. Outside investment has been highly focused on identifying talent in large urban centers, where no doubt innovative ideas and startups are emerging due to education and opportunity access. A clear example of this is the recent investment by major VC players like Sequoia in Colombian startup Rappi. I believe that there is hidden talent in smaller or more isolated communities that could be explored much more. Creating the right context and opportunities in these communities could lead to a surge of a new burgeoning Colombia.

Laura is a partner for trans:form:ed Bogotá, an exclusive immersion experience taking place in February 2019, exploring conflict, identity and sustainability.