On November 23 I participated in IBM’s Smarter Cities Forum in Santiago, Chile. The event brought together over 100 government, business and academic leaders from all parts of Chile, as well as many others from North America and Europe. The Forum was hosted by IBM’s Chairman and CEO Sam Palmisano.
Why Santiago? In his opening remarks, Sam answered this question:
“Santiago is representative of the new urban future, both its opportunities and its challenges, that faces our planet. In the early part of the twentieth century, Santiago had 500,000 inhabitants. Today it has more than 5 million - or more than one-third of the nation’s total population. This population growth has also translated into making Santiago the financial and commercial center of the country. The metropolitan region generates 45 percent of GDP and nearly 50 percent of total household income in Chile.”
This is my third visit to the city in the last four years. I can personally attest that Santiago is a great city, a medium sized truly global city, and one of Latin America’s most modern metropolitan areas. It has an extensive public transportation and highway system, an impressive high-rise architecture, great hotels and restaurants, excellent universities and a large skills base.
Along with the rest of Chile, the city enjoys a dynamic market-oriented economy, a democratic government, a positive investment environment and a high level of global trade. It is not difficult to understand why Sam would pick Santiago as the first city in Latin America in which to personally host a Smarter Cities event.
Following his talk, Sam participated in a panel with the Governor of the Metropolitan Region of Santiago, Fernando Echeverria, and with Claudio Orrego, Mayor of the Santiago Municipality of Peñalolen.
Peñalolen is one of over 30 communities which are part of the Santiago Metropolitan Region. It is a working class community with close to 250,000 inhabitants. But, despite its modest means, it is also one of the most digital communities in all of Chile. Peñalolen has been recognized as one of the most innovative municipalies in Chile, and has received several international recognitions. This is mostly due to the leadership of its mayor, Claudio Orrego.
I visited Peñalolen and met Claudio during my trip to Santiago last year and saw him again a month later at the Smarter Cities conference in New York. He has a law degree from the Pontifical Catholic University of Chile as well as a masters in public policy from Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government. In 1996, Claudio led Chile’s Modernization Commission, where he drove the strategic use of IT in government, and four years later he was appointed Minister of Public Housing. He was elected mayor of Peñalolen in 2004, and reelected in 2008.
Claudio is a true pioneer in the use of technology and innovation to radically transform government, especially to help poorer municipalities like Peñalolen significantly improve their community, health care and educational services. “We have grown and prospered, but not all have benefited equally,” he said in the panel. “Our goal must be to ensure that more people can share in the benefits of living in Santiago, and the savings we can realize in making Santiago a Smarter City can be invested in education and other economic development.”
The day before the Forum, Claudio and I held a joint press conference where we discussed the potential of initiatives like Smarter Cities. He talked about his pride in being chosen by IBM to participate in a study to evaluate the road toward becoming a smart city, along with larger and wealthier cities like Boston, San Francisco, Copenhagen and Singapore. It was quite daunting, he said, but “we realized that Peñalolen faces many of the same problems . . . and it never hurts to compare yourself with the best.”
“We have already implemented some initiatives towards becoming a smart city, such as for example, eliminating paperwork in our health care centers as all of the appointments and registries are in an electronic format.” In addition, he talked about their broadband development in schools, libraries and community centers.
Claudio Orrego is one of the most exceptional politicians I have ever met. In the panel with Sam, he succinctly summarized his philosophy of governance: “The future belongs to those who are bold enough to grab it.”
Later in the morning I moderated a panel on Innovation Ecosystems. The panel included Pablo Allard, executive coordinator of Chile’s Reconstruction Committee that was formed following the powerful earthquake that shook Chile in February of this year; Alfredo Barriga, CIO & Executive Secretary for Digital Development in Chile’s Ministry of Economy; and Gonzalo Miranda, Founding Partner and General Manager of Austral Capital Partners, one of the top VC firms in Latin America.
We talked extensively about the importance of technology and innovation in their jobs. While each of our panelists is working in a different area - the reconstruction of the communities impacted by the earthquake and subsequent tsunami; the use of IT for economic development across Chile; and leveraging talent and entrepreneurship in Chile and across Latin America - the common theme in their remarks was the importance of collaboration in everything they do. One of their biggest challenges is to help connect the dots across the various projects they manage, so the overall total is bigger, - much bigger, - than the sum of the isolated, individual parts.
It was a wonderful conference, all the more pleasurable for me because I was able to conduct my sessions in my native Spanish. But frankly, the highlight of my trip took place before I arrived in Santiago.
I normally would have taken a direct flight from New York to Santiago. But, due to schedules and fares, I ended up traveling through Atlanta. And, as I was boarding my Delta flight to Santiago on Sunday evening, I was delighted to see that my fellow travelers included the 33 recently rescued Chilean miners. The miners were returning to Chile from Los Angeles, where they received a special salute in the 2010 CNN Heroes program.
For me, being able to personally meet several of the miners, greet them and shake their hands was an unforgettable experience. It was just the right providential touch to make my visit to Santiago, - on the same week as Thanksgiving, to boot, - so very special.