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Swiss expertise opens up opportunities for global markets

Colombia faces immense challenges. The Colombian economy is highly dependent on raw materials extraction and is internationally not very competitive. Thus, the country is missing out on the potential to create formal, properly paid jobs. To improve the enabling environment for exports, Swisscontact is connecting and strengthening organisations both locally and nationally. This will also result in jobs being created in economically disadvantaged regions and a more diversified economy.

Colombia’s positive economic growth curve cannot disguise the fact that the economy is still highly dependent on raw materials extraction. Incomes in this country, which is 27 times larger than Switzerland, are very unequal. The differences between urban and rural areas are especially pronounced. The further removed from big cities, the fewer the job opportunities seem to be. Despite the peace process, growth in peripheral regions is slow.


Standing in the way of competitiveness

Colombia’s government intends to diversify the economy and create jobs in areas that are also far removed from big cities. The armed conflict that had halted development, particularly in rural areas, for decades has now simmered down, and this is a good prerequisite. However, there are still considerable hurdles to competitiveness: low skills, no institutional coordination, bureaucracy, low levels of innovation, infrastructure that needs upgrading, and the associated high transport costs are just some of the reasons why Colombia is finding it difficult to connect to global markets.


Swisscontact in the role of the facilitator

Switzerland is supporting the Colombian government’s efforts to strengthen export competitiveness. On behalf of SECO, Swisscontact is implementing the Colombia+Competitiva programme. On the national level, the project team is supporting efforts to eliminate barriers to competitiveness. It is important to clarify which government agencies will be promoting innovation, entrepreneurship, and productivity and to what capacity. If these institutions are coordinating their activities, then promotion programmes will be all the more effective.


Collaboration with Swiss experts

At the local level, project interventions are in four sectors: cocoa, sustainable tourism, natural cosmetic ingredients, and sustainable construction. Organisations and companies in these sectors can join together and lobby for projects to be co-financed that support their competitiveness. Along with co-financing, selected projects can depend on a network of Swiss experts and their know-how.  The experts help project groups identify their needs as well as to formulate and implement practical solutions.


Long-term impact

The government agencies and associations involved, regard Colombia+Competitiva as the most important support in achieving better competitiveness that facilitates access to international markets for SMEs. The programme started up in 2017 and is scheduled for the time being to run through 2020. It is still too soon to measure the impact of the structural changes on the economy and labour market. But already the first positive signs have been reported in the supported local projects. The support provided by the Swiss experts’ network has helped many businesses to upgrade their goods and services with a broader, more international perspective. Àmala in Yopal is one example of a successful SME, which you can see for yourself in further detail below.

Souvenirs that link nature and art

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    The Colombia+Competitiva project supports SMEs and organisations wishing to execute joint projects with co-financing. In the Casanares tourism region a Destination Management Organisation has been created through such efforts. New services foster regional economic growth through sustainable tourism. Àmala is one SME benefiting from this.


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    “Hello. My name is Vivian Andrea Ocampo Merchán. I’m 29 years old and have ambitious dreams. I believe that with a lot of patience, discipline, and love I can achieve my objectives. I’ve been lucky to be working in the right place with the right people to make my dreams come true.”


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    “In March 2017 I founded Àmala with some friends. We produce ecological souvenirs that link the admiration for nature with art. This is a new product in our region. Through our products we want to bring our clients’ attention to the importance of maintaining biodiversity.”


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    “Our clients are nature lovers. They include tourists who want to immerse themselves in nature and companies that value environmentally-conscious products.”


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    “In Yopal, capital of the Casanare region, we have our workshop and a small retail shop. Now our products are also available for sale in many hotels, and in the near future at Yopal airport as well.”


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    “Àmala comprises five people who are passionate about what they do.”


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    “We got together with the prison in Yopal and offer training in book binding. 18 imprisoned women are now working with us and have taken over a part of our production.”


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    “It was a struggle to start our own company. We started up with a tiny amount of capital and only obtained the machinery we needed in a step-by-step process, slowly increasing our productivity.”


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    “Fortunately, we have won two innovation prizes – one regional and another national. This is how we got investment capital that helped us to optimise our production processes.”


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    “Thanks to Colombia+Competitiva, we learned about destination management. With the project’s help we also learned how to conduct benchmarking. That was an important process for us, allowing us to identify our abilities and showing us our potential for growth.”


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    “Now we are working intensively on winning new markets. We want to be present in national parks and at airports in large cities such as in Bogota, Cali, or Medellin.”


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    “We work every day on new innovations, functional and emotional designs that excite our clients.”


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    “Over the medium term we hope to export. We know that if we are consistent and work hard on it, we will achieve our goal.”


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    “We are of the conviction that through our artistic products we are bringing people emotionally closer to the concept of biodiversity and helping to protect it.”


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    “To protect something, you have to love it.  Àmala’s mission is to raise awareness to the charms and diversity of our flora and fauna, thereby ensuring their protection.”


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    Àmala was a beneficiary of the “Strengthening the tourism value chain” project sponsored by Colombia+Competitiva in the tourism destination Llanos (eco-tourism and watching wild animals).” This raised the profile and importance of our small business among tour operators in the region.”


More contracts for builders in Colombia

“Homecenter” is a construction supplies outlet chain in Colombia. In addition to building materials, they sell electronics and furniture. The company also offers a service called Círculo de Constructores (“Construction Professionals Circle”) through which clients can search for construction professionals for their projects. In an interview, Diego Fernando Cruz Sarmiento talks about Homecenter and collaborating with Swisscontact in the Colombia+Competitiva project.

How are Homecenter and the Colombia+Competitiva project, which is implemented by Swisscontact, connected?
Diego Fernando Cruz Sarmiento: we have been working for about three years with Swisscontact in advanced training of construction professionals within our network. This cooperation has enabled us to train 2,000 construction professionals in technical, administrative, and business skills. In October 2017 we developed a virtual learning platform which members of our circle of professionals who, cannot attend local training courses due to time constraints, use to build their skills.

What are the challenges facing Círculo de Constructores? Does the cooperation with Swisscontact help to overcome these?

The greatest hurdle for our circle of professionals was to provide training and continued education to its members around the country. We looked for a partner who would support us. Thanks to Swisscontact, we have succeeded to implement new and innovative training methods at our facilities.

What are your plans for the future?
We want members of our circle of professionals to grow with our support. We want to help them get more and better-paid contracts. So with Swisscontact’s support we are now developing a web-based application that will make it possible to connect our clients with construction professionals.

Project example: Albania

Professional opportunities in their own country

In order for young people to have real opportunities in their country, Albania’s vocational education system must be reformed. Swisscontact is helping to link vocational schools with the private sector and ensures that vocational education better reflects the needs of the labour market.


Learn more

Swiss Foundation for Technical Cooperation
Hardturmstrasse 123
CH-8005 Zurich

Tel. +41 44 454 17 17
Fax +41 44 454 17 97
E-Mail info@STOP-SPAM.swisscontact.org