Nearshore Americas

Is CORFO Stuck in Neutral?

In the last week Nearshore Americas has learned that Nicolo Gligo, the well known and well liked Executive Director, USA, of InvestChile-CORFO will soon surrender his position and return back home to Chile from his current based in Southern California. Gligo, who placed in the top twenty in our 2010 Power Rankings, and one of the most skilled export promotion executives in the Nearshoring industry,  intends to launch a consultancy.

The departure of Gligo seems to come at a time when CORFO is at a low ebb in terms of its visibility in the US market. There is increasing belief that CORFO was a more formidable organization in the US in previous years – and during the last two years there is some evidence of indecision and a lack of a more cohesive go-to-market strategy.

Criticism of trade/export promotion groups may seem to be a popular sport as of late, with remarks made at last week’s Nearshore Nexus conference that countries have to step up their commitments to further educate US investors and customers and help break down misconceptions about Latin America.  But, in regard to the situation with CORFO, there seems to be a common industry belief that the organization is simply not reaching its full potential. Chile has a remarkably attractive business climate for US businesses. Jon Stamell, CEO at FutureShift, a consultancy who has had business alliances with Chile for more than two decades, says the following:

We have to be aware that Chile is a work in progress.  On my first trip there in 1986, I saw tanks and soldiers in the streets and when looking down the avenues, saw buses with long vertical tailpipes belching black smoke into the air.  Now, we see one of the most peaceful, democratic countries in the world with incredible architecture and modern infrastructure.  CORFO and other institutions have played a positive role in this transition.  I think one of our frustrations is that those of us who have been involved with the country and these marketing campaigns want so much more for Chile and believe that its potential is far greater than what has been achieved today.

The sense that Chile is stuck in ‘neutral’ could not come at a worse time for the larger Nearshore sourcing industry.  Chile has one of the most compelling stories of any Nearshore destination and that positive image can have a nice spill over effect on lending further validation to the industry as a whole. In a striking piece of irony, while Chile may have all the attributes as being ‘number one’ in the Nearshore market, the capacity for its leadership to be exceedingly humble is well known. “The country has tremendous strengths and is very special in many ways as are its people.  But we don’t know about this unless we’re told why… it’s not typically Chilean to boast about your country, company or people so this doesn’t come easily,” says Stamell.

Organizations like CORFO also are changing but the question is whether they’ll have to reverse course again when the next government comes along in two years.

Like many democratically run nations in the Americas, Chile is blessed or cursed, depending on how you look at it, with integrating politicians into the fabric of the country’s bureaucracy every four years. Sometimes you get lucky and the new political appointees understanding the finer points of export promotion – while other times these folks, often from the private sector, have an insular viewpoint and struggle to embrace the idea of  sustain, long term promotional efforts outside the country borders.

On this point, Stamell says:

The real problems in Chile are institutional: Presidents only serve one four year term limiting consistency in policy and administration; more development and protection of intellectual property, while moving along, is needed; and, risk and failure are discouraged to a point where entrepreneurship is difficult and limited.  Changes in these institutional ways of governing are what are going to make a real difference.  They are making progress and businesses are in a very different environment than they were only a few years ago.  Organizations like CORFO also are changing but the question is whether they’ll have to reverse course again when the next government comes along in two years.

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What will Chile do next with one of the most important trade groups in the region? Chile is capable of producing an organization that breaks out of its timidity and shifts beyond the safety of resting in neutral. In this case, Chile’s IT service and sourcing markets, as strong as they have been, do not speak for themselves. They need a consistent and vocal advocate that is courageous and aggressive. Is that too tall an order for such a magnificent country?




Kirk Laughlin

Kirk Laughlin is an award-winning editor and subject expert in information technology and offshore BPO/ contact center strategies.

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