Santiago Pinzón Galán would like to invite you to visit Colombia. And if you are someone who is afraid of visiting Colombia, he would like to invite you in particular.
Pinzón is executive director of ANDI, the Asociación Nacional de Empresarios de Colombia, a national business association that works to “expand and promote economic, social and political principles within a free enterprise system.
From a Nearshore perspective, part of ANDI’s role is to represent member firms before international companies and prospective clients. It’s the oldest business association in the country, and it represents 1,500 companies, or “thirty percent of the nation’s GDP,” Pinzón says.
When Pinzón joined the organization, it had no BPO or IT chamber—ANDI is divided into dozens of “chambers” representing different industry segments. There was a chamber for shipbuilding and for animal feeds, and one for flavors and fragrances, but no group for companies providing tech services.
That was one of the things Pinzón was charged with fixing. Today, he directs the BPO/IT chamber, which represents 50,000 workers providing services for nearshore and offshore customers. He estimates that countrywide, about 100,000 people work for BPO and ITO companies.
A Society Makes Up its Mind
But let’s get back to why Pinzón wants you to visit Colombia, and why he thinks you’d enjoy it.
“It’s true that the country has suffered from a reputation of being dangerous,” he says. “But now Colombia is a very different country. That change was possible because as a society we decided to change, to react and work together, to work against the drug cartels and the corruption.”
“I would urge anyone to come here and see for themselves,” Pinzon says. “You will fall in love with the people, our professionalism, and our creativity. We are a passionate people, and that passion pertains to business as well as to everyday life.”
Colombia has some of the finest cities in the hemisphere, he says.
“In Bogota (population 8 million), you have some of best museums in South America. Restaurants are sparking up everywhere. All the international food you want… Peruvian, Japanese, Italian, local dishes, you name it. You like to eat? There are special areas for gourmet food.” Not too far from the city there’s the Salt Cathedral of Zipaquirá, a subterranean church and architectural wonder carved inside a salt mine.
“If you go to Cartagena, you will see about 14 cruise lines visiting port. During the days of the Conquistadors, Cartagena was the main place for exporting gold…
“Medellin is beautiful, a city of about 3.5 million but with a great quality of life. Many professionals, students, creative people. It’s always like springtime there. The most beautiful women in the country are in Medellin… (Thanks for that tip, Santiago.)
“And Cali is the capital of Salsa dancing.”
What makes any city a good place to visit for business or for pleasure, though, is the people. “Colombians are very friendly people, friendly with foreigners and very open,” Pinzón says. “Tourism is growing like crazy here, and I think part of that is because people from other countries are finding out how warm and outgoing people are here. ”
To anyone who worries that the country is too dangerous, Pinzón says: “If you compare crime statistics, you will see it’s a lot more dangerous to move around in some American cities, like Detroit and Washington, D.C., than Bogota or Medellin. This is not just me saying this. It’s true that we once deserved that reputation, but times are different now. Things have changed significantly in the last decade, especially in terms of security and income and investment. We are the second oldest functioning democracy in the hemisphere. We are a different country.”
“HP decided to open one of its global centers in Medellin because it’s an amazing place, with lots of software engineers, IT experts. The private sector made a case and convinced HP to invest. It makes business sense for HP to be in Medellin. They’re not doing it because of philanthropic reasons.”
During high school, Pinzón spent a couple of years living in Fort Collins, Colorado, USA. “I was still learning English, and my first class was biology. But it was an amazing experience, and it helped me become more globalized.” Later he lived in Washington, D.C., for about three years, while working on his master’s degree and studying law. He still goes back to visit family in Colorado, and also go skiing. Which is one thing you cannot do in Colombia. “We have two oceans, but no snow-covered mountains.”