From floating banks to internet kiosks: these innovative projects are connecting Latin America

Carolina Gutierrez (center L), 17, and Neuil Valdez, 18, use mobile phones to connect to the internet at a hotspot in downtown Havana, Cuba, December 12, 2016. REUTERS/Alexandre Meneghini - RTX2UQOG

Two-thirds of Latin Americans don't have internet access Image: REUTERS/Alexandre Meneghini

Bas Burger
Chief Executive Officer, Global Services, BT Group
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This article is part of: World Economic Forum on Latin America

The more connected people are, the more opportunity and access they will have to continuous learning, helping them develop the skills needed to be more productive, happier and better off. Being connected is good for people, and it’s good for the economy.

Young children in many parts of the world grow up surrounded by technology. They can often scroll before they can walk. Their world is always connected. At their fingertips is a world that opens up opportunities – education, health, jobs and a sense of community. But two-thirds of people living in Latin America and the Caribbean have no access to mobile broadband, either through a lack of coverage, cost or skills.

But there are innovative ways to bridge that gap in access. From banks on boats to lucky trucks and public service kiosks, here are some of the ways people across Latin America are being empowered to build successful, sustainable communities for the future.

Floating banks

Latin America’s largest public bank, Caixa Econômica Federal, has many customers living in isolated communities attached to the Amazon River. To reach these people, the bank looked to the waterways.

The Chico Mendes branch, named after the environmentalist who fought to preserve the Amazon rainforest, is one of two floating banks equipped with satellite technology to provide a secure connection to the bank’s data network. The boats sail up and down the Amazon – a catchment area the size of Great Britain – providing essential services to 260,000 people, allowing them to transfer money, apply for micro-loans and access social benefits.

A Caixa floating bank Image: BT
Lucky trucks

The Caixa lottery is at the heart of everyday life in Brazil. Draws are conducted daily, Monday to Saturday, and live broadcasts draw big local crowds.

Many of the draws take place in remote areas – mountain and jungle villages, for example – using mobile units known as Caminhões da Sorte (lucky trucks). Without them, it would be difficult, if not impossible, for people in these areas to be involved.

Parked up in the village square, these gigantic HGVs also sell national lottery tickets and provide simple banking services to people in some of the country’s most far-flung places. To function, the trucks have a secure and reliable mobile broadband connection linking them with Caixa’s data centre in Brasilia, meaning that no matter where players are, they can buy their tickets and watch the draw as it is broadcast live from the truck.

 A lucky truck
A lucky truck Image: BT
Public service kiosks

We often take for granted all the little ways in which the internet improves our day-to-day life. But for people in remote parts of Latin America, many of these small but important opportunities are out of reach. It was to help these people that the Colombian government set up something called Vive Digital, a collection of kiosks located across rural parts of the country that allow people to connect to the internet and access e-learning and e-training services, as well as a range of online public services.

The Colombian government’s efforts to reduce the country’s digital divide have already delivered significant benefits in terms of new infrastructure and business opportunities across the country. They also made a significant social impact in terms of cost savings, job opportunities and improved productivity for the users. According to recent research, 200,000 kiosk users – local farmers, the unemployed, job seekers, students and community members – reaped £1.8 million ($2.2 million) a year in economic benefits as a result of the programme.

We know the world is changing, and it’s changing fast. Every day, we’re discovering more – and more amazing things to do with the technology we’ve created. The incredible potential of digital to change not just businesses, but also communities, nations and the wider world is something we need to embrace for the future.

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