David Escobar Arango, current director of Comfama, had the chance to give a close look to the performance of the Agency for Cooperation and Investment of Medellín and the Metropolitan Area, ACI Medellín since its very beginning. He remembers that during 2004, when he served as Private Secretary for former Mayor, Sergio Fajardo, and was coordinator of the internationalization project line, as part of Medellín’s Development Plan, the Agency was in its initial stages. He recalls that a few people from the Agency were working from cubicles inside the building of Empresas Públicas de Medellín headquarters. During that time, much of what is now the Agency was in the making. At that time, he says, the strategy was getting the word out about Medellín. The objective was to be centered on establishing international relations. As a result, the attraction of investment, cooperation resources, strengthening trade links and engaging in cultural dialogue was intended to be much easier.
“ACI had no arrogant attitude, but neither was it mendicant […] They used to say, ‘We are good but we are lacking a lot and we have a lot of problems, but we want to share and learn.’” He stresses that this feature of the Agency’s organizational culture allowed for the seeking of both cooperation resources and the attraction of investment be done straightforwardly, telling the true story of Medellín, without ignoring the past, but also showing the strengths of the city. “It was a speech without winners or losers. The objective was not to bring a company to invest and then desist because it wasn’t what the investor expected.”
With dignity, the Agency began its activities. It began to manage the first resources and has gradually been advancing on what Escobar considers the most important task: “the mental and spiritual openness of the people from Antioquia.” He insists that addressing this issue is the essential role of the Agency, but it is also its greatest challenge: to work in this society in order to have more open-mindedness. Nonetheless, he states, we have very positive values, such as entrepreneurship, resilience and the ability to overcome adversity. Antioquia has not traditionally been very open to immigration, nor to world cultures. “I would say it has not been an internationalist society, not even in recent years,” he notes.
Recognizing oneself and promoting diversity
“I want the cultures of all the lands to be blown about my house as freely as possible. But I refuse to be blown off my feet by any,” said Mahatma Gandhi, quoted by anthropologist and writer Wade Davis in one of his books. Escobar uses this quote to explain the need to continue working on global thinking, one that leads the city, the businesses and the population to a process of internationalization, without therein sacrificing identity. His assures that by knowing other cultures, one can recognize and understand its own. By way of this, we are allowing the building of a society where immigrants can actively participate, where people can come from other territories to study at local universities, to do business, to work or have internships in companies. “It would be great for companies in Antioquia, those who have made us what we are, to say, ‘In my steering committee, there is one European citizen or a Brazilian […]’ I think part of the future wealth of this society is to embrace and promote diversity.”
Now that he is working in the private sector, knowing the needs of the companies in Antioquia, he believes the task is not only for ACI Medellín or for the Medellín Mayor’s office. He suggests that public and private sectors, social organizations and universities should join forces, so that the results can be more easily obtained. Indeed, he goes further as to suggest that the Agency should also have presence of the universities, the private sector and social organizations. This is nothing but “preserving those features that have made us unique from the late nineteen-hundreds to the mid-twentieth century, those countenances which helped us survive the deepest crisis of the 1980s and 1990s,” he concludes.
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