Here’s how start-ups will shape Latin America’s future



What do the 163 million young people in Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC) think about their future? According to a recent World Economic Forum survey, the region’s 15-29 year-olds – who represent one quarter of its total population – are worried about climate change, ranking it as the most serious global challenge they face.

At a regional level, they also identified the following significant issues in their own countries:

Image: World Economic Forum

However, they are optimistic about the power of business and technology to change their countries for the better. For example, 46% ranked a “startup ecosystem and entrepreneurship” as the most important factor contributing to youth empowerment in a country.

So can a start-up ecosystem really take on the most serious challenges identified by LAC’s youth today, such as lack of transparency or education?

One useful indicator is the 50 “outstanding startups” selected by the World Economic Forum and the International Finance Corporation. By comparing the issues identified in the survey mentioned above with the focus of these start-ups, we can extrapolate insights into what entrepreneurs see as future areas of growth, and how they are taking on regional challenges using innovative technology and entrepreneurship.

Transparency and security in the palm of your hand

Let’s begin with the issues of transparency and security, ranked as the first and third most important issues by youth in LAC.

Inspired by on-demand ridesharing companies or navigation apps developed in the US, such as Lyft or Uber, young Latin American entrepreneurs are creating new services with features tailored to their environment.

While Uber is popular in Latin America, with an even greater reach among mobile users in Brazil and Mexico than in the US (see chart below), homegrown companies are developing unique capabilities to address local needs.


Uber % reach among mobile users (with selected competitors).

Image: Comscore, August 2017

Whereas the American rideshare companies primarily focused on convenient and affordable mobility, their Latin American counterparts are grappling with distinct transparency and security issues which affect everyone, from residents wanting to navigate their city safely at night, to businesses requiring a secure supply chain.

In the 50 start-ups featured in the Forum’s list and beyond, innovators are responding to the need for localized and transparent information to plan their daily journeys.

For example, Base Operations aggregates information from several sources, including “government statistics, crowdsourced reports, and social media” to provide users with real-time, actionable information to help them stay safe. It is to crime awareness what Waze is to navigation, but with enhanced functionality, offering routing, tailored alerts, and group location sharing.

In some cases, environmental sustainability and social impact are integrated into the business model.

Take, for example, the Brazilian start-up Zumpy, created to reduce the number of vehicles on the road and improve air quality. Users can apply safety filters to plan rides with Facebook friends, or specially moderated groups for their universities or companies. At the end of a journey in a car full of passengers travelling along a compatible route, the app produces an estimate of reduced CO² emissions.

Infrastructure for education

More users will benefit from these innovations in mobility, transparency and security if mobile broadband access continues to grow in LAC. This growth can also drive changes in the second most serious issue identified by the survey: education.

Internet access is crucial not just for access to educational resources, but also for youth empowerment, as the survey shows:

Image: World Economic Forum

The important point here is not just internet penetration in LAC (now around 66%), but also access to mobile broadband connections, which soared from 7% to 58% of the population between 2010 and 2015.

As many learners use educational technology through their phones, and many budding entrepreneurs seek access to capital via e-banking services, the region must overcome geographic and socioeconomic disparities in mobile broadband provision.

If these disparities can be reduced, the possibilities for educational enhancement are exciting.

The dynamic growth of Latin America’s educational start-ups has been apparent even in the short time since 2015, when I wrote about the increasing demand for online learning resources. At that time, courses were still predominantly anglo-centric, and quality was variable.

Similar to the pattern we see in Latin American mobility apps, regional variations on US models are heralding major advances for educational technology. While Latin America is the fastest growing region for an American company like Coursera, it is not the leading company in this space.

Today, LAC’s largest open online course provider – MiríadaX – is tailored for Ibero-American learners, and now provides over 300 courses from 90 university partners in Spanish or Portuguese.

As such, it’s no surprise to see new, more specialized educational technology start-ups on the Forum’s list, such as Lab4U in Chile (an app for science education to aid teachers and engage students) and EduK in Brazil (a provider of online courses, especially for small business entrepreneurs).

However, to foster the next generation of entrepreneurs, access to secondary education should also be a priority, particularly outside major cities. Progress has been made in secondary education completion in rural areas, yet “close to 60% of both young men and women in rural areas do not complete secondary school”.

Economic opportunity and gender equality

Finally, how are Latin American entrepreneurs addressing the fourth most serious issue – a lack of employment and economic opportunity, through efforts to achieve gender equality?

We know that firms with greater gender equality are more innovative and successful. However, female entrepreneurs in LAC tend to have “lower confidence in their own abilities, coupled with higher fear of failure rates” according to the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor.

As such, it’s encouraging to see that five of the Forum’s selected start-ups are participants of WeXchange, the platform which connects LAC women entrepreneurs with investors and mentors.

While supporting a start-up ecosystem, we should not be overly reliant on technological solutions to inequalities in economic opportunity.

In Brazil, civil society projects like that in Varzea Nova – which attempt a holistic approach to educational and internet access, health services and vocational training – ensure that communities are not dependent on technology alone as a tool for sustainable growth.

In conclusion, the range of challenges addressed by new start-ups offers us a glimpse of Latin America’s future. This vision will be defined by local innovation in mobility, clean energy, education, online lending, banking and logistics.

It’s clear that innovation, transparency, gender equality and equitable access to a high quality education all impact the competitiveness of the region’s economies, and homegrown start-ups are starting to address those issues directly.

A strong start-up ecosystem, which is what young people want, has the opportunity to flourish if governments, private enterprise and civil society all attend to these underlying structural and social challenges identified by Latin America’s new crop of innovators.

Retos en la protección de tus empleados

Duty of Care Challenges

Will Wolfe

Tu empleador tiene la obligación de mantener a sus empleados seguros.

Sin importar que estés en la oficina o viajando por negocios, tu empleador está obligado a tomar medidas razonables para mantener tu seguridad, o por lo menos mitigar los riesgos anticipados. En tu oficina, esto puede significar, contar con puertas con seguro avanzado, guardias, y planes en caso de una emergencia. Sin embargo, mantener la seguridad de los empleados durante un viaje de negocios puede ser más problemático y la industria de seguridad todavía no cuenta con una solución. Mientras que las empresas continúan globalizandose y los empleados sigan viajando a nuevas regiones, algunas de estas con altos niveles de criminalidad, se tiene que encontrar una nueva forma para combatir estos retos.

Según los expertos en la industria de seguridad, la apatía es uno de los obstáculos más grandes para esta profesión. Es difícil para los viajeros diferir información relativa a la seguridad, a pesar de que esto podría prevenir que estos caminen por la calle equivocada o caigan presa a una estafa. Desde la perspectiva de alguien que se ha pasado por varias pláticas sobre seguridad e información sobre seguridad, no es que la gente no se preocupe por su bien estar. Sino, que hay una apatía porque es difícil relacionar toda esta información sobre su seguridad a situaciones reales o donde uno pueda tomar acción. Un viajero con varias cosas en la mente (itinerarios de viaje, entrega de proyectos, requerimientos familiares, etc) se encuentra al límite de llegar a estar sobrecargado de información. Realmente esperar que ese viajero entienda todas las disputas regionales, aprenda todos los modus operandis históricos o incluso nuevos de los criminales, y que además se aprenda el mapa de riesgo después de una junta a mitad del día de trabajo es algo poco realista. Incluso los viajeros veteranos que han pasado por varias de estas juntas, se desconectan mentalmente, debido al aburrimiento de información repetida o extra que le ofrecen o simplemente del sentimiento que jamás han tenido problemas durante sus viajes. Esencialmente, los viajeros están recibiendo la información errónea o se la están ofreciendo en el momento menos adecuado.

Otro problema es el dinamismo del crimen, simplemente no se queda quieto. En muchas ciudades hay zonas, que siempre se mantendrán peligrosas. Evitar estas zonas ya es un buen paso a tomar para estos viajeros. Sin embargo, el crimen no cree en límites o códigos de color dibujados sobre mapas por firmas de seguridad. Al momento de que un criminal comete un crimen oportunístico, cambian siempre a nuevas zonas, prueban nuevas tácticas, y cambian su grupo objetivo. Simplemente la industria de la seguridad no cuenta con el equipo suficiente para combatir este dinamismo, y los empleados sufren un mayor riesgo debido a esto.

Solo recientemente la industria de la seguridad ha empezado a aprovechar los avances de la tecnología. Sin embargo, estos se encuentra limitado por redes de seguridad o manejos de crisis. Las herramientas diseñadas para los profesionales en los Centros de Operación de Seguridad se concentran en ofrecer comunicación y responsabilidad durante eventos mayores durante desastres naturales, incidentes terroristas, balaceras. Para los viajeros que se encuentren de visita en ciudades nuevas y que traten de evitar el crimen oportunístico, carecen de herramientas efectivas para evitar estos problemas. Los empleados se fían de reportes estadísticos, noticias textuales o visuales, o apps con “botones de pánico” que ofrecen una falsa sensación de tomar acción.

Ninguna de estas herramientas tienen el diseño moderno que esperamos de nuestras apps favoritas. Tampoco utilizan nueva tecnología o visualización de datos. El equipo de Base Operations se encuentra trabajando para rectificar esto al ayudar a los residentes y viajeros de negocios a recibir la información correcta en el momento adecuado, dándoles el poder para poder tomar decisiones más seguras.

Duty of Care Challenges

Will Wolfe

Whether you are aware of it or not, your employer has a duty of care to you and your coworkers.  

Whenever you are at the office or traveling on official business, your employer is obligated to take reasonable measures to ensure you remain safe, or at least help you mitigate the expected risks. At your home office, this might mean security-locked doors, posted guards, and emergency response plans. The provision of care while traveling, however, can be a much more dynamic problem, one that the security industry is currently ill-equipped to solve. As businesses globalize and employees travel to new regions, some with high crime rates, a new approach is needed to address these challenges.

According to top security managers, apathy is the greatest obstacles to their duty of care. It is difficult for business travelers to digest security-related information, even though it could prevent them from walking down the wrong street or falling prey to a new con. From the perspective of someone who has sat through countless safety and security briefings, it’s not that people don’t care about their own well-being. Rather, apathy stems from how tough it is to translate and absorb security information into something relatable or actionable. A traveler with a slew of competing concerns (travel itineraries, project deadlines, family requirements, etc) is near overload. Expecting this traveler to grasp the destination’s regional disputes, learn historical and new criminal modus operandi, and memorize a risk map after a long briefing in the middle of the workday is unreasonable. Even veteran travelers with many briefings under their belts tune out, either due to boredom from repeated or superfluous information or to complacency resulting from numerous trips without incident.  Essentially, travelers are either receiving the wrong information or getting it at the wrong time.

Another issue is the dynamic nature of crime; it doesn’t just stay put. Yes, in many cities there are areas that have been, and probably will remain, dangerous. Avoiding these areas is a practical step that travelers should take.  However, crime doesn’t abide by the dotted lines and color codes drawn by security consulting firms. As criminals commit opportunistic crime, they shift to new locations, try new tactics, and target different groups. The security industry is simply ill-equipped to handle this dynamism, and employees assume greater risk because of it.

Only recently has the security industry begun to leverage advances in technology. However, it seems to be limited to supply chain security or crisis management. Tools designed for professionals in Security Operations Centers focus on providing communication and accountability during major events such as natural disasters, terrorist incidents, active shooters. For travelers navigating new cities and avoiding opportunistic crime, the available tools are woefully lacking. Employees rely on static reports, high-level and text-based incident feeds, or “panic-button” apps which yield a false sense of action.  

None of the existing tools have the user-centric design we see in our favorite apps, nor do they leverage technology’s growing capability to aggregate and visualize complex sources of data. The Base Operations team is working to rectify this by helping residents and business travelers alike receive the right information at the right time, empowering them to make safer decisions.


¿Por qué el crimen pasa donde pasa?

Cory Siskind

Observar un mapa de calores de criminalidad puede ser confuso. ¿Por qué ahí? ¿Qué tiene ese vecindario en particular que genera menos o más crimen? En algunas ciudades el crimen parece siempre concentrarse en las mismas áreas. En otros, normalmente ciudades en el mundo en desarrollo, el mapa siempre se cambia. ¿Qué está pasando?

Los académicos tienen respuestas muy largas. En Base Operations, observamos dos tipos de crimen que afectan al mapa:

1. Crimen Oportunístico

Estos son crímenes que suceden porque la oportunidad surge. Los factores que motivan o desmotivan el crimen oportunístico incluyen la infraestructura de la ciudad, presencia policiaca, hora del día, eventos especiales y la demografía de los vecindarios. En CDMX, por ejemplo, hay un vecindario llamado Observatorio. Tiene una central de camiones y parada de metro, una concentración grande de personas, coches de lujo que pasan para llegar a zonas más lujosas como Lomas, y una ubicación entre varias vías transitadas. Desafortunadamente para sus residentes, visitantes y amigos cercanos del equipo Base Operations, esto lo hace el lugar perfecto para el robo de coches.

Un malentendido común es que los niveles de crimen están alineados con el status socio económico. Esto es una forma demasiado simple de explicarlo. Por ejemplo, un vecindario tranquilo de clase media como Navarate, tiene mucho menos crimen que una zona posh y turística como Roma o Condesa. Muchos factores conocidos se combinan para hacer una zona el lugar perfecto para crímenes oportunistas.

2. Crimen Organizado

El crimen organizado tiene un impacto muy diferente a este mapa de crimen. Piensa en cómo el gobierno de una ciudad divide el mapa. Hay municipalidades, rutas principales y oficiales de policía a cargo de distintos segmentos de la ciudad. En algunas ciudades, podrías dibujar un mapa similar pero para el crimen organizado. Pandillas o cárteles controlan ciertos territorios donde imponen su derecho a seguir actividades criminales en un ambiente libre de competencia.

Dependiendo de la frecuencia de las actividades como narcotráfico, extorsión o secuestro, una zona bajo el control de un cartel o una pandilla puede experimentar altos niveles de criminalidad. El verdadero cambio de niveles de criminalidad, sin embargo, suceden cuando el mapa cambia. Cuando los grupos del crimen organizado pelean por el control de una zona, crean olas de violencia que afectan a la comunidad. Estos cambios territoriales y olas de violencia pueden suceder en cualquier parte de la ciudad. No hay ni una fuente de noticias en donde uno pueda observar qué grupo controla qué zona y qué cambios han habido. Nadie publica esto en un mapa. Simplemente los residentes lo saben, porque ellos habitan en estas zonas y esta es su realidad. Pero lo que realmente pasa, es que, todos pueden recibir una sorpresa en cualquier momento.

La combinación de factores conocidos y dinámicos, crímenes oportunistas y organizados, se complica el entender el panorama criminal de una nueva ciudad. Si le agregas la violencia contra los periodistas, medios censurados, baja confianza en las autoridades, y bajos reportes sobre estos crímenes, es difícil entender lo que está sucediendo. Pero en Base Operations, eso es exactamente lo que estamos intentando a hacer. 

Why Does Crime Happen Where it Does?

Cory Siskind

Looking at a crime heat map can seem nonsensical. Why there? What is it about any particular neighborhood that generates more or less crime? In some cities, crime always seems to be concentrated in the same areas. In others, mostly developing market cities, the map is shifting all the time. What’s going on?

Scholars and academics have lengthy answers. At Base Operations, we think about how two kinds of crime affect the map:

1. Opportunistic Crime

These are crimes that happen because the opportunity arises. Factors that encourage or discourage opportunistic crime include city infrastructure, police presence, time of day, special events, and neighborhood demographics. In Mexico City, for example, there is a neighborhood called Observatorio. It has a crowded bus and metro depot, fancy cars that pass through on their way to the wealthy Lomas neighborhood, and a location that sits neatly between several thoroughfares. Unfortunately for its residents, visitors, and close friends of the Base Operations team, that makes it prime real estate for carjacking.

A common misconception is that crime levels are aligned with socio-economic status. More often than not, this is an oversimplification. A quiet middle class neighborhood like Navarte, for example, has much less crime than trendy and touristy Roma or Condesa. Many known factors combine to make a location an opportunistic crime hotspot.

2. Organized Crime

Organized crime impacts the map in a totally different way. Think about how a city government divides up the map. There are municipalities, important routes, and police officers in charge of different segments of the city. In some cities, you can draw a similar map for organized crime. Gangs or cartels control certain territories where they claim the right to pursue nefarious activities in a competition free environment.

Depending on the frequency of activities like drug dealing, extortion, or kidnapping, an area under a gang or cartel’s control might experience higher crime rates. The real surge in crime rates, however, happens when that map shifts. When organized criminal groups fight each other for control of an area, the resulting violence spills out into the community. These territory shifts and subsequent violence can happen in any part of a city. There is no news source that reports on what groups control what areas and what is in flux. No one publishes this map. Sometimes residents just know it, because they’re on the ground and it’s the reality. Most often, however, everyone is taken by surprise.

This combination of known and dynamic factors, opportunistic and organized crime, make understanding the crime landscape of a new city a real challenge. When you throw in violence against journalists, censored media, low trust in authorities, and chronic underreporting, it’s no easy feat to even understand what’s going on. At Base Operations, that’s exactly what we’re trying to do.  

El Manifiesto de Base Operations

The Base Operations Manifesto

El Equipo de Base Operations

En Base Operations, creemos en hacer la situación de seguridad más transparente.

Nuestro producto ayuda a la gente en ciudades con altas tasas de criminalidad y escaso acceso a la información. Le ofrecemos una alternativa a la actual práctica de confiar en datos no reportados del gobierno, los medios de comunicación censurados por la violencia y la evidencia anecdótica compartida a través de redes informales. Con Base Operations, los usuarios pueden ver los datos acumulados a partir de diversas fuentes y visualizados con la última tecnología. Reciben alertas en tiempo real con información accionable, analizan tendencias y navegan con seguridad en entornos complejos, todo desde sus teléfonos.

Creemos que los ciudadanos deben estar informados, no escondidos. Preparados, no asustados. Y empoderados, no ignorados. Somos Base Operations, y este es nuestro manifiesto.

1. Transparencia. La falta de datos de tendencia sobre la delincuencia en países como México, causa un daño real. No sólo estamos hablando sobre atracos que tienden a proliferar cuando las personas carecen de oportunidades económicas. Estamos hablando de secuestros, extorsiones, asaltos, violencia sexual e incluso asesinatos, con frecuencia perpetuados por grupos de crimen organizado. Ver la realidad de la situación puede ser doloroso, pero no podemos cambiar el futuro si nos quedamos ciegos ante el presente.

2. Tecnología. Usemos la tecnología para hacer el bien. Recopilación de datos, inteligencia artificial y aprendizaje automático son poderosas herramientas. Se pueden utilizar para más que decirle a la gente qué producto comprar a continuación. Creemos que poner la tecnología al frente centrarse en la solución de los problemas más arraigados del mundo

3. Accionable. La información es poderosa pero la acción salva vidas. Vamos más allá que solo informar a nuestros usuarios. Les proveemos con pasos viables. Desde ofrecer una plataforma para el reporte de crímenes a proponiendo rutas alternativas, apoyamos a nuestros usuarios en sus vidas de día a día. 

4. Responsabilidad. Para nosotros, los ciudadanos vienen primeros. Hay innumerables métodos para catalizar el cambio. Creemos en el apoyo a los ciudadanos directamente, no funcionando a través de las instituciones o los gobiernos. Empoderar a los ciudadanos es nuestro enfoque accedente para mejorar los niveles de vida en todo el mundo. Creemos que el cambio surge de ciudadanos informados, preparados y fortalecidos.

Somos Base Operations. Este es nuestro manifiesto.

The Base Operations Manifesto

The Base Operations Team

At Base Operations, we believe in making security transparent.

Our product helps people in cities with high crime rates and poor access to information. We offer an alternative to the current practice of relying on underreported government data, media censored by violence, and anecdotal evidence shared through informal networks. With Base Operations, users can view data aggregated from a variety of sources and visualized with the latest technology. They receive real time alerts with actionable information, analyze trends, and safely navigate complex environments, all from their phones.

We believe citizens should be informed, not sheltered. Prepared, not frightened. And empowered, not ignored. We are Base Operations, and this is our manifesto.

  1. Transparency. The lack of crime trend data in countries such as Mexico causes real harm. We are not just talking about muggings that tend to proliferate when people lack economic opportunity. We are talking about kidnapping, extortion, assaults, sexual violence, and even murder, frequently perpetuated by organized criminal groups. Seeing the reality of the situation may be painful, but we cannot change the future if we stay blind to the present.
  2. Technology. Let’s use technology to do good. Data mining, artificial intelligence, and machine learning are powerful tools. They can be used for more than telling people what product to buy next. We believe in putting technology front and center in solving the world’s most entrenched problems.

  3. Actionability. Information is powerful but action saves lives. We go beyond just informing our users. We provide them with actionable next steps. From offering a platform to report crimes to proposing alternative routes, we support our users in their day to day lives.    

  4. Accountability. For us, citizens come first. There are myriad approaches to catalyzing change. We believe in supporting citizens directly, not working through institutions or governments. Empowering citizens is our bottom-up approach to improving standards of living across the world. We believe that change stems from informed, prepared, and empowered citizens.

We are Base Operations. This our manifesto.