An often-mentioned goal of President Laura Chinchilla’s administration is to transform Costa Rica into the first “developed” country in Latin America.
The recipe for success in achieving that goal will require many ingredients, and one of the most vital of them will be the development of advanced, accessible and reliable technology.
Over the last decade, using computers, cell phones and all-encompassing handheld devices has gone from optional to almost mandatory. Many jobs require knowledge of how to operate a computer, schools teach computer literacy courses, and to roam about without a cell phone is considered almost Precambrian. These days, communication and information are expected to be immediately accessible. Therefore, to be considered as such, a developed country must live up to these standards.
In a speech in Costa Rica in May, Norm Judah, the chief technology officer of the Microsoft Corporation, the world’s leading developer and provider of computer software, commented on today’s high-tech life.
“One of the biggest changes with the Internet has been the immediacy of information,” he said. “If you are trying to find information, whether you are looking for it on your computer or on your phone, you can get it. We have practically done away with the need to go to people to get information.
You don’t even have to go to a library to get a reference book. Almost everything is available online.”
Fifteen years ago, Microsoft began operations in Costa Rica with the idea of promoting technological development in the country and in the Central American region.
Recently, Juan Pablo Consuegra, Microsoft’s newly appointed general manager in Costa Rica, met with The Tico Times to talk about the company’s plans and the importance of technology in the country’s development. Following is a summary of that interview.
TT: President Laura Chinchilla on many occasions has referred to the goal of Costa Rica becoming a developed country. What do you think the role of technology is in relation to this goal?
JPC: I think Costa Rica is already on track towards earning that distinction. Costa Rica grew eight points in the network readiness index presented at the World Economic Forum in March. Through the work of the government, Costa Rica is known as being strong in education and health. The country is very focused on the idea of using technology to improve its standing in those areas.
I think the application of technology will continue to improve, and the impact it will have on students will be vital, as being familiar with technology has become necessary in many career fields. So, to answer the question, technology is fundamental to becoming a developed country. We are here to assist in developing it, and to work with the government to strengthen the availability of technology across the country.
What is the role of Microsoft in Costa Rica?
We are committed to the Microsoft vision here and in Central America. Part of that vision is to develop technology in the country. We are very pleased to be the leader in the region in that regard, and to have the continued support of the government to contribute and commit to the development of technology here.
Secondly, Microsoft continues to be the company that guides the way in which people work. We know that this is important, and we take pride in it. We want to make sure companies in this country have access to the technology that optimizes the functioning of their organization.
Why did Microsoft choose to create a central location in Costa Rica instead of in another country in the region?
Costa Rica is a land of opportunity, at all levels. We are some of the most faithful believers in the Costa Rican market. There is great economic potential here as well as a great commitment to human development. I have only been here four months and I’ve been amazed at the amount of development and ability that the country has.
Because of this potential, Microsoft has high expectations for the Costa Rican market and for many of the companies that operate in the country.
One technological goal often mentioned by politicians is to provide computers for all Costa Rican students. Are there specific goals for educational technology development in Costa Rica and, if there are, what role does Microsoft play in achieving them?
Costa Rica is a country that has a clear emphasis on technology to aid further development. There are many initiatives, many businesses and many associations that are thinking about developing programs that utilize technology to improve operations, to increase social development, to provide education and to provide access to many people who at this time don’t having a working understanding of this technology.
And these are the pillars of Microsoft in a country like Costa Rica. One of the pillars we have here is to promote new technology, and another is our gigantic commitment to education in the country. In the last 15 years, we have impacted around two million students and about 17,000 teachers.
The financing we have committed in this respect is intended to teach how to apply technology in the classroom and to learning. We have a partnership with the Education Ministry and the Omar Dengo Foundation that is centered on not only education, but on creating job opportunities as well.
We are also faithful believers in entrepreneurship. Many national entrepreneurs rely on technology to create, improve and develop their businesses, and we help support their development.
The other very important thing about us is our business model. There are around 6,000 technology businesses (in Costa Rica) that in one way or another are involved with Microsoft. If we are involved with that many companies, we are a part of their development and part of their successes.
This is another way we are involved in the social and economic development of the country.
What are some of the challenges that exist for technological development in Costa Rica?
I think the challenges are the same challenges that exist in many other parts of the world. Internet access is very important.
I think the country has to work to improve Internet access so that it is available to everyone. That includes businesses, students, homes, people with disabilities, everyone. Internet access provides people a better idea of what is available; it informs them. We believe offering internet access to everyone is a very important long-term goal. Part of our challenge is: How are we going to help to provide Internet access and better technology to more people? We have to develop programs that offer value to businesses and assist them in improving their operations. We have to continue to create the programs that businesses need to be more efficient.
We are also convinced that if we continue to invest in education, we will assure that technological education becomes a fundamental part of education here. We hope that this will start in elementary schools and continue throughout a child’s education.