UNIDO: 50 years promoting inclusive and sustainable industrial development in Colombia

UNIDO: 50 years promoting inclusive and sustainable industrial development in Colombia


By: UNIDO Colombia

(Read the spanish version of this article)

The country Colombia is recognized for its engineers and businessmen. There is even a trend called “industrial vocation”. The United Nations Industrial Development Organization was founded in 1966, and is therefore celebrating its 50th anniversary. Over the years, the organization has accompanied the country in creating an industrial sector generating dynamism and wealth.

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Since its foundation, UNIDO has implemented more than 150 projects in the country. The first projects registered in the UNIDO database started in 1968: advising the government and the private sector in technological research on diverse topics, for example relating to the plastic industry, leather production, footwear production and the metallurgical industry. Subsequently, a wide range of projects and programmes characterized by more horizontal interventions were implemented to strengthen the technological and business capacities of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). Today, as industrial policy is again regarded with importance in the global context, UNIDO cooperates in Colombia on different levels, including the formulation of evidence-based industrial policies like the promotion of sectorial competitiveness of the private sector.

Colombia is one of the countries of the region which has opted for an open economy and free trade. This policy, combined with the solid macro-economic management, has encouraged investment, especially in the export sector and has generated significant income for the country, resulting in improved living standards. However, even if the industrial sector has received strong support, its share of the economy remains at just 12% of GDP in 2015 (World Bank data) and there is still much potential for it to develop. For example, Colombia has high value added in the metallurgic industry and has technological capacity to meet the standards and requirements of international markets. Since the 1990s, supplier development programmes have been implemented resulting in local companies supplying parts that were previously imported at lower cost and in less time. Applying the methodology of “Productive mini systems”, the promotion of SME associations has been achieved. Today, they seek to strengthen the car industry as one of the sectors of strategic importance, including by fostering of quality and innovation.

One of the big challenges is to achieve inclusive industrial development, meaning an industrial concept which goes beyond big enterprises in big cities and a productive sector in which SMEs in the rural sectors benefit from access to international markets. Agro-industry fits perfectly for this objective. Over the years, UNIDO has supported companies in the leather and footwear sector to improve the quality of their products and their business management in order to ensure a value adding process, as well as decent and stable work. Due to the international assistance provided by UNIDO many small businesses in the sector were able to improve their products through increased competitiveness. Recently, programmes were initiated to create agro-industrial product export consortia and to promote quality of cosmetics with natural ingredients, thus supporting small and medium-sized enterprises to enter international markets, and generating sustainable employment in Colombia.

The second major challenge is environmental sustainability. Fifty years ago the country did not have Ministry of Environment and pollution problems were not considered a priority. Today, there are a number of environmental conflicts in Colombia in which the productive sector has to take action to preserve the environment. On the other hand, it is recognized that a protected environment leads to extensive benefits for all. Since the first environmental summit in Rio de Janeiro in 1992, UNIDO has committed itself to support countries in cleaner production and the efficient use of resources. In Antioquia and Choco, UNIDO has been introducing technologies which substitute the use of mercury in small-scale mining, significantly reducing pollution levels in some areas. Currently, the organization supports the Government to fulfill its commitments under the Minamata Convention which seeks to reduce mercury in all sectors. Another programme aims to reduce high-energy consumption in the industrial sector, reduce emissions of greenhouse gases and improve the efficiency and competitiveness of enterprises.

Getting back to the importance of the industrial sector in the Colombian economy, the Government recognizes the value adding achievement in the productive matrix of the country. However, in a context of limited public resources, industrial policy needs to be efficient and accurate. UNIDO has supported the Government in the introduction of methodologies facilitating decision-making, based on objective and relevant information, using indicators and measures detecting bottlenecks in sectors and value chains.

Colombia wants to reach the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) of the “Agenda 2030”. Many of them are related to industrial development. In fact, there is currently no country which has achieved high levels of social and economic development without a strong industrial sector. UNIDO has fought for the inclusion of sustainable and inclusive industrial development in Agenda 2030, resulting in SDG 9. The Organization is a partner of Colombia in achieving these goals, clearly reflected in the commitments within the framework of cooperation of UNIDO in Colombia. The focus in the coming years will lie on the inclusivity and sustainability of industrial development, an essential topic for building lasting peace in the country. UNIDO has noted with joy the great interest of young people, and especially of Colombian women, in various topics such as environmental engineering, innovation and corporate social responsibility. We must streamline our efforts to get them included in the production process.


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