Moving forward in Colombia

Social business case studies: Medellín

Advances in information and communications technology (ICT) are enabling innovation and empowering communities, driving the development of social businesses. In Colombia, the movement is helping Medellin to recover from its violent past.

Medellín is recovering from decades of violence. Intra-integration projects increasing mobility and connectivity have started the healing process. Now, social businesses are providing solutions to social problems, securing a future for coming generations that offers an alternative to criminality.

Known for its entrepreneurial spirit, Medellín is at the heart of Colombia’s textile industry and coffee production. Today, the city is re-establishing itself as an important economic player.

Although less developed than some cities, the social business scene is on the rise and includes many local pioneers that aim to promote education, bring down the cost of existing technologies, or empower traditionally weak economic groups, such as farmers.

In these efforts, technology and access to information have been enablers for change. Significantly though, lack of connectivity has proven a substantial issue for further development, often limiting the impact that social businesses can have.

Social business in Colombia’s second city

To understand what drives social businesses in Medellín, you need to hear their stories.


Arbusta’s social impact proposition is to create employment and empowerment within marginalized groups.

Arbusta aims to help young people enter the workforce and make a living. The company works with so called ‘ninis’(ni trabajo, ni estudio – neither working nor studying), a large group of young people in Latin America who do not study and are not part of the job market. In South America, a large proportion are women and while some lack qualifications, others are unable to work due to family commitments.

Arbusta reaches out to them primarily through social media, and provides an introduction program before they commence work. They can then choose the hours they work and typical tasks can be carried out online, making it possible to work from home or at a community center if they are tied up with other responsibilities.

The initiative was founded by three entrepreneurs who wanted to address the growing problem of workforce exclusion, and most clients are private businesses that need to outsource digital tasks. As such, the company has successfully integrated a value proposition with a social impact proposition.

"It's a two-way tool – companies are receiving help on digital tasks and at the same time they are taking a social responsibility.". - Juan Esteban Uribe, Business Leader, Arbusta

Arbusta is financially stable and reinvests profits in the business. There are currently plans to expand across parts of South America.

Young women in the park

Protesis Avanzadas

Protesis Avanzadas’ social impact proposition is to give amputees in Colombia and elsewhere independence in their everyday lives.

Protesis Avanzadas is developing advanced, low-cost, robotic hands for upper limb amputees, and aims to make this state-of-the-art technology accessible to the Colombian market.

Founder Jorge Alberto Robledo Ramirez met a man with an upper limb amputation and was frustrated to learn that, in Colombia, the only options available were either purely aesthetic or had limited functionality, while the options in Europe and the US were too expensive.

Funded by his own savings, Ramirez established Protesis Avanzadas. The company’s main clients are healthcare centers, as law obliges them to provide the best solution available at a certain price.

The development of a robotic arm has been a success but some challenges remain, including the need for investments to develop an app that connects the company to the end user.

"We are not there yet. There are many things that can be improved. The initial revenue will be re-invested in development and focused on getting us there. To be able to move forward, the growth has to be organic, it has to come from the sales, because we need to prove to possible allies that we can do this.". - Jorge Alberto Robledo Ramirez, company founder, Protesis Avanzadas

Medellín is a city determined to move forward. Through empowering local communities and introducing affordable technology, social business is making this happen.

Discover more of Medellin’s social business stories.

Download the Social Business Era report