Orlando Rincón Bonilla

Rincón’s studies in systems engineering marked a turning point. The exposure to other ways of thinking influenced his own, convincing him that ideology alone was not the answer. With a double specialization in engineering and anthropology and a passion for mathematics, he gravitated to computer science and software. So did one of his university classmates, William Corredor. In 1984, the two decided to go into the software business. They created Open Systems, a private company that makes software products and services for fixed and mobile telephone networks as well as for the cable television, Internet, domestic gas, electricity, and drinking water sectors.

Fifteen years later, Rincón had become wealthier than he could ever have imagined, but he was not happy. He was uneasy with what seemed to be the inescapable tension between maximizing profits and prioritizing his country’s social development needs. He believed deeply in the innovative capacity of his fellow Colombians. One question in particular troubled him: what model would allow Colombia to grow economically without compromising the values of justice and equity to which Rincón was firmly committed?

He went in search of the answers. First, he visited India to see how this country had managed to transform itself into a global leader in information technology services, but he did not find entrepreneurs. Rather, he found managers and millions of workers, all contracted by large national and international companies whose executives lived in comfortable neighborhoods in Delhi, Bangalore, Los Angeles, New York, and London. Rincón interpreted what he saw as a new form of slavery justified by the rationale that these workers were earning somewhat better salaries than they would have received in the local market. Moreover, he was troubled by what he saw as the forced Americanization of the workers, who were able to advance their careers to the degree that they spoke English “like a Yank” and had adopted American-sounding names.

From India he went to Ireland. Perhaps the secret to Colombia’s economic and social development lay there? After all, Ireland had been touted as one of the hot spots for competitive industries, including IT. Despite the tremendous affinity Rincón developed for the people there, the Irish miracle he discovered was akin to a large maquiladora for multinational corporations such as IBM and Microsoft. It seemed that there was little or no indigenous IT entrepreneurial activity—it had all been imported from abroad. For Rincón, whatever model Colombia followed would have to recognize the ingenuity and capacity of Colombians and to stimulate, wherever possible, their ability to be entrepreneurial, self-employed, and independent. Upon his return, he decided to invest his fortune in boosting entrepreneurialism and, in the process, changing Colombian society.

His stake in Open Systems, a leading technology solutions provider based in Colombia with 10 million customers across six Latin American countries and 2004 revenues of $14 million, had made him independently wealthy. In 1999, he left Open Systems— although he still owns a stake in the company—and started Parque-Soft.

“Once I found my way, I wanted to generate a shortcut for many intelligent, educated, poor young people so that they could generate companies of their own and create new leadership for our society,” he explains. “So instead of spending my money on luxuries or vices, I began to invest in people in the belief that my money could be useful to others like me.”