Netopia Spotlight: Felipe Buitrago – Orange Is the New Gold

In 2013, two economists wrote the book The Orange Economy, showing how creative businesses have infinite potential for Latin America. They were Felipe Buitrago, later ambassador to Berlin and Minister of Culture for Colombia, and Iván Duque, who went on to become president of Colombia (2018-2022). In public office, they put the theory to use. Colombia is rich in agriculture, natural resources and tourism – did the orange economy policies take the Colombian economy to a new level? And can other countries apply the same methods? Netopia spoke with Felipe Buitrago to find out.

Download the book for free: The Orange Economy: An Infinite Opportunity (


Interview Transcript

Welcome to the Netopia video Spotlight – I have a very special guest today. He is the former ambassador to Germany for Colombia and also the former Minister for culture of Columbia. Welcome Felipe Buitrago.

Hi Per, nice to see you and your audience here.

 It is the 10th anniversary of this book, the Orange Economy. And I recommend that the viewers to read it, I think it still is one of the best, and it looks at the Creator economy. I mean it reads like almost like a textbook. You can use it in in education even, but first tell us what is the Orange Economy?

When we came up with the concept of the Orange Economy, we wanted it to be an umbrella term for the different concepts behind the creative economy, or the cultural and creative Industries, or the copyright protected industries. The idea here was that you need definitions for policymaking whether it’s protection of IP or whether it’s the promotion of labour diversity – what you need is to understand that there’s a connection between different activities. A chained sort of activities that add value that transform ideas into cultural or creative, goods or services, and just like the environmental movement, they use the green color as an umbrella term for different approaches to, to Environmental Policy, we wanted to provide such a, an umbrella terms.

The tagline for the book is “An Infinite Opportunity”…The Orange Economy, An infinite Opportunity. Did you see that Latin America was specific In this case, was there certain circumstances that made this in particular interesting for Latin America?

Yeah, I mean, because of the nature of the bank of the Inter-American Development Bank, our main focus was to put together information about Latin America and the Caribbean, however, the concepts are universal, so it works both ways. Certainly we were, we were not case study based so it’s not so strong. The data in terms of GDP is a strong on Latin America, but we wanted to highlight with the tagline was precisely that because we’re in the middle of this economic transformation. Remember the book was written ten years ago. Not even the concept of the fourth industrial revolution was going yet, but we wanted people to realize, especially policymakers was that this times of transformation the assets like the people’s talent, assets like our cultural heritage have infinite potential and you have to be aware of that potential and its limited possibilities in order to make proper policies. Otherwise you will just, you know, privilege the regular Industries and extractive industries because it’s, you know, where traditionally value is. But if something has been shown in the last 10 years, and in particular, in the process or in, the middle of the pandemic is that creative activities, creative industries are clearly expanding, and actually engaging more and more people with talent in order to create value for the society.

Yes, It’s fair to say that there has a lot of evidence has arrived to support your hypothesis. How was the book received when it when it was first published?

Well, it was very interesting, in principle our target audience was policymakers, but as part of our strategy to reach them, we realized we needed to reach a wider audience. That’s why we made a book that is mostly infographic in its design, even though it has sort of an academic content, I mean, it can be very easy used for reference book for Academia. But at the same time is very accessible in each language and structure. So we can reach a high wider audience, reaching a wider audience, was very important for us because we wanted voters to be interested. So politicians would be interested and you know who are the bosses of the policymakers: Politicians. So we wanted policymakers but in order to reach politicians with to reach a very popular audience and it’s been very well received. I mean, it’s a book that coming from multilateral organization already has more than 600 thousand downloads. Just as a point of reference, all the documents of the World Bank in 2014, got around 60,000 downloads, this was what we were getting just with one document from the IDB. I’m not trying to make this a competition, just making a comparison on how technical books coming from these organizations are usually not that popular and this is a book that is still getting over 1,000 downloads per month.


You wanted to reach the policy makers and the politicians, but in the end you became a policy maker yourself as the Minister for Culture of Columbia and your co-writer even look when he became the President actually, like you said, what were the most important policies that you made? Can you tell us about the transfer from theory to actual application of your work?

Well, the specific case for Colombia after the book, my co-author former President Ivan Duque he returned to Columbia and he ran for Senator. As a Senator, he presented a law is the, the law 1840 of 9th of 2017 is the Orange Law. This law creates body for coordination among the different Ministries that need to get together in order to do creative economy policy. So the ICT Ministry, the Labour Ministry, Education Ministry, the Culture Ministry. Of course, the different agencies that manages the promotion of the country for exports and investment and so on. 12 areas in total, but also highlighting the importance of the Intellectual Property Rights Protection, highlighting the importance of promoting Columbia as a destination for people with Talent or Investments and many, many other things after that, you have to implement that. And you also have the national planning law that comes every four years, when a new government takes place. So there we propel different incentives for people, especially social investment, social, corporate social responsibility investment that usually goes for different activities. We created specific incentives. So you would prefer to do that investment in building theaters or in supporting a festival and so on. But also we created incentives to acquire attracting investment in our Audio Visual industry, and all of it together, in a way that allowed us to multiply by four the available resources for culturing the country, without having to have to fight too strong for Budget because we created tax incentives, what we did is to allow for the private sector to invest massively in the cultural sector. But because this is a tax credit for the for the fiscal authorities, it reflects two years after the investment is done and the benefits for the society have been received. So it is not the promise that if you invest more in me, I will then return to you in some years with some employment and activity – no! In this case, we create the tax. credit, and people do the investment supporting a festival, not-for- profits, but also they do investment in for-profit activities. And then they get the tax breaks later. So it’s a win-win situation for investors and for the government and of course, for the society. We also work in the development of creative districts. so we created a special legislation for cities and small municipalities to define certain areas of the cities of their municipalities to define certain areas of the cities, we call them Orange Development Areas because in Spanish it goes like RNA, which like, DNA, you know, like changing the code, the genetic code of the cities. So they transform from Industrial hubs to commercial hubs into creating hubs and we managed to do it in about four years, about 95, new creative districts across the country of which about 40% put together a management bodies. So you have these associations between local authorities, the gifts of creators, but also the associations of entrepreneurs. And also very important, the associations of non-creative entrepreneurs because when you have a very public, you know, craft Association may be here but also on Advertising hub and maybe a Publishing House, you also need, you know, a bank in this area. And also you need restaurants and maybe hostels that can hold people and everything. So what we wanted to do is an integral approach. Embodying also the communities to because you cannot avoid gentrification, but you can manage it and the idea here is to manage it properly. So what you instead of destroying and identity of a community. You actually involve the community in evolution in the growing process of prosperity and participation of the, of the of the value of the land.

That’s really interesting to hear you explain that. I visited one of the creative hubs myself in Medellin this July and it was important, and now I see the context, but so what has been the result? Have you seen any long-lasting results? What are they from your Orange Economy policies?

I mean, short term for sure…. The easiest is the audiovisual sector. We have seen the audiovisual investment multiplied by 10.  So, so from about maybe 20, 30 million dollar in investment per year we jump to almost 300 million dollars investment in audio-visual production in Colombia from International Productions. It’s interesting because it’s not only the creation of lots of jobs, it’s also that because the investors require is so much well-trained people, they’re investing in the, in the training of our work technicians, but they also hiring our actors, our directors, our coordinators, and they have been demanding over, 150,000 nights of hotels for these productions. So this is a multiplier effect in the society and at the same time every production is putting Colombian images all over the world. So it’s also building up momentum for Colombian tourism industry.

So moving on to a different topic now and there’s a big conversation in Europe around the big technology companies from Silicon Valley, and how they how they have such a dominant power in the competition. And there’s a lot of Regulation around this topic, which is certainly a focus for a Netopia over the years as well. What is that discussion like in Columbia? I noticed on my visited Uber, for example, is not allowed. How do you talk about, what are your view on the big technology companies and the competition on their platforms?

Well, big platforms come with benefits, but also with risks, this particular case for Uber…. Uber is in a Grey-Zone where it is not forbidden and is not allowed. So it has to work in a very weird way. I know you can have Uber in Colombia, you can ask for an Uber, but the driver might get in trouble if it stopped by a cop and what it’s doing is not certified by some sort of contract. But then again, just like in transportation, when you have them audiovisual industry for instance, you have the free-to-air channel for television and the free-to-air come from an area where you have programmers for audiovisuals for programs for TV and now you have Netflix, you have Amazon Prime, you have Apple TV, you have HBO Plus, and you have all these big platforms, Disney Plus, and, and you can program it whatever way you like. And you can access contents from Colombia, from all that in America from all over the world. And the thing is, there’s no way Colombian TV stations, can invest the massive amounts of money that Disney, Netflix, Amazon can. Invest to complete in terms of the quality of the production. And, you want people to have access to that part of the production. But you also want people to have access to your stories. Something is happening, in this instant it we have created to attract the production of Netflix, Amazon Prime and all of these big network players is that they do produce their big movies and their big series for the international market but they all seem investing producing Colombian content. So, something that happened recently is that is the, the Pálpito… it’s the The Marked Heart, I think a Colombian series that actually became number one worldwide. It was actually produced by a friend in Colombia and it’s a very local Columbus story. They told it the old own Colombian way and it actually reach number one in Germany, probably in Sweden, probably in France. It was number one in the world for like two weeks earlier this year. And the interesting thing is when you find this equilibrium, and then you have to realize that you can get attached to the form. Like, having the traditional form of the channels for television, or you can engage with these platforms and ensure like for transportation, okay? ….you want to do Transportation? Okay, let’s ensure that you have insurance for the passengers. Let’s ensure that you make a proper screening process for the drivers and for the quality of the vehicles that they are safe to be driving around. Let’s make sure that you also pay taxes, and when you find this way, you evolve. It’s not easy, is not painless because you have these legacy systems that have entrenched privileges and in a way they have earned it because they have been paying you know, for those privileges. I mean they have been paying taxes, they have been paying fees. If you are a TV channel, you have paid, you know, royalty for the use of the spectrum. If you are a taxicab you have paid, you know, a medallion or a permit in order to circulate and offer the service… you need to find this equilibrium, you need to balance the costs but also ensure that people are not denied the benefits of these new technologies. So it’s a process and I think every country goes to this process, depending on its culture, its economic and technological development and also on how their political conversation is going on.

Felipe Buitrago, our time is up now, but I want to ask you one, last question, what are your plans now? Have you have you left politics for good?

Well, I’ve never been properly in politics. I always been a policy-junkie and I think I will remain one. I just think for the time-being I will move away from public office and I will try to do more like a consultancy and trying to also share the experience of Columbia and what we have learned during the last 10 years. Well, thank you so much and we love to see what you’re up to next.

Thanks for coming to Netopia Spotlight interview.

Thank you, it was fun to be here.


Readers are invited to download the book free: The Orange Economy: An Infinite Opportunity (