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1 July 2013

In Focus: Porto Digital

An overview of Brazil's most successful and innovative digital and cultural cluster - and one of our main partners in the Recife: The Playable City programme.

© Porto Digital 2013

Porto Leve Bike project

Brazil: sustaining the economic growth
Brazil's social and economic development over the last decade is nothing but staggering. From 2003 to 2009, middle classes in Latin America have grown by approximately 50%, and Brazil alone accounts for more than 40% of this regional increase. Middle classes in Brazil currently represent about a third of the country’s total population (60 million from its 190 million inhabitants) – a 37.5% increase from 1980, largely attributed to the previous federal government’s education and social reforms [1]. The rise in households' purchasing power has led to a huge consumption boom which is linked to the successful performance of the creative industries in the country - but which requires, at the same time, policies that boost productivity and maintain it at a level which keeps up with this increased consumption.

One of the major concerns is the lack of investment in infrastructure (particularly in education and services), which is required to increase the national productivity level. The creative industries (including the digital/technological sector) have a crucial role in providing new economic solutions, as Brazil's young people (50% of the new middle class are under 30) actively engage with cultural consumption and social media (Brazil was Facebook's largest global market in 2012). The cultural sector's recent growth has been spectacular: it's 500% bigger than a decade ago, it employs over 11 million people (about 2 million are new jobs), and exports have grown from US$2.4 billion in 2002 to US$7.5 billion in 2008. [2]

Porto Digital, Recife's digital cluster, is an example of how regional governments in Brazil are embedding the creative and digital industries into their new economic development plans in order to increase productivity, promote innovation, urban regeneration and social change.

© Porto Digital 2013

Porto Digital Festival 2013

Porto Digital: investing in technology and culture
Porto Digital is an award-winning innovation and technological park located in the formerly derelict historical centre of Recife, capital of the North-Eastern province of Pernambuco. The tech-cluster promotes a bottom-up approach to the development of economic productivity through the creation of new jobs and training facilities in the information and software technologies' sector - and more recently in the wider creative industries, with a focus on gaming, music, animation, design and photography.

The cluster was founded in 2000 and since then it has become one of the largest technological parks in Brazil and Latin America, accommodating over 500 entrepreneurs and employing over 6000 people. It also now forms the mainstay of Pernambuco's new economy, contributing to the region's ongoing economic growth. The park won the Brazilian Association of Science Parks and Business Incubator's 'Best Technology Park' award both in 2007 and 2011, and it will host the IASP World Conference of Technology Parks in October 2013.

The majority of the 230 companies based at Porto Digital are SMEs, although there are some major international technology providers like IBM, Motorola, Samsung and Microsoft. Apart from housing businesses, the park has successfully created an environment which fosters technological innovation and new business development: it houses 3 business incubators, 2 research institutes and a couple of higher education institutions. Its impact in the decaying urban fabric of Recife has also been remarkable, bringing back to life Recife Island through real estate development and the restoration of historical buildings.

© Delma Paz 2008

Old centre of Recife

The Porto Midia (Media Port) project was launched in 2012 as an 18 months' hub programme for the development of creative businesses, Porto Digital's second sectorial focus. The initiative grew from the need for interdisciplinary collaboration between the arts and business, and the lack of entrepreneurialism within cultural businesses. Its aim is to provide creative professionals with business structures and entrepreneurial support through training, incubation/mentoring, and access to state of the art technological facilities. The various Labs and studios provide technical support to companies but also gather information about emerging technologies and digital trends and needs within cultural practice, which they then disseminate to the wider community through an active seminar and exhibition programme.

Porto Digital also works in partnership with CESAR (Recife's Centre for Advanced Studies and Systems), an organisation which creates products and services using ITC. Established in 1996, CESAR aims to transfer IT knowledge to the business and academic communities through the delivery of inter-disciplinary projects in telecommunications, electronics, commercial automation, finance, media, energy, health and agro-business. In collaboration with CESAR, Porto Digital provides business development services to the cluster's start-ups, increasing market opportunities and providing new jobs for home-grown creative professionals.

Social inclusion and equal opportunities
Porto Digital's immediate priority is to engage local talent - in particular young people from the more disadvantaged communities in Recife - through training opportunities and the creation of new jobs in the software and creative industries. With 3.7m inhabitants, Recife is relatively small compared to Sao Paulo and Rio, but the city has (proportionally) the highest population living in favelas in the country. The city authorities face enormous challenges around the provision of affordable housing and public services, which is why Porto Digital's long term investment in the development of these new economic sectors is sometimes questioned, given the more immediate needs.

The cluster's engagement with the wider local community is nevertheless quite strong - as part of its operation, the park runs an NGO called Porto Digital Management Unit (NGPD), which articulates some of the region's social and economic development institutions. Managed by an administrative council, NGPD makes decisions on the overall development strategy, including urban development plans and the management of innovation. One of its most pressing aims is the regeneration of Recife Island's public realm. Porto Digital is already directly responsible for restoration of more than 40,000 square metres of historical sites; this new project looks at leveraging private support to invest in leisure facilities, open spaces, transport infrastructure to encourage circulation and community participation.

While certainly an economic development success story, Porto Digital's (and Recife's) challenges in the near future will be to ensure social inclusion and a more inclusive development of the city, avoiding the all well known consequences of gentrification. An important aspect of the park's task will be to increase accessibility and digital literacy, bringing deprived communities to participate in the new cultural and economic possibilities the cluster is opening up. (Silvie Jacobi/Pablo Rossello)

Porto Digital are our main Brazilian partners in Recife: The Playable City project. Recife: The Playable City is a Watershed programme delivered in collaboration with Porto Digital and the British Council as part of the UK/Brazil Transform programme. The project is supported by the British Council's Creative Economy programme and theArts Council England, and draws on Watershed's experience in working at the intersection of culture and digital technology. For more information on the programme click here.

[1] World Bank (2012),Economic Mobility and the Rise of the Latin American Middle Classes.
[2] UK Trade & Investment, 2013.