Rafael Correa’s government in Ecuador is ambitiously planning to build a world-class ‘City of Knowledge’ to help it move away from a mining economy and lift millions of people out of poverty. It has been investing hundreds of millions of dollars (earned through its ‘extractivist’ activities) in education, infrastructure and technology, and the ‘City of Knowledge’ is the crown jewel of these projects.
The city is called ‘Yachay’ – the Quichua word for learning or knowledge – and is the government’s attempt to put technology at the centre of Ecuador’s future. According to government minister René Ramirez Gallegos, the government wants to “leave extractivism behind”, and replace it with renewable resources such as “knowledge and innovation”.
There is great potential in fields such as biotechnology and biopharmaceuticals, with the country boasting some of the places with the highest biodiversity in the world. While Correa’s government failed to protect the Yasuní area with its ambitious project to raise money from ‘sponsors’ in the world’s richest nations, protection of the environment is still supposedly an integral part of Ecuador’s national strategy. The Yasuní reserve, as the place with the highest biodiversity in the world and home to two uncontacted indigenous tribes, finds itself on top of Ecuador’s largest oil reserves – a fact that always made its preservation unlikely. However, in the first nation to enshrine the rights of the natural environment in its constitution, the government is determined not to let this failure come to represent its time in power.
Ecuador is desperate for alternative sources of income, as its position as the world’s largest banana producer and exporter simply doesn’t raise enough money to build the schools, roads and hospitals the country needs. The government knows that it ought to avoid reliance on non-renewable resources for a sustainable future. Hence the construction of the Ciudad del Conocimiento Yachay in San Miguel de Urcuquí. With Yachay, the country aims to become a post-extractivist ‘knowledge economy’, focussing on five strategic areas: life sciences, IT, nanotechnology, energy and petrochemicals. The link between industry and knowledge is seen as the key to the country’s development. Creating international links is also seen to be important, with the government hoping to “attract around 60 or 70 percent Ecuadorian students” but also “around 30 percent from Latin America and the rest of the world”.
Yachay will be located in a valley surrounded by mountains in the northern province of Imbabura, only 115km – an hour and a half – from Quito’s new international airport. It will also be only 15 minutes away from the important settlement of Ibarra. Along with the climate, the amount of land, water, and infrastructure available were all factors in deciding on this location. The purpose was to provide the researchers in the city with all of the conditions necessary for their work.
It should be no secret that education is the key to bringing about justice and progress, and in this sense, the City of Knowledge seems incredibly pioneering and forward-looking. As supporters of justice, we should hope for the project’s success, but it will be interesting to see if alternative, revolutionary teaching methods are used or whether traditional models will be kept.