Already one of Latin America’s economic powerhouses, Brazil is now emerging as a first mover in the digital banking space. Banco Central do Brasil plans to roll out a digital version of its traditional currency, the real—a project that could reimagine the country’s payments industry while also putting a dent in the financing of illicit operations. Fintech innovators from around the world participated in the bank’s Life Challenge, aimed at building minimum viable products to rapidly explore potential applications for the Digital Real. In March, nine companies were chosen to develop pilots, which are scheduled to go live in 2023.
7th Most Influential Project of 2022
Hurricanes, global warming, pollution, overfishing and coastal development all threaten native coral species, which are vital to local ecosystems and economies. Colombia’s Ministry of Environment and Sustainable Development is taking action, with One Million Corals for Colombia, a project to restore 200 hectares of reefs by March 2023, in part by growing coral fragments in dedicated nurseries and transplanting them. It’s the largest coral restoration project in the Americas—uniquely suited to a country that’s home to more than 1,000 square kilometers (386 square miles) of coral reef and boasts one of the richest ecosystems in the Caribbean Sea.
26th Most Influential Project of 2022
Unchecked urban sprawl in León, México has increasingly pushed housing to the edges of the city, isolating its residents from core infrastructure. But the team behind Las Americas Social Housing—which includes architecture firm SO-IL, collaborating with the Instituto Municipal de Vivienda de León, structural engineering firm ICNUM and the city of León—took a different approach: delivering a high-density housing structure that evokes the privacy local residents crave. The government-backed US$2.5 million project could serve as a template for future affordable-housing developments.
37th Most Influential Project of 2022
Brazilian edtech giant Gran Cursos Online aims to democratize education for all who seek a better future—and making its robust course offerings available to vision-impaired or blind learners (or folks who just prefer to learn via audio) was a clear must. But it takes 20 hours, on average, to record a 10-hour audiobook, not including editing time. With roughly 28,000 books in its catalog, the company knew a traditional approach wouldn’t cut it. So Gran Cursos Online partnered with BRLink to develop an automated system for converting all of the company’s content into audiobooks—in eight short weeks. The result is the largest collection of Portuguese language audiobooks in the world.
45th Most Influential Project of 2022
Wind projects seem like a no-brainer in Peru, given the country’s geography. But a lack of infrastructure has held back major project investment. Acciona Energía’s US$180 million San Juan de Marcona Wind Farm project could buck those headwinds—and help the government reach its goal to use more renewable energy and slash emissions by 40 percent by 2030. With a planned capacity of 5.7 megawatts, the onshore wind farm would create enough electricity to meet the needs of nearly half a million households. And the project’s 33-kilometer (21-mile) transmission line will connect the 23 wind turbines to the National Interconnected Electric System. Construction began in April, with an operational target of late 2023.
Contactless payments surged during the pandemic, but digital wallets may not be the default for much longer. In May, Mastercard launched a pilot of its Biometric Checkout Program, which allows shoppers to pay just by displaying their face or fingers. A collaboration with tech firm Payface and Brazilian food retailer St Marche, the project brings facial and fingerprint recognition to point-of-sale at five grocery stores in São Paulo. Users link their biometrics to a payment card via a mobile app, then can smile at a checkout camera or wave their hand over a scanner to pay. “The way we pay needs to keep pace with the way we live, work and do business,” Mastercard President of Cyber and Intelligence Ajay Bhalla says. The project makes Mastercard an early mover in biometric payments, but it’s just the start: The company has unveiled plans for similar pilots in the Middle East and Asia.
In November 2021, four Latin American countries—Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador and Panama—unveiled plans for a project that, when completed, will result in the largest marine-protected area in the Western Hemisphere. The countries are combining their marine reserves to form one large reserve known as the Eastern Tropical Pacific Marine Corridor. It will result in a fishing-free zone that covers roughly 500,000 square kilometers (190,000 square miles). The initiative moves the world one step closer to the goal of preserving 30 percent of the globe’s oceans and land area by 2030. On a local level, the project helps protect the turtles, tuna, squid and hammerhead sharks who call this part of the sea home or use it as a migratory route.
Nearly three dozen organizations were involved in the US$700 million project to build the Albert Einstein Education and Research Center, which opened in August in São Paulo. Among the team: Safdie Architects, Perkins+Will São Paulo, construction firms Arcadis and Racional Engenharia, and famed Brazilian landscape architect Isabel Duprat. That intense collaboration has already earned project sponsor Sociedade Beneficente Israelita Brasileira Albert Einstein acclaim for creating one of Latin America’s most advanced institutions for medical research and study. The state-of-the-art labs and clinical research resources are notable, no doubt. But just as wow-worthy is the spacious skylit atrium, envisioned as a “community living room” and visible from nearly every corner of the 45,000-square-meter (484,376-square-foot) facility. The atrium’s multilayered skylight system—which the project team perfected by building a mock-up to simulate the precise sensation of the sun—provides ample daylight, even to levels below ground, while helping to regulate heat gain and glare. Below the vaulted roof, a multilevel terraced garden, filled with native plants, offers visitors and students a variety of spaces, from a social amphitheater and exhibition space to intimate spots for quiet reflection. The result? A calming (and some would argue healing) oasis, nestled into the bustling capital.
How’s this for a modern take on alchemy? Colombian renewable energy startup E-Dina is turning saltwater into electricity through ionization. While the process isn’t new, the company developed a way to sustain the chemical reaction over a prolonged period of time. Then it partnered with the Colombian division of creative agency Wunderman Thompson to create a handheld, cylindrical lamp powered by just 500 milliliters (17 ounces) of high-salinity water (or, in a pinch, urine). With that small amount of saltwater, this portable lamp produces up to 45 days of light—as well as energy, acting like a tiny portable generator that can be used to charge a mobile phone or another small device. Launched last year, the light was designed to fit the coastal lifestyle of the indigenous Wayúu people. Located in northern Colombia, surrounded by the Caribbean Sea, the community has ready access to saltwater—and now, hours of light, too.
Expense reports have always been a drag (for employee and employer alike), but pandemic shifts—in reporting requirements, work-from-home expenses and stakeholders involved—have made managing corporate spend even more onerous. To rethink the receipt-clogged space, Mexican fintech Clara developed an AI-powered platform and smart corporate card, which allows managers to set detailed spend limits in line with company policies while finance teams get accurate, up-to-date insights on cash flow. More than 1,000 companies flocked to the nascent finance tool. And just three months after achieving unicorn status in December 2021, Clara partnered with Mastercard to help power the company’s expansions across Latin America.