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two Quechuas, sitting on green grass and looking at their smartphones, symbolising What are the indigenous perspectives of digitalisation? Quechuas in Peru show openness, challenges, and requirements to grow their digital economies
27 March 2024

Exploring digitalisation: Indigenous perspectives from Puno, Peru

Indigenous communities offer valuable insights on alternatives to our typical global economy and how to build sustainable digital businesses. In this blog post, Paul Vilchez reflects on his observations during a recent visit to Quechua communities in Puno. Here, digital technologies emerge as a tool of empowerment and economic independence. What can we learn from the intersection of ancestral wisdom and innovation to reshape our approach to build digital companies? 

Within management and organisation studies, indigenous literature has been gaining attention as an alternative to Western principles, which are largely responsible for environmental and social problems the world faces today. At the same time, while digitalisation can be used for good, major digital platforms have been criticised for being based on commercial values. Therefore, looking at different indigenous perspectives of digitalisation can offer valuable insights into how we can steer digital projects sustainably. In this blog post, I share reflections from a recent visit to Quechua communities in Puno, Peru. Puno is a region in the south of Peru where 90,8% of the population self-identifies as indigenous. Moreover, 42% of the population’s mother tongue is Quechua, which was also the official language of the Incas. Throughout the years, the Quechuas – along with other indigenous groups in the region – have kept their traditions and fought to remain autochthonous and protect their lands. While speaking with local entrepreneurs and people from urban and rural areas, I learned about the emancipatory value of digital technologies, the challenges of growing the digital sector, and how their ancestral principles and traditions frame new developments in the region.

Emancipatory value of digital technologies

Quechua communities in Puno have largely maintained agriculture as their main economic activity. However, in recent decades, they have also engaged with ethnic tourism and artisanal production as an additional and impactful endeavour. Digital technologies have helped Quechuas become independent from outside players in these industries, who dictated prices and schedules. For example, within Peru, tourism in Puno has been low compared to other parts of the country and travel agencies have favoured certain towns more than others. Digital lodging platforms are playing an important role in the autonomous development of tourism in the area because they allow Quechuas to directly connect with guests. For instance, Taquile Island in Lake Titicaca is often sold to tourists as a half-day boat tour starting in the city of Puno; this is changing as more residents of Taquile are building lodges and persuading tourists to stay longer in the area. Another example of the emancipatory value of digital technologies is the use of social media, as it has empowered artisans’ sales through the devastating economic turmoil of the COVID-19 pandemic. The use of digital technologies within Quechua communities has been growing and is playing an important role in local economies. Still, they currently use mostly enabling digital technologies, such as social media and apps. Therefore, the question arises of how large the potential for growing the digital economy is in this region.

Onto a larger digital economy

It is important to remember that the context of indigenous communities oftentimes comes with a history of suppression. Quechuas in Peru suffered from systems of mandated servitude (called pongaje), targeted high taxes, among other injustices. Consequently, many communities today live in extreme poverty. While the region has rather modern urban areas like Juliaca and the city of Puno (I even found a gym with a face-recognition system for its members), rural communities’ access to digital technologies is more limited. For instance, internet coverage varies drastically across settlements (in the islands of Amantani and Taquile there is only one reliable internet provider). At the same time, conversations with educational professionals revealed that most schools (and municipal libraries) do not have computer labs, resulting in an urgent need for training in basic computing skills for teachers and students. As described in these first sections, while the region of Puno offers interesting examples of adopting digital technologies, it also presents a big gap in being able to provide digital access and training to its people. 

Framing developments within ancestral principles

Despite some initial small initiatives, examples of larger digital projects are lacking in this region. However, as the region engages more with digital technologies it is important to consider the way of life of Quechuas to imagine an authentic digital economy. Quechuas’ way of life is rooted in honouring and depending on nature and their communities. Among many ancestral rituals and principles is the tribute to Pachamama and the ayni. In the tribute to Pachamama, people bring their best crops and other gifts as offerings to Mother Earth. While there is an official celebration in August, it more often takes place privately. Ayni is the principle of “today for you, tomorrow for me”, which is reflected in a spirit of reciprocity and cooperation regarding work. This principle is often associated with the building of houses, where members of a community come for full days to build the house of another member. Simple constructions can take up to two days. The future house owner is also expected to participate in the building of houses for other people from the community. 

This strong sense of care for nature and their communities is also seen among entrepreneurs. A case that stood out for me during my recent visit was that of solidarity tourism, a concept introduced to me by the owner of a well-known lodge. He intentionally decides to limit his business to lodging, among different arguments, because he believes his whole community should benefit from tourism and not only his family. He continues supporting other members of his community in related, and even competing, ventures (such as food, transportation, etc). The tribute to Pachamama and the ayni are only a few examples of the rich and lively worldview of the Quechua communities in Peru.

Embracing indigenous perspectives of digitalisation (Closing thoughts)

There is an increasing interest to include the voice of indigenous people in the development of digital projects, however, the barriers to equitable inclusion are still very prevalent in different parts of the globe. The participation of Quechuas from Puno in the digital economy is still at an early stage. Continuing to support their inclusion through digital learning and accessibility can expedite this process as well as be a measure to protect the identity of these communities. Lastly, it is important to continue questioning the frameworks through which digital projects are implemented and support projects that offer alternatives to our typical global economy. The region of Puno has room to grow within the digital economy; but their principles, way of life, and the way they are translated to entrepreneurial ventures can inspire local and global people alike to build sustainable digital companies.

References

Dijck, J. van. (2020). Governing digital societies: Private platforms, public values. Computer Law & Security Review, 36, 105377. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.clsr.2019.105377 

Gregori, P., & Holzmann, P. (2020). Digital sustainable entrepreneurship: A business model perspective on embedding digital technologies for social and environmental value creation. Journal of Cleaner Production, 272, 122817. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jclepro.2020.122817 

Salmon, E., Chavez R., J. F., & Murphy, M. (2023). New Perspectives and Critical Insights from Indigenous Peoples’ Research: A Systematic Review of Indigenous Management and Organization Literature. Academy of Management Annals, 17(2), 439–491. https://doi.org/10.5465/annals.2021.0132 

Traxler, J. (2019). Only Connect—Indigenous Digital Learning. Interaction Design and Architecture(s), 41, 7–23. https://doi.org/10.55612/s-5002-041-001 

This post represents the view of the author and does not necessarily represent the view of the institute itself. For more information about the topics of these articles and associated research projects, please contact info@hiig.de.

Paul Vilchez

Associated Researcher: Innovation, Entrepreneurship & Gesellschaft

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