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Projects and project management in Bolivia

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The Plurinational State of Bolivia is a landlocked country located in western-central South America. It is bordered to the north and east by Brazil, to the southeast by Paraguay, to the south by Argentina, to the southwest by Chile, and to the northwest by Peru. The geography of the country exhibits a great variety of terrain and climates.

It has a high level of biodiversity, considered one of the greatest in the world, as well as several ecoregions such as the Altiplano, tropical rainforests, dry valleys, and tropical savanna. These areas feature enormous variations in altitude, from an elevation of 6,542 meter above sea level to nearly 70 meter.

Bolivia can look back to a rich, however not always pleasant history. It probably started with the ancient civilization of the Tiwanaku culture, which was located close to the famous Lake Titicaca. A major drought caused a significant drop of the water level at Lake Titicaca. Together with the Incas conquering major parts of the territory, the Tiwanaku Empire came to its end during the 16th Century. The Spanish colonization was another challenge for the region, it started in 1524 and lasted until the early 19th Century. By the late 16th century, Bolivian silver was an important source of revenue for the Spanish Empire, a steady stream of natives served as labor force under a brutal Spanish regime. This regime was a major reason in Bolivia to struggle for independence, which started in the city of Sucre on 25 May 1809 and is known as the first cry of Freedom in Latin America. With a struggling Spanish empire, Bolivia was challenged by many internal and external fights, involving neighboring countries such as Argentina, Brazil, Chile and Peru. Subsequently, since its independence, Bolivia has lost over half of its territory to neighboring countries. And the era of instability continued until the late 20th Century, with many changes in government and unrest. Living conditions of the native people, who constitute most of the population, remained deplorable for a long period of time with work opportunities limited to primitive conditions in the mines and in large estates having nearly feudal status. In 2005, Evo Morales won the presidential election with 53.7% of the votes, which is remarkable as he is the first President to come from the indigenous population.

The economy of Bolivia is with approximately $36 billion relatively weak. It has had a historic pattern of a single-commodity focus, from silver to tin to coca… Bolivia has enjoyed only occasional periods of economic diversification. Political instability and difficult topography have constrained efforts to modernize the agricultural sector. Rampant inflation and corruption also have thwarted development, but in recent years the fundamentals of its economy have showed improvements. Main industries are mining, smelting, petroleum, food and beverages, tobacco, handicrafts, clothing and jewelry. Main export partners are the neighboring countries and the USA. Bolivia exports natural gas, soybeans and soy products, crude petroleum, zinc ore, gold and tin.

There are plenty of projects under way. The World Bank invests this year about $300 million in development projects. One of the investment focus of the National Development Plan are highways across the country, spending a budget of approximately $12 billion during a period between 2015 and 2020. Another megaproject is Bala-Chepete, a hydro-electric powerplant. Currently on engineering design phase, this project will produce 3,676 MW for national and foreign markets. This year a multi-national agreement was signed to push another infrastructure project, an Atlantic-Pacific Railway between Brazil and Peru, connecting Bolivia with both oceans. The megaproject is supposed to be performed between 2018 and 2025, with a cost of $ 10 billion, spanning 3,360 kilometers from the port of Santos, in Brazil, with that of Ilo, in Peru, through the Bolivian territory. However, several concerns are raised whether the project is feasible. Finally, Lithium is another area of interest in Bolivia, triggering projects worth $ 1 billion, making 15,000 ton of lithium carbonate in grade batteries and potassium chloride available for international customers.

After several missions carried out between 2008 and 2015 in support of the national project management community, last year the Asociacion Boliviana de Gestion de Proyectos (ABGP)  was founded and accepted early this year as member of IPMA. Its vision is to be the Bolivian model institution in successful project management. ABGP strives to support the public and private sector in the efficient execution of projects, so that they have a positive impact on their activity, the environment and society. It is mainly active in La Paz and Santa Cruz, but also reaches out to other cities through cooperations with major universities. This year´s international symposium gathered in Santa Cruz de la Sierra about 70 interested professionals from all sectors of the country. First project management training activities in preparation for the IPMA 4-Level-Certification are planned for the second half of this year.

- Author of this post

Reinhard Wagner has been active for more than 30 years in the field of project- related leadership, in such diverse sectors as Air Defence, Automotive Engineering, and Machinery, as well as various not-for-profit organizations. As a Certified Projects Director (IPMA Level A), he has proven experience in managing projects, programmes and project portfolios in complex and dynamic contexts. He is also an IPMA Certified Programme and Portfolio Management Consultant, and as such supports senior executives in developing and improving their organizational competence in managing projects. For more than 15 years, he has been actively involved in the development of project, programme and portfolio management standards, for example as Convenor of the ISO 21500 “Guidance on Project Management” and the ISO 21503 “Guidance on Programme Management”. Reinhard Wagner is President of IPMA, past President and Honorary Fellow of GPM (the German Project Management Association), as well as Managing Director of Tiba Managementberatung GmbH, Germany´s No. 1 PM Full Service Provider.

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