As Venezuelan Migrants Flee To Nearby Colombia, A Tech Startup With Japanese Investment Has Become Their Lifeline
More than 3.4 million Venezuelans have fled their country in the past few years amid a collapsing economy and political turmoil. Many have migrated to nearby Colombia where more than 1.2 million Venezuelans are now living and those numbers could balloon to 2 million by this year’s end. This has created new challenges as well as growth, particularly when it comes to Rappi, the country’s tech-driven delivery service.
The delivery service, Rappi, has seen rapid growth in the last year, mainly propelled by Venezuelan migrants looking to get by.
The app, which was founded in Colombia in 2015, has a simple purpose to that of American delivery services like Postmates, deliver goods to people from wherever they want. An injection of $1 billion from Japan’s SoftBank helped establish the South American tech startup as a viable business.
Rappi is now operating in seven countries, Colombia, Brazil, Mexico, Chile, Argentina, Peru and Uruguay and more than 40 major cities in Latin America. It also has more than 100,000 people that deliver for the service and has become one of Columbia’s fastest growing startups.
The company can credit the rising number of Venezuelan migrants that have begun delivering for the service as a way to make ends meet. Many of them have been shut out of the traditional job market and can make about $23 dollars a day, roughly three times Colombia’s minimum wage.
Amid a failing economy and political turmoil, Venezuelans have the delivery service as a lifeline.
While Venezuela faces hyperinflation and food and medicine shortages, many are left with little to no choice but to leave their country. As these large number of migrants have relocated to Columbia, the first thing they do is seek jobs.
Migrants receive a temporary work permit, known as the PEP (Politically Exposed Persons). But that permit has come with a label. Wilander Jiménez, a 28-year-old from the city of Lara in Venezuela, has struggled to find work even with this permit. He arrived in Colombia almost a year ago and Rappi has become a primary source of income for him.
“People won’t hire you here if you’re Venezuelan, even if you have the PEP,” Jiménez told the Miami Herald. “So Rappi has become a solution for many of us.”
The company has acknowledged what their service has meant to many Venezuelans looking for opportunities.
Sebastián Mejía, Simon Borrero and Felipe Villamarin are all co-founders of Rappi. They’ve noticed the rise in Venezuelans that have taken up their delivery service as a safety net for cash and to get by during hard times.
“From day zero at Rappi we’ve always had a social mission,” Mejía told the Miami Herald. “So we are very excited that Rappi has not only become a source of income for vulnerable communities — like Venezuelan migrants, who are the face of a dramatic humanitarian crisis — but has also given them the ability to send money home.”
The company says it doesn’t know exactly how many Venezuelans work for Rappi because of its rapid growth. In 2018, the service had 20,000 deliverymen, according to media reports, that number has grown to four times as many.
While Rappi has created a stop-gap for some Venezuelans, many realize it’s filling a temporary need during their hard times.
Beyond just Columbia, many Venezuelans have relocated to other places in Latin America like Peru, Argentina, and Chile.
As hard times continue to hit Venezuela the number of people searching for new opportunities elsewhere is likely to continue. This includes Jiménez, who was a former policeman back in Venezuela. He acknowledges he’ll never get rich delivering for Rappi but it helps him get by for now.
“All of us want to go home some day when things improve there,” Jiménez said. “But this is one of the few opportunities we have now to survive…Rappi is growing because of us Venezuelans.”