Growth In Panama

Innovation In The City Of Knowledge: Panama

In what amounts to their freshman year of high school, students in the French education system are required to organize what’s referred to as a “stage.” For this week, each student must find an internship placement for himself (or herself) with some business that interests him. It’s a chance for each kid to gain a glimpse of life in the working world while maybe confirming or crossing off his list some imagined career interest.

One of the reasons we’re living and running our business in Panama today is because Panama City is home to a French school (not a school where the language of instruction is French, but a school that operates as part of the French education system and is administered by the French Ministry of Education). This is where young Jackson, who started school while we were living in Paris and who is more comfortable reading, writing, and doing his sums in French than in English, attends.

For Jackson, this is the year of the stage. His class was aware of this requirement for years leading up to the event, and they were reminded of the need to secure a stage placement for themselves every day, I think, since the start of this school year. Still, as the deadline for students to inform the school of their stage plans came around, Jackson’s best friend Valerian had no plan. He hadn’t gotten around to making one…

“Mom, could Valerian come into your office for his stage?” Jackson asked me over dinner the night before the deadline. “Everyone else in the class has arranged a stage, but Valerian doesn’t have anything yet. Could he work for you?”

Yes, of course, we said. Tell Valerian to put us down as his stagementors.

That’s the explanation for why, as I write, a 14-year-old French boy is sitting alongside one of our website designers helping to program our new Trader Jack’s Bazaar website for its Black Friday launch sale.

“It’s great having him in the office,” our Marketing Manager Ines told me the day Valerian arrived, “but it’s reminding me how much French I’ve forgotten from school!”

Meantime, Jackson is spending his stage week across town in the Ciudad del Saber, interning with a friend whose London-headquartered business with an office in this investor-incentive zone builds apps to help developers around the world market their wares. Lief and I drove over to visit Jackson at lunch on his second day at work. It was my first time in the City of Knowledge in some time, and I was struck by how much this part of Panama City (like every part of Panama City) has changed since I last passed through. It was a bee hive of activity.

Workers from the many offices here were congregated in the big, central, open-air food court. Approaching them, hearing their chatter and laughter, watching them come and go from the surrounding food kiosks with pizza and sushi, sandwiches and burritos, I was struck by what a pleasant scene it all was. What a nice place to come to work every day, I thought.

Jackson agrees. “What a cool place,” Jackson told us after his first day on the job. “There’s a dart board in the office, and everyone rolls from desk to desk working on the different apps together. I can’t wait to go back tomorrow.”

Panama’s Ciudad de Sabor is a unique zone that, like everywhere in and around the Panamanian capital, is growing fast, attracting ever-more enterprises and entrepreneurs from all around the world. In this City of Knowledge, they all come together each day to work in what might be the world’s only industrial park in a rain forest setting.

Jocelyn Carnegie, our new Panama Letter Editor (and also, coincidentally, the friend with a business of his own based in this investor zone who was kind enough to host Jackson for his recent stage week), tells you more about living and working in Panama’s Ciudad de Saber in this month’s issue of the Panama Letter.

Kathleen Peddicord

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