The city of Assaí in Paraná was founded in the 1920s as Assailand by Japanese immigrants to Brazil, who purchased 12,000 acres of land in the Três Barras area in order to establish a cotton and coffee farming settlement. The rich land in the area attracted many families to the settlement, and its population rose to over 200,000 during the height of cotton production, when the city was known as the “white gold capital.” Assaí maintained its rich multicultural heritage throughout its history and today boasts a nearly 15% Japanese and Japanese-descended population, the highest in all of Brazil. Shifts in agricultural production, however, resulted in a massive exodus of the population over the 20th century, leaving Assaí as a city of just over 14,000 in 2020. To navigate this upheaval, the city has leveraged its modern infrastructure and still high purchasing power to diversify its economy with technological improvements and a skilled workforce ready to tackle new industries.
Becoming a CityLab to Attract Investment
The city government of Assaí implemented a strategic plan known as CityLab Assaí in 2022 to attract multinational companies to invest in Assaí. As a first step, the government held a major event at the city’s Japanese Castle with 104 CEOs, government officials and academic leaders in attendance. The event led to partnerships with 93 multinational companies to transform Assaí into the first CityLab in Brazil. The city also collaborated with several big tech companies, including Adobe, Microsoft, Google, Huawei and Oracle to test educational solutions, which allowed for the establishment of new universities, technical institutes and business schools by the city’s educational institutions. The Adobe multinational company, in particular, has recently announced the construction of the first design laboratory in Brazil to be located in Assaí.
Assaí’s partnerships with big tech companies have led to a dramatic increase in broadband availability, particularly for the agribusiness industry, with various large farms now able to contract 5G corporate networks. National companies such as Ligga Telecom and Telefônica Brasil have also begun providing additional connectivity due to the city’s recent successes. Assaí is also engaged in several projects to provide free broadband internet access in all public living spaces, with 32 trials currently in progress and 14 projects having achieved proof of concept.
Diversifying the Workforce with the Student Passport Program
Assaí’s Student Passport Program, started in 2022, aims to improve access to education and aid students in transitioning to high-quality employment. The initiative targets 80% of the city's citizens aged 16 and above, providing them with various opportunities for personal and professional growth. The program is structured around five "boarding gates," each offering different educational and employment benefits. The first gate provides high school students with free courses in addition to regular education, focusing on strengthening the transition to higher education with personalized learning pathways and advice on potential vocations. The second gate builds on the first by offering financial support for undergraduate studies at partner private universities or cash credits for students attending public universities. The third gate, known as Assaí Tech, offers training in technology, soft skills and digital literacy, with bootcamps provided every six months by business schools StartSe and Alura. The fourth gate subsidizes Master’s and Doctoral degrees for citizens, provided they engage in research, development and innovation in Assaí for at least two years and become mentors in the local teaching network. And finally, the fifth gate offers internship opportunities in public departments, providing first-job experiences for many young people interested in contributing to public policies and developing public management in the city.
As of its first year, the Student Passport Program supports 580 students, all of whom are studying and employed or in a trainee position at partner companies. The goal is to support 10,000 citizens by 2030. Currently, 32 multinationals are involved in the program, with a budget of 5 million BRL from the city and an additional 3 million BRL from partner private universities. The program is integrated with the Employability Technological Center, a space equipped with maker spaces, classrooms, labs, multimedia rooms and remote work spaces to further facilitate learning. It has also opened up international opportunities for Assaí, including partnerships with Johns Hopkins University, University of Cambridge and the University of Tsukuba. Twenty exchange scholarships per year have been allocated for Student Passport students by these universities.
Creating the Sun Valley Experience to Foster Innovation
Beginning in 2022, Assaí began developing an innovation ecosystem project called the Sun Valley Experience. The project began as a collaboration between the city government, numerous multinational businesses and prestigious academic institutions around the world. The primary objective of the Sun Valley Ecosystem is to generate innovative solutions through extensive collaboration among citizens, businesses, government, institutions and universities. Thus far, the city has implemented identity management through Gov.Assaí, tax incentives for innovation and turning Assaí into a living lab through the CityLab initiative as part of the project. Within its first year, the Sun Valley Ecosystem has attracted more than $1 million in investment and incubated several new businesses.
Assaí has begun providing tax incentives for the construction of innovation-promoting environments, including co-working spaces, innovation centers, academic centers and incubators. In addition, the city has decentralized pre-incubation processes by using private residences in urban and rural areas. These spaces are tax-exempt and are equipped by Sun Valley partner companies, turning residences into hubs of innovation. The city's main avenue has been transformed into the Hall of Innovation, a highly connected space equipped with smart poles, smart traffic lights and smartlet environments with students acting as digital monitors, aiding in the use of technologies available in the Hall of Innovation. The Sun Valley Experience has also seen the creation of Smart Squares, spaces filled with QR codes and Arduino devices for citizen interaction. An interoperability tool on the Sun Valley Platform also empowers citizens to solve city challenges and present ideas for development.
Gov.Assaí provides citizens with a unique data repository that aims to improve delivery of public services based on the data collected and to provide focus for the city’s education and innovation projects based on citizen needs. further expanded this program in 2023 with the Gov.Assaí – Level 03 program, which aims to promote digital inclusion and social reintegration for citizens over the age of 50 and younger citizens from low-income households. The Level 03 program provides exclusive services for these demographic groups, ensuring access to specialized professional courses at the Employability Technological Center. These courses are designed and monitored by social workers and psychologists to strengthen social reintegration. They also include modules on digital skills and literacy for low-income citizens. The entire Gov.Assaí program is also integrated with the Student Passport Program.
Engaging Citizens in Sustainable Practices
City Points SUNFLOWER is a loyalty program designed to incentivize citizenship actions, turning participation into tangible benefits for citizens. The program has a wide range of applications, incorporating cashback, rewards and discounts at numerous commercial establishments in the city. Initial activities rewarded by the program include proper waste disposal, vaccination, event participation, use of renewable energy and participation in selective garbage collection.
Recognizing the potential of this program in education, the city implemented it in the educational system as well. Activities like classroom attendance, participation in extracurricular activities, workshops, and innovation processes and the development of solutions for presentation at CityLab all generate points that can be redeemed through Assaí Digital Shopping. The program also includes a “game of life” where students complete missions, earn badges and can become transformation leaders. At the end of each year, the program rewards the top-ranked individuals in various categories at the Inova Assaí event, the city's annual awards event. Those at the bottom of the rankings are instead enrolled in social projects aimed at providing specialized support to them and their families. The program uses artificial intelligence for behavioral analysis to facilitate decision-making and help diagnose learning deficits.
The City Points SUNFLOWER program makes extensive use of the city’s wide connectivity through Edge Computing, using IoT data to calculate points and enhance the user experience. A smart card project in collaboration with Mastercard is planned to be distributed free of charge to each citizen, further expanding the program’s range of points. The smart card program, when implemented, aims to turn Assaí into the first Brazilian cashless city.
From its expansive broadband network to its digital literacy initiatives and from its workforce development programs to its sustainability projects, Assaí is leveraging the power of technology and the collective spirit of its people to build a future that is not only sustainable and prosperous, but inclusive and resilient as well.