Maurits Montanez
2016, Mexico
His apps help to conserve indigenous Latin American languages and introduce its speakers to the digital realm
Internet and Web

Who would download an app in a language not spoken by even half a million people worldwide? Approximately 22,000 people did just that in the course of a few days with Mauritus Montañez´s app.
Montañez develops multimedia content in indigenous Latin American languages through his platform Kernaia. His objective is two-fold: on the one hand he aims to prevent these languages from becoming obsolete, and on the other he is fighting to integrate the native speakers of these languages into the digital realm. Thanks to his project, Montañez has been named as one of MIT Technology Review, Spanish Edition´s Innovators Under 35 Mexico 2016.

Users can upload content in indigenous languages to the platform and also contribute to other users´ projects. Kernaia also contacts local communities to offer its tools, through an open innovation process, for the generation, distribution and promotion of apps aimed at teaching one of these languages or an interactive book, for example.

Kernaia, which has also been recognized as one of the most innovative Latin American start-ups by the Inter-American Development Bank, is "a platform that facilitates an ecosystem of digital creation and transmission of languages native to Latin America," in the words of its creator. Although some of these languages, like Yucatec Maya, are spoken by more than one million people, many others seem doomed to extinction due to causes like the emigration of its speakers to urban areas, globalization and stigmatization.

The app which achieved the high download rate described above is written in Mixteco, one of Mexico´s official languages despite the low percentage of speakers. Kernaia also offers applications in six other languages indigenous to Mexico and Colombia: Purépecha, Nahuati, Arhuaco, Huitoto, Sikuani and Wayuu. But Montañez´s goal "is to reach 1,000 languages, through partnerships with universities or local foundations." Although UNICEF estimates that over 400 indigenous languages are still spoken in Latin America, there are more dialects and variants that Montañez also wants to include.

Montañez´s interest in driving cultural digitalization predates Kernaia. He had previously founded and lead Manuvo, a platform which helps publishers, libraries and museums in Latin America to go digital. But it was his partnership with two companies, Nuu Holding and Connectedots, which led to the digitalization of indigenous languages.

Discover all of the winning projects from Innovators Under 35 Mexico 2016.