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Reflections on social innovation and impact entrepreneurship in Latin America

Author: Diana Daste M
Published Date: 14 May 2015

Recently, I had the opportunity to participate in the second version of FINDEMO, a hands-on festival, bringing together entrepreneurs from all over Latin America seeking solutions to public problems.

Being part of FINDEMO 2 - Cali, Colombia was as exciting as challenging. It meant not only participating in a semi-structured lab for creative social entrepreneurship, but more like diving in the experiences and inspirations of Social Entrepreneurs. It was a space for connecting with like-minded individuals and stories. It was a moment to share the relief of not being that lonesome Quixote, fighting windmills between hallucinations of discomfort, hope and love. And it was a place perhaps to co–create windmills for a clean supply of energy that, through added technology, will capture water from the air…as many other innovative solutions to society's more pressing problems. It was a moment to act through critical and constructive dialogues across disciplines, countries and ages. It was a weekend to reflect, connect, co-create, make friends, party and enjoy. Cali was a great choice to blend hot empanadas, cold champús and frenetic Salsa with a rich repertoire of social innovation initiatives; A social Innovation Pacific Node, A regional Chapter of the Global Shapers and a municipality focusing on urban debates to address social concerns, among others.

I participated in this second version of Findemo as SIX – LATAM ambassador, with the task of grasping the Latin American’s social innovation ecosystem and inviting those wonderful projects and enthusiastic minds to join the network. In this process I came across to two encouraging conclusions. 

First is the idea that knowing each other, working together, sharing our experiences and understanding our values and needs is not only a common interest, but also an explicit demand from social entrepreneurs and social innovators. Networks are increasingly understood as catalysers for shared knowledge, collective actions and greater impacts. In the social industry, these three conditions are main goals and concerns, hence the value of connected communities that allow this exchange and facilitate spaces to incubate, make visible and accelerate what would otherwise remain invisible and many times recessive. 

The second conclusion is that Latin America is a solid fertile ground with loads of links to blend and opportunities to explore. There is a dynamic movement emerging in the social impact industry. This enthusiasm is translating into new ideas, effective interventions, creative solutions and constantly emerging sources of funding. In the case of Colombia, international resources for socially innovative proposals are offered by the IADB, DFID and USAID, amid other bilateral or multilateral agencies fuelling funds to support this field. The Colombian government is also a source of funding with resources allocated from its National Development Plan to support the social innovation industry. Brazil and Argentina have a strong tradition in supporting entrepreneurship, with their governments offering technical support and seed capital to promote business creation. Social Innovation Awards remain an important stimulus, facilitating the emergence of transformative projects by financially and technically supporting individuals or ideas. Such environments allow great potential to consolidate networks that mainstream societal solutions in the entrepreneurial spirit. Valuing these advancements gladly means that there is a lot of work to be done!

Connecting social entrepreneurs with sources of funding remains a challenge and whilst there are inspiring advances in connecting initiatives, a lot of stories are still to be shared, loads of minds to be related and many ideas to be developed. Supporting these processes, disseminating failures and key successes, while consolidating thematic and geographic groups are some of the opportunities that could be explored to contribute in this productive effervescence within the countries and regionally.

Probably my most enriching moment was blending with different origins and understanding that despite having diverse topographic, political or social conditions, our challenges and motivations as agents of change are the same; turning individual gratitude into social awareness. Let alone the debate on social justice, the focus is in a public responsibility that transforms social needs into creative solutions, adding social value in the different stages of this chain of transformations, allowing new voices to speak, resilient agents to act and new paradigms to flourish.