Problem: What problem is this project trying to address?
Chile’s recent economic boom has created a huge gap between those with the most and those with the least. Chile ranks as the second worst country in Latin America in income inequality, as measured by the GINI coefficient, with those in the top 20% earning twelve times what those at the bottom 20% earn. The traditional view of education is that one should earn the highest degree possible, which will lead to earning the highest income possible. With that income, people tend to remain self-centered: equating success with an accumulation of wealth. Chilean society is highly competitive in regards to traditional, financial markers of success.
Culturally, the lack of social innovation results not only from self-interested individuals but also from lack of awareness that there are other ways to live. This comes from a society that is insulated on a global scale and with segregated socio-economic groups on a national scale. There is generally a very apathetic view of others’ problems, and according to the OECD, less than 25% of Chileans trust each other. Additionally, very harsh bankruptcy policies, carrying significant consequences, dissuade people from creating new business and discourage risk taking and trying new ways of doing things. Those who are currently developing new ideas do not prioritize social issues for fear of economic unfeasibility. Furthermore, bureaucracy is extraordinarily complex, particularly within the government. This environment does not lend itself to generating many solutions for existing problems, and by ignoring current problems, they only become worse. Because social innovation in Chile is stifled, there are very few support structures in place for those who do break the mold.
Young people in Chile are generally dissatisfied with many of these existing, often traditional and bureaucratic, structures. Higher education, for example, is very expensive compared to the average cost of living. A student whose family belongs to the three lowest socio-economic groups requires 40% of the family’s income to enroll in higher education. The lack of opportunities, distrust of government (50% of young people do not trust political parties), and student protests focused on higher education, have created an environment where the youth are not comfortable being outspoken and creative. Chile has not traditionally had spaces for young people to create change. From this dissatisfaction, wariness, and lack of opportunity comes the strength of the proposed Socialab: a real space to construct solutions.
Further opportunity came in 2010 when the government launched a program called Start-Up Chile, which brings innovators from around the world to the country and offers them $40,000 USD of seed funding and a one-year visa to work on their ideas. This has created a hub, albeit small, for innovation (the first year of the program brought 87 startups to the country and has opened the door to broader discussion of innovation. The government proclaimed 2012 the year of entrepreneurship and 2013 the year of innovation. However, this encouragement is very focused on business. Now, nourished by this new societal awareness, the ground for Julian’s movement to encourage social innovation is fertile.
Solution: What is the proposed solution? Please be specific!
Julian Ugarte is leading a movement, beginning in Chile and already spreading across Latin America, to change who solves social problems and how. In a country whose social divide is among the worst in Latin America, Julian has created an ecosystem of cross-boundary collaboration to nurture social innovation and bring it from a peripheral to a mainstream activity. His goal is to activate in youth across the region the desire to play a part in social change, to present social innovation as an attractive vocational option, and to create an environment where they can realize positive changes for some of society’s biggest problems.
Julian’s efforts are producing a new mindset by challenging the mentality of youth culture, specifically its view of social problems as static and to something be dealt with by institutions. Socialab is a “cool” place for young people to work on new, socially-focused solutions and in turn promote innovation across Chile and the region. This is preparing young people to thrive in a new reality in Latin America by giving them a space to practice changemaking. With their successes, Julian is proving that the youth, in turn, have much to offer society with new answers to old problems.
Incubators for social projects are still scarce in Chile. Socialab is expanding and giving visibility to this concept through an online platform with 275,000 participants that generates discussions about creativity and as well as actual solutions to regional and local challenges. By encouraging people to be inventive, and through designing and implementing real tools for change, the public’s perception is shifting. The platform has already led to projects like Plasma Water Sanitation, a low cost water purification system, and Miroculus, a program that detects cancer through a low cost, early stage blood test.
Socialab offers live support in a physical space where they bring together social innovators in a co-working environment and also offer monetary assistance, coaching, and an ongoing support network. Adding the additional ingredients of cross-boundary teamwork, Julian collaborates with the government, the citizen sector, and businesses to build a broad ecosystem of expertise and reinforcement. Socialab’s online platform creates a self-sufficient loop of social innovation which builds awareness and enthusiasm and has already opened doors to other countries in Latin America which have invited Julian to replicate Socialab.