Navigating Colombia’s Turbulent Past with Social Innovation

نوآوری اجتماعی در کلمبیا

نوآوری اجتماعی در کلمبیا

Over the past few decades, Colombia has worked hard to shake off its unpopular reputation from the 1980s and 1990s, when it was controlled by violent gangs as a government on the verge of overthrow. Thus, now, Colombia is known for positive things like economic growth, producing famous artists and athletes, having beautiful natural landscapes and diverse wildlife. Much of this change is related to social innovation in Colombia, which will be discussed in detail in this article.

The number of people living in poverty in Colombia decreased from 53.7% in 2002 to 28% in 2016, and extreme poverty decreased from 19.5% to 8.5%. The more important issue is that the violence in the country has decreased drastically since the time of Pablo Escobar and the peak period of militia activities and guerrilla wars. In 1991, Colombia was known for its extremely high levels of violence, with cities such as Medellín experiencing a homicide rate of 433 per 100,000 people. With the collapse of drug cartels, militia groups and peace agreements with guerrilla groups, violence has decreased dramatically. In 2016, Medellin had a murder rate of 18.7 per 100,000 (a more than 20-fold decrease) and Bogotá at 15.8, which, while still higher than in Europe, were lower than many other countries. The big cities are in Latin America and the United States of America.

The role of social innovation in improving the lives of Colombian people
In order to improve the economy, there are various stories and programs that aim to improve people’s lives and reduce poverty. Some time ago, the government established a special department called Department of Social Welfare (DPS) to specifically focus on poverty alleviation. This department, although not a full ministry, had a substantial budget and was larger than most ministries. It even had a representative in the Council of Ministers. All these cases show the importance of poverty reduction for Colombia.

In the Department of Social Welfare, a special group called “National Agency for Eradication of Extreme Poverty (ANSPE)” was established. In addition to its responsibilities, the group managed a national network called Red Unidos, which included more than 10,000 local leaders. Red Unidos worked directly with 1.5 million families in poverty and provided them with special access to social services and facilities to address various problems related to poverty.

At ANSPE there was a Center for Social Innovation (CIS). The center played an important role in sharing the best ideas from local communities and developing innovative solutions to tackle extreme poverty. They discovered many of Colombia’s local innovations that not only improved the lives of people living in poverty, but also influenced government policies.

A notable example is the Agrosolidarity project, a national network of farming families working together to improve their lives and support fair and sustainable farming practices. The network operates with a decentralized structure that ensures all families are involved in decision-making. This unique approach allows them to combine cooperative economies and circular economic cycles while also addressing issues such as unequal land ownership.

In Colombia, the largest amount of land is owned by a small percentage of the population, however, the issue of land ownership has become an extremely important problem. To emphasize the importance of this issue, in the peace agreement signed in 2016, two primary clauses were dedicated to land ownership and use and local political participation and representation. This is a sign of recognizing these challenges as essential components in the larger goal of promoting social well-being.

Change and innovation towards peace and tranquility
According to the Norwegian Center for Conflict Resolution, the peace process with the FARC group in Colombia contains innovative ideas that can contribute to other peace efforts around the world. These thoughts stem from the lessons learned in unsuccessful negotiations during the 50-year conflict with FARC. On the other hand, experienced international leaders who have been involved in other peace processes have also actively engaged with Colombia.

At the same time, local communities have found their own creative solutions to face the humanitarian crisis caused by armed conflicts. In this, cases that affect the general population, including children, are particularly important. For example, the Escuela Nueva Learning Circles, also mentioned in the SI-DRIVE Global Census, are designed for children who have been forcibly removed from educational settings and have had difficulty fitting into the regular school system. These learning circles follow their principles by focusing on students’ activities and using teachers as guides. This plan often implements its educational activities in public spaces and sometimes involves the participation of formal educational institutions, parents and community leaders. As such, many social innovations in Colombia, including learning circles, have influenced political decision-making and responded to broader social challenges. For example, Learning Circles has expanded over time from supporting expelled children to families who for whatever reason cannot adapt to the country’s school system.

Advancing in the path of transformation and facing challenges
Although there has been support for measures to combat poverty and violence, concerns have been raised about the long-term success of these measures. In 2016, poverty and extreme poverty levels increased for the first time in 14 years. On the other hand, budget cuts also affected active social innovation organizations and forced them to reduce team members or even dissolve some of them.

The peace process also faced its own difficulties; When more than half of the citizens rejected the peace agreement during the voting. Although Congress agreed to the agreement by editing and ratifying it, its implementation and structural proposals faced many threats. In addition to all this, the political atmosphere of that time was also divided into two opposite poles and faced confrontation. Finally, the candidates’ criticism of this peace process in the 2018 Colombian presidential election may have affected its sustainability. For this reason, despite the surrender of weapons by the FARC group, the possibility of changing the agreements by the new governments can lead to new violence and increasing inequalities.

Ways Colombia’s communities can make an impact
In some rural areas of Colombia, many people struggle with poverty and the government is less involved. People in these areas, instead of trusting the government, often cooperate with each other and jointly try to respond to the problems that arise. This phenomenon is known as local social innovation, which has been proven to help provide basic needs and even influence government policies.

In the past, ordinary citizens of Colombia have played an important role in bringing about fundamental changes. For example, in 1991, students organized the “Septima Papelta” movement, in which more than 7 million people symbolically voted for a new constitution. In 2008, more than 8 million people took to the streets in the “No to FARC” movement to demand an end to violence by the FARC rebel group.

Even today, government officials and peace activists believe that the best way to reduce violence and prevent its return is the direct participation of citizens. In this way, people can protect the most basic human right, i.e. the right to life, by organizing and acting. They also believe that local communities will play a significant role in shaping a better and more peaceful future of Colombia by creating social innovation in Colombia.

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