Social Innovation in Chile

نوآوری اجتماعی در شیلی

نوآوری اجتماعی در شیلی

According to the United Nations Human Development Index, Chile is considered the most advanced country in Latin America. This country, along with Argentina, is the only example in the region that has a very high rate of human development. Nevertheless, despite economic growth and focus on social policies, Chile still faces social inequality and a relatively bad economic situation. In fact, Chile faces a large income gap and significant differences in the quality of public and private services, especially in the areas of education and health. In addition, heavy dependence on natural resources, especially copper, has caused environmental problems and social contradictions. With this description, what is the state of social innovation in Chile?

So far, research on Chilean social innovation has been very limited. The importance of innovation in the Chilean economy was first raised as a topic of study in the 1990s. Research has shown that the country’s economy is very vulnerable and has emphasized the risk of dependence on natural resources and the need for technological innovation. Although some successful measures have been taken in this field, the main technological innovations have not played a significant role in the economic success of Chile.

The central question in the current crises is how to improve innovation to strengthen Chile’s long-term economic competitiveness. Despite the dependence on natural resources, the talks seem to have stalled. Therefore, there is a need for a better innovative perspective called “New Innovation Paradigm”. This paradigm emphasizes the importance of communication with society and introduces social innovation as a vital factor in solving various challenges including social, economic, political and environmental issues.

The growth of social innovation in Chile
Now, a diverse social innovation ecosystem is emerging in Chile. Historically, the voluntary non-profit sector, including organizations such as TECHO and Socialab, has played a key role in advancing social innovation in Latin America. Collective actions and social entrepreneurship projects (some of which are highlighted in the SI-DRIVE census) have successfully introduced innovative solutions in areas such as education, health and the environment.

In contrast, the role of the business sector in social innovation in Chile is still ambiguous. As this topic is limited to corporate social responsibility (CSR), little is known about the depth of involvement of business firms in social innovation. With increasing human and financial resources in CSR, there are still questions about whether the private sector has fully implemented its role in Chile’s social innovation ecosystem. On the other hand, the controversial nature of CSR has raised concerns.

However, with the increasing use of the concept of shared value that goes beyond the traditional definition of CSR, evidence of change has emerged. This includes the development of innovative solutions together with communities and other institutions and indicates a more responsible role of companies in the field of social innovation.

In recent years, universities have also emerged as important promoters of social innovation in Chile, especially through the mission of communication with society and knowledge transfer, with an emphasis on academic social responsibility. The establishment of the Network of Social Innovation in Higher Education (NESIS Chile) in 2013 brought together different universities from different regions of the country to pursue social innovation projects. While some universities have created programs, social innovation centers and laboratories to develop this field in Chile, there are significant differences in their profiles. Some of them focus on introducing new social practices, while others emphasize technological solutions to create social value.

A dominant perspective in Chilean universities is to look at social innovation from the perspective of social entrepreneurship. However, there is a recognized challenge that these institutions must expand their understanding of social innovation beyond entrepreneurship and technology. Another challenge is to overcome the whole-by-part approach, often known in Latin America as “assistencialismo”, where universities dictate solutions without the active participation of communities.

Chilean universities, like many other organizations in Latin America, struggle with the need for privatization. Instead of treating communities as passive recipients, they should empower communities to combat challenges. Fortunately, over the past few years, a movement has been launched to facilitate and manage social innovation processes with the cooperation of the community, instead of determining and governing them. This change ensures that universities respond to the real needs of communities and avoids the risk of offering solutions without real collaboration.

The decisive role of the public sector
In recent times, the public sector, especially the Chilean government, has made significant efforts in solving social and environmental challenges to progress by adopting social innovations. A prominent example of this development is the establishment of the “Chile for All” competition, which provides funding opportunities for non-profit organizations with innovative projects, offering grants of up to US$30,000. Also, “Government Laboratory” as a public innovation center has a central role in these efforts.

The main force behind these social innovation efforts is the Chilean Economic Development Organization (CORFO). This organization’s program for social innovation, which started in 2015, is recognized as an innovative approach to promote the co-creation of new and improved social practices. It should be noted that for the Chilean government, social innovation does not mean social entrepreneurship and includes various fields including public policies and scientific projects.

This program consists of five distinct stages:

Definition of problems and challenges: This stage includes identifying social and environmental issues in a specific area, which is accompanied by criticisms and criticisms of local people. For example, challenges such as improving access to water are raised in this phase.
Ideation: This phase starts with setting up a web platform that allows innovators to share their ideas to solve challenges. Participants benefit from expert guidance. Workshops are then held to improve the projects and align them with the program goals.
Prototyping: At this stage, it is stated that organizations should collaborate with local communities and co-create prototypes. Selected initiatives will receive grants of up to US$61,000, covering 80% of the total budget. This stage lasts from 15 to 21 months.
Validation: This stage includes a national invitation to validate prototypes. In this part, up to USD 154,000 of funding is allocated to each project. This step ensures that the proposed solutions are effective and stable.
Scalability: While the details of this phase are still being worked out, the overall plan is to support projects in increasing impact and delivering solutions to multiple contexts.
CORFO’s social innovation program is quite obvious as a pioneering policy approach and tries to shape and promote a new paradigm for solving social challenges. Undoubtedly, this program has been effective not only in financial support for initiatives but also in establishing and strengthening social innovation ecosystems and encouraging the development of new social practices.

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