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Boston College School of Social Work
Center for Social Innovation


First International Social Innovation Lab Concludes

Ruta Building


APRIL 28, 2014

The CSI has concluded its first international Social Innovation Lab in Medellín, Colombia. Partnering with Ruta N Medellín, one of the leading science and technology innovation companies in Colombia, the CSI worked with teams comprised of NGOs, local government, corporations and universities to launch four innovative initiatives in Medellín, addressing issues of transportation, entrepreneurship, overcoming the urban conflict, and housing.

As an international facilitator, the CSI team provided expertise in social innovation to diverse organizations and over 40 participating leaders. At the launch of the project in Fall 2013, Lab participants were selected and grouped into four Lab teams with help from local partner, Compartamos con Colombia (CCC). The diverse representation of various organizations and sectors strengthened the resources and perspectives available to address four critical issues self-identified by the Lab participants themselves.

In August 2013, Lab participants engaged in an initial orientation facilitated by the CSI. This visit consisted of several didactic and participatory workshops for the four Lab teams, which provided a foundation in the BC CSI Social Innovation Process as well as strategies for problem identification and research. "The enthusiasm for social innovation and the dedication that each team member has to their community is undeniable," said Humberto Camarena, Assistant Director of the CSI and Project Director of the SI Lab, "It's encouraging to see the teams off to such a promising start." At the conclusion of the orientation, Lab teams articulated the following as their identified problems to address:

  1. Promoting Public Transit Access
  2. Support for Female Entrepreneurs
  3. Building Positive Post-Conflict Communities
  4. Alleviating Overcrowded Housing

Following the initial orientation visit, Lab teams continued to refine their problem by engaging in academic and field research with guidance from the CSI and CCC. Thanks to additional support from a second local partner, Furia, Lab teams also participated in immersion exercises to experience their social issue from the perspective of their target audience. This insight was discussed and expanded upon during a second visit to Medellín by the CSI in February 2014.  

During this visit, the CSI provided an Intensive Social Innovation Seminar to challenge Lab teams to ideate solutions to their problems and to leverage team resources for innovation. In addition to the Lab participants, 60 leaders from the social sector were also invited to attend the CSI’s workshops in order to generate greater social innovation capacity throughout the city. Through this interactive seminar, both the participants and nonprofit leaders were able to better understand BC’s Social Innovation Process and receive feedback on their current work.

During the final stage of the SI Lab, the teams were able to utilize the tools provided by the CSI to ideate innovate solutions for their social problems. With support from Furia, Lab teams were challenged to generate and refine innovative solutions into testable prototypes. The following is a list of the prototypes developed for pilot testing:  

  1. Faro: a navigation system for pedestrian mobility, which helps people connect to public resources, like bike paths and safety zones, via their mobile phones.
  2. Creo en Vos: an app that promotes consumption of local goods by facilitating purchases between local entrepreneurs and consumers in Medellín.
  3. Convivencia: a video game for 7-16 year olds to identify social norms they are exposed to, which perpetuate a culture of violence in their neighborhood.
  4. HabitaWiki: an online networking opportunity for people to post and share their own solutions to optimizing space in dense housing.

To generate greater aptitude in social innovation, the BC CSI developed a concurrent online course for Lab participants, Social Innovation: Strategies for Change. The five module course consisted of video lectures from CSI Co-Director, Stephanie Berzin, PhD, in-depth readings, and discussion forums for participants to engage, reflect and integrate social innovation topics into their work. Throughout the duration of this project, participants were able to take the course at their own pace, and received a certificate from BC upon completion.

Additional outcomes for this project were the creation of a Toolkit for Social Innovation which includes the theoretical frameworks utilized in CSI’s social innovation process, steps for defining and researching a social issue, and practical exercises focused on both generating a solution and then launching an innovation.

Overall, the Lab, through collaboration with Ruta N, Compartamos con Colombia and Furia, allowed for a greater understanding and increased enthusiasm for social innovation in Medellín. This work set the foundation for the city to utilize innovative thinking and practices to address social problems.

Congratulations to all Lab teams and participants on their promising innovations and invaluable efforts!