Escudo de la República de Colombia

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Social innovation could bridge the gap in the post-conflict

Any person can be creative and innovative and for this reason, all projects during the Colombian post-conflict should be discussed with the community, as there evidently is a difference between social innovation and technology.

Bogotá D. C., 09 de noviembre de 2016Agencia de Noticias UN-

Involving professors and students in developing social innovation projects through internships will be essential for the rebuilding process.

For students to become cognizant of other realities, unknown until now, will undoubtedly contribute to change their perspective of the country.

The university needs to carry out these types of projects with humbleness and capability to understand that it is about territories with other realities.

Children and youngsters who have lived a war have knowledge which is informal but can also be useful.

There are many training programs for demobilized people which should be resumed so they will not be considered technical.

It is important to guarantee access to education for children and youngsters which were once combatants.

This is the conclusion of Martha Thompson, Massachusetts Institute of Technology Professor and invitee to the International Innovation Congress. She says that when a country is entering a post-conflict scenario it faces a series of issues, therefore it is important for innovation and technology to help provide new answers. 

Thompson, a humanitarian, has contributed to solving cases such as refugee return after the Democratic Republic of the Congo war, or the recent tsunamis in Asia. She has also headed rebuilding programs in Somalia, Uganda, Pakistan and Kenya, among others. 

In a recent interview with the Universidad Nacional de Colombia (UNal), Agencia de Noticias she spoke about the role of social innovation in overcoming conflict scenarios. 

Agencia de Noticias (A.N.): What is social innovation? 

Martha Thompson (M.T.): It is currently very popular, although people tend to turn it complicated and academic: Social innovation is just approaching an issue in a different manner. 

For instance in Uganda, a group of youngsters who built houses for people unable to do so, also wanted to be given dancing costumes to convey messages on the importance of peace and reconciliation. 

A.N.: Why are social innovation processes so essential?

M.T.: Expressions such as a theatrical ensemble, for instance, unite people and open windows to worlds which help them understand one another. This is essential! 

Social innovation could also include the idea of using art to solve an issue, such as developing a new way to organize a community or unite people and begin to exchange ideas. 

A.N.: How important would it be to develop social innovation programs in the current context of a country such as Colombia?

M.T.: This transition period often can be very difficult because people need to change part of their identity. As war never prepares people for peace, innovation could be a bridge to make things differently and build a new reality. 

A.N.: Is there any model to follow?

M.T.: At MIT we train people in technology which are not engineers or designers, or inclusively if they do not know how to read or write. However, they end up learning how to work wood or metal to build things which actually help them. 

A.N.: How to start in regions, as in Colombia, where there is nothing to start with?

M.T.: One of the things we emphasize at MIT is using local materials. In Haiti, for instance, despite the severe deforestation issue people used charcoal in excess; then we decided to help them use organic matter to substitute charcoal which included a process using yucca and a press. 

This was actually very nice but very expensive. Finally, after a community training program, we reached a design totally made of wood but much less pricey which worked fine. 

A.N.: Some victims of displacement resist returning to their lands. How can we facilitate their return?

M.T.: This is a very complicated situation which poses several challenges, such as insecurity. Therefore there needs to be a team of agricultural lawyers, mediators, and experts to advise people that do want to return. I know Colombia has worked a lot on land property, but in reality, there will be new conflicts. 

You would have to work with local authorities and NGOs and universities also to support these processes because communities need to feel accompanied and supported. 

A.N.: What is the role of the university on developing social innovation projects?

M.T.: It can be very important and from the little I have seen at UNal there is a lot of commitment. In every country with a conflict, people develop their own self-protection methods and I think there is a lot to learn because additionally one of the basis to building a project; the academia should also be aware of this.

(Por: Fin/JCM/MLA/LOF
)
N.° 830

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