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Premio Civico Por Una Ciudad Mejor: An Inspiring Experience Leading By Example

Disruptive Innovations

There is a growing interest by different -- governmental and private -- organizations to promote a more active role of citizens. There is a need of a more organized, effective, and participative citizenship, which is interested in taking action to solve the problems that afflict their city. Premio Civico was born in 1998 as a private initiative whose spirit is to exalt the work of those invisible leaders who are transforming their daily reality and their communities’ reality as well. After 19 years, it has been able to gather relevant information about the city from a community organizations basis. This could be relevant for decision-makers and brings new questions about the encounter or disagreement between these solutions offered by the initiatives and the real needs of the city.

The poor indicators of citizen participation, the lack of interest in social issues, the absence of relevant information regarding the city, and high levels of abstention were the breeding ground for promoting a true citizen culture in Bogota in the mid-1990s by the local government of Bogota. In this context Premio Civico was born in order to strengthen the capacities of community organizations and stimulate citizen initiatives that contribute to increasing the effectiveness and accountability of local governments. During its first years, the Prize focused on identifying, highlighting, valuing, and disseminating existing skills and capacities in the communities, which enables them to propose solutions to overcome their conditions of poverty and social exclusion. Towards the end of 2011, the Prize was re-evaluated. Although visibility and recognition given by Premio Civico were important for the organizations, the Board of the Prize acknowledged networking was crucial to allow organizations to connect among one another to gain new ideas, contacts, inspiration, and learning. 

Currently, social organizations, universities, NGOs, entrepreneurs, and the media promote the program. It seeks to boost and expand the impact of innovative, collective, and participatory social initiatives, which are working for the city by generating public value in a sustainable and a replicable way. The program has three main components -- promotion, community, and accompaniment - that differentiate it from other types of social awards:

  • Promotion:  Identifies, makes visible, recognizes, and promotes social initiatives. 
  • Community:  It favors scenarios of strengthening, interlocution, meeting, and articulation between current and historical social initiatives. 
  • Accompaniment:  It seeks to channel and direct institutions regarding new opportunities, training, grants etc. towards the initiatives to promote them. 

In summary, the aim of Premio Civico is to promote the exchange of knowledge and collective learning in order to respond to the challenges of the city in social matters.

How is Premio Civico is Different than Other Current Social Proposals?

In this context, there is a boom of awards and social recognitions to exalt social leaders. 

  1. Unlike other awards, it recognizes and makes visible the collective efforts of community organizations and citizen groups, which come up with innovative solutions to social problems. 
  2. It is one of the few that stimulates the work of grassroots organizations, which are not necessarily formalized by showing diversity in initiatives and forms of social organization.
  3. It is a program that understands the diversity of contexts and specific characteristics of cities. This is why it has one version per city, unlike other prizes that take place at the national level.
  4. In addition, the Prize goes beyond the award by promoting networking spaces between organizations and other social actors. Solid and lasting alliances are also main driving forces. We have four national partners and 23 local partners after 19 years of continuous work. 
  5. Finally, Premio Civico is a cost-efficient program and does not depend exclusively on contributions in money. In fact, more than 60 percent of the contributions are in-kind contributions, which allows it to bring opportunities for capacity building beyond the economics. All of these factors together have positioned Premio Civico in the social spotlight. Actually, it has been replicated in four cities -- Cali, Yumbo, Cartagena, and Manizales and has had versions in Buenaventura and Quibdó.

What Have Been the Social implications of the Program? 

Premio Civico has identified 3,566 initiatives in the five cities where it remains. However, there is other interesting information based on the results of the first impact measurement exercise done by Premio. In the first place, it became clear that after one year the initiatives have a clearer concept of social innovation. In addition, they also incorporated new administrative and methodological practices to improve the impact of their actions. It is important to highlight the generation of new alliances with other actors as well. Today, they have a growing number of new partners they are working with. This first exercise has made it possible to glimpse the changes organizations are experimenting with in order to strengthen their actions over time.

Final Considerations

The Program has acknowledged impact measurement and knowledge creation as a corner stones for its action. Knowledge is power; therefore the efforts have focused on generating and sharing knowledge for the social sector based on the information collected from more than 3,000 initiatives identified during the course of 19 years. The ’path of participation' is a result of this effort and shows how active citizens have drawn a route in order to exert influence in public policy spaces. A social leader who generates confidence within his community, a different vision in approaching problems, and consolidation of efficient organizations capable of articulating and actors are some of the elements that differentiate an initiative that actively influences public policies to one that does not.

The leader plays a fundamental role in this route towards making an impact. They generate trust and are the articulator between the community and other institutions. This process allows them to legitimize themselves as leaders in their community. They are also leaders of opinion who know the problems closely and are a reliable source of information. However, it is the union of wills that stands out from the Prize; the community must be willing to change. In this logic Premio Civico exalts the transforming collective power. Experience has shown while organizations do not have a model of financial sustainability working, they are sustainable in other terms. Commitment for the organizations is crucial as factor of sustainability. Organizations’ teams express quite often their willingness to remain in the initiative despite not receiving a monthly income. Leadership transfer strategies have been fundamental for the initiatives to be sustainable over time. 

However, initiatives need more than a good leader. Different forms of social organization and a huge diversity of mechanisms adopted to solve the problems are also important factors to take into account. The initiatives have migrated from neighborhood improvement actions towards the construction of a new concept of city and capacity building; initiatives from organizations such the Communal Action BoardsJAC into new forms such as citizen groups, social movements, innovation groups, and the academia as an active space for mobilization.

A new vision of the problem and the ability to work with others are other differentiating elements. Initiatives identify potential allies to articulate efforts in order to have a wider range of action in other neighborhoods, localities, communities, and cities. In terms of funding, organizations rely on project management strategies to finance their initiatives and usually they already have a solid organizational structure. However, it is important not to take the political dynamics out of the picture because it puts pressure on the initiatives and threatens their continuity.

Premio Civico Por Una Ciudad Mejor has an encouraging perspective regarding the role of active citizens. Of 365 initiatives identified in four cities between 2013 and 2014, 77 percent have been replicated in other localities and cities impacting 585 territories. The initiatives identified over 19 years show active citizenship as the driving force for transformative social change. However, there is still a way to go in terms of the incidence in public policy. Of the total number of initiatives, only 50 percent have managed to effectively influence in these spaces.

Challenges in generating and managing knowledge are great for the program. The path of participation' is only one of the results after collecting and analyzing information from 19 years of history. This exercise has allowed the formulation of new questions regarding the relevance of the actions carried out by the initiatives taking into account the real needs of the city. The articulation with other actors will be fundamental in this process of creating and sharing knowledge in order to build a Better City.

Author Bio

Paola Delgado Angel 

Responsible of Knowledge Management and M&E of the Civic Award for a Better City Program

Magister on Development Studies from the International Institute of Social Studies

Erasmus University of Rotterdam