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Social Innovation’s Ecosystem in Argentina and Chile

Intro Articles


According to the “Keys of the Social Innovation in Latin America” publication of the CEPAL (Economic Commission to Latin America and Caribbean) of 2008, “Innovations only make sense if they are spread and designed to serve others in all the countries of the region. If the analyzed experiences are taken as models of concrete actions of public policy, they will turn into a driving force able to reduce inequalities and enhance the social cohesion of the whole region.”1 

It is precisely in that regard that the mission of the Social Innovations Journal of serving as a platform to provide visibility to social innovations in a regional ecosystem, takes on a great importance. 

This edition will focus on what is taking place in Chile and Argentina. 

We are not trying in any way to offer one formula since it is essential to consider the economic, political, and social characteristics of each country. However, the development of social innovations faces common challenges such as opposition and reluctance to change and the need to build partnerships and deal with endogenous and exogenous obstacles to their implementation. Whereby it is possible that the analysis and the understanding of the way these aspects have been addressed may serve as an example and trigger to finding adaptable commonalities to specific situations in other countries. 

First, we will show the general panorama of Latin America and its way of addressing the matter of social innovation in order to proceed with the particularities of the social innovations in Chile and Argentina. Finally, the articles presented in this edition will be introduced. 

Starting from the general frame of Latin America, it can be said that the experience of the region in designing and implementing policies of innovation began in the 1950’s. In several Latin American countries, public entities were created to promote scientific progress and research. For instance, in 1958, Argentina created the National Council of Investigation and Technics, CONICET and in 1967, Chile founded its own National Commission to Scientific Investigation and Technology, CONICYT. At the time, innovation was only seen as linear. In other words, the process started with basic scientific research for the development of new products and then, it the focus was on its commercialization. In the 1980’s and 1990’s, following the principles of the Washington Consensus, the State identified the needs of the market and accordingly adjusted its public policies to allow the private sector to look for solutions to those needs. 

Today, the process involves not only the private sector but also universities, research centers, and public sectors as active participants of the innovation process. However, according to the CEPAL, that structure of actors has not yet been consistently established throughout Latin America as it lacks spaces for dialogue to create a synergy of goals and possibilities. In addition, most of the countries of the region also lack State mechanisms that would fuel the innovation process.  

The studies of CEPAL that have compared the results in Knowledge, Technology, and Research (CTI) of the region, with more developed countries, show substantial differences increasing over time. The low level of investment in innovative activities and scarce dynamism have been a constant in Latin American economies.2 

Even though the region presents a high level of heterogeneity in respect to its commitment to the CTI, it stayed more in the speeches than in concrete actions. Aiming its strength at the CTI would drive these countries to develop new spaces to reinforce their competitiveness based on knowledge, innovation, and the development of new technologies, but also supporting the growth of teams that would generate structural changes, diversify productivity, and achieve an authentic, sustainable, inclusive, and long-term competitiveness.3 

On the other hand, there is the point that social innovation is used specifically to search for solutions to issues that are not properly covered by the market or public sector. In that sense, social innovation aims to positively transform the life of a group or community, associating stakeholders who do not usually work together to generate important cultural changes. Those who are directly affected, the civil society, have been empowered with the responsibility of becoming architects of their own fate, and promoting changes from their local areas that would have an impact on the decisions of the State through public policies reflecting those changes. 

This implies a joint analysis of the way innovation in the scientific, technological, and then in the social field as a subdivision, would incorporate scientific knowledge into local knowledge and the concrete experience of the local stakeholders. 


With the departure from the fixed exchange parity regime at the end of 2001, the country went from a social situation of poverty rates of more than 50 percent of the population, and unemployment and underemployment issues for one-third of Argentinians,4 to the last decade that was characterized by an economic process of strong growth and significant social improvement. 

According to the World Bank, “Argentina is/witness in a process of economic transformation that promotes sustainable economic development with social inclusion and insertion in the global economy and has had the best performance in poverty reduction and shared prosperity impetus/impulse in the region between 2004 and 2008.”5

The presidential elections of late 2015 led to a significant change in the Argentinian economic policy. The first signs of the trend towards social innovation could be found following the first round of local entrepreneurs (social start-ups) and civic innovation laboratories like the one of the city of Buenos Aires.6

Statistics show that at least 30 percent of the projects that are being hatched in Argentina, have a strong component of social innovation and this trend allows hope that this will continue to grow in the future. Likewise, several provincial and municipal governments (including some big-scale firms/businesses) will start their own “laboratories of innovation” with a labelled social seal as a way to answer to complex issues.7

This particular emphasis in systemic long-term policies with clear strategic orientation as well as the search for increased integration and coordination, were consolidated in 2007 when the Ministry of Science, Technology, and Productive Innovations was created. It originated as a process of hierarchization and better institutionalization of the CTI policy.

It is important to highlight that Argentina is accountable with a National Plan of Science, Technology, and Innovation that is leading the way to set the country on the right track with better indicators of quality of life, productive competitiveness, social inclusion, and environmental sustainability by 2020. With the goal of securing and strengthening these policies in a sustainable way, this plan utilizes as its main tools, innovation and knowledge under the strategy of focalization, has been created, and represents a change from traditional strategies. 

The strategy of focalization seeks to direct efforts towards significant impacts in the social and private sectors in Argentina through the support of science, technology, and innovation. 

The underlying objective is to promote a dynamic of interaction between the institutions of knowledge creation and the potential beneficiaries of the scientific and technological breakthroughs, in other words, between the different actors intervening in the process of social and private innovation. 

This strategy takes inspiration from the experience that the Ministry has developed in the last years of implementation of the Sectorial Funds. It deals with the design of a model of innovative management with the innovation boosted from the initial steps of the association of actors of common interest, through the evaluation of feasibility, to the concrete realization of the desired innovation. 

The Plan exposes the main axes of the to-be implemented and strengthened policies in order to properly answer the challenge of building a country that offers equality of opportunities to anyone. 

The proposed methodology represents in itself an innovation since it establishes Tables of Implementation wherein the public officers of the Ministry of Science and Technology and the public officers of other jurisdictions, private sector actors, NGOs, scientists, and scholars, gather to discuss and look for consensus on the direction of the country. From these discussions will result Operative Plans that will execute the funds and undertaking of a follow up and evaluation of the completed actions. 

The main objective of the Plan is to “Bolster productive, inclusive, and sustainable innovation based on the expansion, the advance, and full use of the national scientific-technological capacity, then increase the competitiveness of the economy to improve the quality of life of the population within the framework of sustainable development.”8

The challenge for Argentina would be, then, to articulate and coordinate efforts, and to create a welcoming environment with a regulatory framework that would allow stakeholders to envision innovation as a competitive strategy of development.   


Chile is the most competitive and the best environment to do business in Latin America. In fact, for the period between 2000-2014, the Chilean economy grew an average of 4.3 percent in real terms (information provided by the Central Bank of Chile).  

The country succeeds in creating a favorable atmosphere for investment and its development based on commercial openness, strong institutions, fiscal and monetary stability, as well as secure financial market. 

According to the Plan of Innovation of Chile 2014-2018, the country should move from economy growth based on productive factors, physical capital over human capital, towards a knowledge economy based on innovation to increase efficiency and productivity.9

Even though Chile is still far away from the appropriate amount of resources dedicated to Research and Development in its PIB, the quality and efficiency of research conducted in the country is accurate and increasing. The issue is that research done in universities has little connection with the private sectors of the country. This results in the areas where research is carried out, not being aligned with the real productive situation of the country and not led by innovation. 

From another perspective, the role of the State in the development of innovation in Chile is an issue worth analyzing. The State must help to reduce the failures of the market presented in the innovation process, help the private sector in financing risky technological activities, finance science, and encourage a cultural transformation to entrepreneurship, innovation, and the use of science as a tool to solve problems across sectors. This cultural change requires a continuous dialogue with the private sector. 

According to Cristián Figueroa, Director of the Public Responsibility and Social Innovation from the University of the Desarrollo (UDD) in Chile, “social innovation is the process of identifying what exists and detailing how to transform it into something more innovative to strengthen its social impact.”10

José Manuel Moller, Founder of Algramo said that “it is difficult to find success cases in this field because a company who is trying to strengthen their position by equilibrating economics with social needs and with the environmental protection requires more time, effort, and intelligence from their managers.”11

Rocío Fonseca, Executive Director of Start-Up Chile added that the country is leading the field in Latin America but “sometimes the profile of the entrepreneur is so social that it leaves aside the business vision and fails in generating profits and scaling.”12

Having analyzed all these challenges, the Plan of Innovation of Chile establishes four axes of action:  

A. Democratize innovation procedures in small and big companies, the public sector, and society.  

This objective implies three lines of action:  

1. Promotion of innovation in business by two frames: 

a). Program of Technological Business Innovations: Through the CORFO, Corporation of Production Promotion, Agency of the Government of Chile, aim to promote innovation in national companies through financing projects working to develop new products and services and/or process or improvement, allowing them to increase their productivity/competitivity in the market they compete. 

b). Centers of Technological Extension: They provide a variety of specialized technological services and technical assistance to provide proper technological knowledge and improve capacity and strengthen their ability to innovate.  

2.     Innovation for Inclusive Growth: 

Innovation is not only focused on increasing productivity but also on solving social and public challenges. The efforts are focused on: 

a). Social Innovation Program: It promotes initiatives with high social, labor, and environmental impact, where the main objective is to create social value. 

b). Public Innovation Policy: Oriented to develop procedures and a culture of innovation within the Government and its institutions to achieve a continuous improvement in its relationship with citizens and in its functioning. The Committee of Innovation in the Public Sector will implement these actions and create the first GobLab Latin America.  

3.     Ecosystem and Culture of Entrepreneurship and Innovation:  

To install and consolidate a culture of innovation and entrepreneurship there are several directions to take:  

a). Extension of Programs to support basic entrepreneurship: Through the expansion of Start-Up Chile into other regions to create a cultural change and share experiences and knowledge. There are also plans for the creation of infrastructure like cowork spaces and global hubs in each region to establish networks to promote the sharing of information and increase capital funds to create new companies. 

b). Support to Scaling: Building platforms to create and finance new ideas.  

B. Contribute to diversification of the productive matrix. 

In other words, to open spaces for new areas and enhance competitive sectors through an active and dynamic industrial policy promoting innovations and enabling the economy to diversify its productivity as follows: 

a). Strategic Programs of Intelligent Specialization: Through articulated work between public and private sectors. 

b). Founds of Strategic Investments: Providing financing to promote competitivity of sectors with high potential of growth through public investment or mechanisms of joint investment with private sector. 

c). Strengthening the Office of Industrial Liaison inside the Ministry of Economy.  

C. Increase the production of new knowledge (Research and Development) and the connection between companies and this knowledge via technological transfer. 

Through two tools: 1) Increasing public financing in Applied Research and Development and 

2). National Plan for Technological and Knowledge Transfer: Oriented to articulate joint work between governmental agencies in the design and improvement of existing programs using a monitoring system.  

D. Strengthen institutions in order to enhance public action’s impact and the capacity to follow up and assess the resources allocated to this area.  

In recent years there has being improvements to institutionalize our National Innovation System. Some examples are: the creation of a National Council of Innovation for Development with a new legal status that allows its financial and political Independence from the government in turn; the creation of the Committee of Ministers for Competitivity Innovation; and finally, the creation of a Platform of Information of the National Innovation System that provides the required data to take decisions and make studies and assessments of all the programs and tools of the system.  

Therefore, the Plan has all the required elements to positively promote the development of social innovation in Chile, only time will tell if it has been enough to achieve these objectives.  

Introducing the Articles of This Edition 

This edition will show different ways of adapting social innovations in Chile and Argentina as follows: 

The Laboratory of Social Innovations of Buenos Aires creates a space of encounter, where innovative solutions to social problems emerge to strengthen the social impact of current initiatives. The article highlights three projects: The LabJóvenes (16-24 years), el Impactec, and a contest that encourages the technological development of start-ups with social impact and several social inclusion projects.  

Buenos Aires City Social Innovation Lab: We identify Needs and Generate Innovative Solutions

The work developed by the Mi Parque Foundation, in Chile, is focused on building green areas and parks by directly involving the community in the design, building, and protection of these zones. The appropriation of these areas for community use has resulted in positive effects in the quality of life for residents and in the preservation of these spaces.  

Recovering Public Spaces Along with Communities

A multidisciplinary team in Argentina shows the Chagas disease from an integral, creative, innovative, and kaleidoscopic view in order to face jointly its biomedical, socio cultural, epidemiologic, and political dimensions from several disciplines, scenarios, and languages.  

Education, Communication, and Lots of Creativity: A Good Combination to Face Complex Problems Like Chagas

The social and environmental challenge to the access of water resources, erosion, and desertification for the communities living in the Coquimbo region in Chile, has led a team to work jointly with these communities to share knowledge to empower them to find solutions to their sustainable development.  

The Challenge of Desertification from a Social Innovation Perspective: Technology Transfer of Fog Catcher to Agricultural Communities in Northern Chile

Through the Tiendas Solidarias, the Corporation of Help to Burnt Children, COANIQUEM, is helping with the financing of treatment for children and youth who have burns and, in addition, is working to promote the creation of a community that participates as volunteers in shops that enable people with low-economic resources to buy goods at reduced prices. 

Fundraising and Solidarity -- New Opportunities Through the Model Solidarity Stores

The innovative proposal to recognize the Pueblos Originarios de Argentina as agents of public law with a non-governmental status, by respecting their right to self-police, could create the legal framework required to achieve their social inclusion in Argentina by empowering them as the architects of their own destiny in a sustainable way.  

Recognition and Inclusion of the Native Communities of Argentina

The Project Open Doors Kindergarten, Live School, has a different approach to education. Using different forms of art they are creating bridges of learning to stimulate creativity and enthusiasm, while producing social impact among the community of students, families, and professors.  

About What is Known, A Different Approach

The Agua y Saneamientos Argentinos S.A. entity is developing innovative initiatives to face the challenge of providing access to potable water and sanitation systems to popular neighborhoods in Buenos Aires. 

The Challenges of Drinking Water and Sanitation Accessibility in Low-Income Neighborhoods in Buenos Aires

Social Projects is an organization dedicated to community work and, particularly, the systematization of 23 projects implemented in a popular neighborhood in the south area of Buenos Aires between 2007 and 2015. Each project shares the objective of improving the conditions of life for this population and mitigating the effects of exclusion and social inequity.  

Strategies and Tools for Intervention in Community Work Oriented to Social Inclusion


Innovation emerges from the intersection between different processes, where theory meets practice, where innovators share experiences, sponsors finance and take risks, public and private organizations cooperate, scientific information is sound, and where knowledge comes from the experiences and the practical needs being met. The key is synergy.13 By creating spaces of encounter for academia, state, the private sector, and civil society the path forward towards sustainable and inclusive development becomes clearer.  

In most Latin-American countries, the local government only provides public services that were transferred from the central government, mostly without the required resources to manage them properly. Actions are required in both fronts. At the local level, it is essential to strengthen local governments to enable them to lead the process of social and economic development; and at the national level, the government must create the required infrastructure and regulatory framework to achieve this development.   

After analyzing the situation in these countries, it is possible to confirm the importance of social innovation and its role to promote the development of the region. It requires a joint, multidisciplinary approach to coordinate a team with the capacity to make decisions and create innovative experiences. In addition, experience shows the need for, on one hand, a leader who is an inspiring and passionate person who channels the energy of the community and focuses their skills to guide and transform ideas into facts, while also demonstrating the need for a community committed to seeking out sustainable solutions to regain their dignity.  

The current status is clear, and though difficult, a path has been laid out. 

Works Cited

“La innovación social: la próxima tendencia en innovación” Pablo Piccoletto 22 mayo 2015

“América Latina: La falta de Innovación dificulta la creación de empleos de calidad. Diciembre 5, 2013

Instituto de innovación social UDD Chile Fernanda Gómez 2 noviembre 2017.

Plan Nacional de Innovación Chile 2014 – 2018. División de Innovación, Ministerio de Economía, Fomento y Turismo. Santiago diciembre 2015.

“Claves de la Innovación Social en América Latina y el Caribe”. Rodríguez Herrera, Adolfo; Alvarado Ugarte, Hernán. CEPAL Comisión Económica para América Latina y el Caribe. Libros de la CEPAL. Santiago, Noviembre 2008. 

“Nuevas Instituciones para la Innovación: Prácticas y Experiencias en América Latina”. Gonzalo Rivas, Sebastián Rovira Editores. CEPAL-NACIONES UNIDAS Santiago 2014.

“Estudio Económico de América Latina y el Caribe 2017. La dinámica del ciclo económico actual y los desafíos de política para dinamizar la inversión y el crecimiento”. CEPAL NACIONES UNIDAS. Santiago 2017. 

“Argentina Innovadora 2020: Plan Nacional de Ciencia, Tecnología e Innovación. Lineamientos Estratégicos 2012-2015”. Ministerio de Ciencia, Tecnología e Innovación Productiva. Secretaría de Planeamiento y Políticas. Buenos Aires. 


1Claves de la Innovación Social en América Latina y el Caribe. CEPAL .2008. 


3Nuevas Instituciones para la Innovación. Prácticas y Experiencias en América Latina. CEPAL. 2014 

4Argentina innovadora Plan 2020

5Banco Mundial 

6La Innovación social: La próxima tendencia en innovación. Pablo Picoletto.  


8Argentina Innovadora Plan 2020

9Plan de innovación de Chile 

10Instituto de innovación social UDD Chile Fernanda Gómez 2 noviembre 2017.

11Instituto de innovación social UDD Chile Fernanda Gómez 2 noviembre 2017.

12Instituto de innovación social UDD Chile Fernanda Gómez 2 noviembre 2017.

13Claves de la innovación social en América Latina. CEPAL. 2008