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During the Federal Elections of Mexico in 2012, in the same political moment of the conformation of movements like YoSoy132, in the search for the democratization of the media, there was also the search for access to new technological tools. Tools that allowed for the solution to issues related to transparency and accountability of organized civil society, which in most cases there was very little to nothing known about their functioning or how to put them into operation.

The premise was very clear: To create tools that would allow organizations to innovate in the matters of systematization and documentation of information, at a low-cost while being simple to use. Under the premise of allowing us to be a vehicle for innovation by not restricting the possibilities of those who use our technology, the first reporting and documentation tool of its kind in Mexico and Latin America was developed, which generated sales from its first moments to support the company’s sustainability.


During the Federal Elections of Mexico in 2012, in the same political moment of the conformation of movements like YoSoy132, and in the search for the democratization of the media, there was also a search for access to new technological tools that solved issues related to transparency and accountability of organized civil society, which in most cases there was very little to nothing known about their functioning or how to put them into operation.

At the same time, an agreement between the then Federal Electoral Institute (IFE by its Spanish initials), the United Nations Development Programme, the Federal Electoral Court, and with the support from the Social TIC (a civic society organization focused on research, training, support, and promotion of digital technology and information for social purposes), presented the possibility of solving one of the largest problems of the electoral journey as controversial as the 2012 Mexican Election -- enabling 79.4 million Mexicans registered in the electoral roll to document the electoral crimes and irregularities of those who were witnesses, before, during, and after election day -- The New Election Monitoring.

By then, many technological options were available, but nothing worked as intended. It was not just about putting a dot on a map, but to complement the information, to include images, videos, texts, locations...something that later became what we know today as Visual Storytelling and that allowed a small interaction design office to become one of the first Mexican companies focused on the creation of civic technology tools for the collection, processing, and analysis of data in real time, from any channel of digital communication, which we now know as Virk.

We Create Civic Technology

Although the 2012 elections project was an adventure into an unknown territory until then, due to the political situation and the scope of it, we knew that we were standing on something that, with the right vision, could have a very important impact in Mexico and in the world.

Two years after iterations by team members and partners, we formalized our operations as Virk in 2014, to the surprise of many, as a private company and not as an NGO. This led us to discover another unknown problem -- the main donors and funding organizations did not support private companies, at least not in the same way that they support NGOs. Despite our philosophy of open source software and open data, it has been difficult for them to understand the importance of us establishing ourselves as a private company. The fact that we do not have to re-invent the wheel for every project that starts and ends with a "lack of funding," something that we encounter every day and that in some ways has also been a way of validating what we offer to the organizations we work with,  made our premise very clear --  create tools that would allow organizations to innovate in the matter of systematization and documentation of information at a low-cost while still being simple to use. This enabled us to serve as a vehicle for innovation and not restrict the possibilities of those who use our technology, and under this premise the first reporting and documentation tool of its kind in Mexico and Latin America was developed that generated sales from its first moments and made the company sustainable.

Soon we managed to attract the attention of organizations such as The World Bank, Univision, ICFJ, NDI, Transparency International, and Amnesty International among others, and with this, achieve the first implementations of projects in Latin America for data visualization and reception of reports in public services in various sectors (we call them citizen reports). In some countries of North Africa and Europe, mainly for election monitoring projects; we managed our first lessons that allowed us to find the inflection point for software standardization and customization for sectors such as water, energy, education, transport and mobility, health, research, election monitoring, journalism, gender equality/equity, human rights, anti-corruption, and smart cities.

Thanks to the implementation of analysis processes, user experience, and interface design, based on interactions with clients and users, we managed to identify the basic common elements among the projects we deliver, so that today we can provide support and advice to organizations on how they should initiate, design, and implement their projects for different contexts.

Today Virk serves two specific markets:

Projects for social causes

We develop technological solutions based on data for a better understanding of complex social problems, allowing citizens to make decisions about the information provided, mainly by international organizations, government agencies, media, and civil society organizations, through websites and web portals, stand alone tools, or native applications for smartphones, where Virk becomes a partner of these initiatives. They have allowed us to actively participate in the development of these initiatives in order to align them perfectly to the most appropriate solutions for each. We are focused on each organization having the same capabilities as the technological giants, at a low-cost, without complicated technical training and infrastructure, in the immediate. 

Projects for cities

We created the first City OS [Operating System for Cities] and a modular ecosystem that allows municipal and state governments to have location intelligence-based tools for governance, security, and efficiency of public services. We also enabled tourist destinations in the migration to become smart destinations for tourism.

Relevant Projects

Voz Eléctrica (Electric Voice)

Source: Virk

Voz Eléctrica (2013) is a collaborative project involving the Dominican Corporation of Electric Companies, the Electricity Distribution Companies (EDEs), multiple Dominican Republic civil society organizations like Foro Ciudadano, Centro Juan XXIII stand out, Toy Jarto, Allianza ONG, Participación Ciudadana, COPADEBA, Alternativa Ciudadana, and Centro Bonó among others, with support from The World Bank and Virk, for data collection that will reveal the impact on investments in the rehabilitation of specific electrical circuits.

We managed to provide citizens hundreds of reports in different channels, from web forms to call centers to twitter, and process the information through the reporting system to allow construction of blackout maps about specific areas of the country, as well as the detection of corruption cases in brigades and offices of the electricity companies in the Dominican Republic. We also managed to generate interest from public and civil society organizations, in exploring new technologies and implementing platforms similar to Voz Eléctrica to meet the needs of citizens and improve the quality of information available in various sectors of service providers.

Obra Chueca (Crooked Building)

Source: Virk

In the middle of the real estate bubble of 2017 in Mexico City, plagued by irregularities involving construction companies, real estate developers, notaries, mayors, and personalities of national politics, we created Obra Chueca: A 100 percent citizen initiative that aims to bring light to a widely known but rarely analyzed and much less transparent problem. The result of this exercise of citizen monitoring is the sum of information observed in the street and the complaints before the authorities, it indicates the geographical areas where there are irregularities and non-transparent processes which they legalized, as well as the actors who operate and benefit from corrupt practices, all in real time.

Obra Chueca received the Anticorruption Innovation Award from Telefónica OpenFuture_ and OpcionA in 2017, along with cash support to continue developing the project. Currently, there are many cities interested in implementing Obra Chueca, so we are working on the search for civil society organizations that specialize in this area to support the project in local environments.

Cozumel Smart Island

The City Council of Cozumel (2016-2018) Mexico, with support from the National Council of Science and Technology (CONACYT), looked for proposals for the migration of Isla Cozumel towards transformation into a smart destination for tourism, where the evaluations pointed towards Virk with the option to become the First Smart Destination of Mexico and the First Smart Island of Latin America.

In 2016 we were able to diagnose the needs of the Island in technological matters, to enable web tools and apps in order to put local producers at the level of international chains of restaurants and hotels, democratizing the offer and persuading tourists through the organization of digital itineraries to extend their stay in Cozumel, increasing the satisfaction of 4.1 million tourists who visit the island each year and the political profitability of the project toward the productive sectors. We also enabled tools for transparency and for the receipt of public service quality reports, as well as digital maps based on open data to promote sustainable development that led us to win the Smart Destination Award of The Smart Island World Congress in April 2018.

During the administration 2018-2021 we will continue with this initiative, where we will also begin work on open contracting services and electronic payments for citizens, we seek to close the gap in citizen attention, not only in the tourism sector, but also for the residents of the municipality on issues such as property tax payment, garbage collection, operating licenses, and access to public tenders.

The Future

We are currently working on a new free version of the reporting software, both for cities and NGOs, which allows the implementation of this type of technology without the need for its own infrastructure and the ability to receive information immediately (cloud-based). This bet, financed thanks to the trust of our clients and with our own resources, has led us to initiate agreements with multiple municipalities to train them in the use of our technology, and thereby achieve more efficient and transparent spaces for citizens in their local organizations.

Author bio

Ivan Yza is the founder and CEO of VIRK. She is an entrepreneur with more than 10 years of experience in building technology-based businesses and specializes in user interface and experience design for digital media [UI/UX for Web/ Apps / Data Visualization] for social causes and commercial projects.

She can be contacted via Twitter or LinkedIn.

For more information about Virk visit: 

An installed low-emission MPzero oven


Every winter, the air pollution caused by the combustion of biomass for residential heating is one of the biggest environmental problems suffered by the cities of South-Central Chile. Because the use of wood-burning stoves as the most affordable heating method, the problem remains today despite its negative environmental implications and continues to be the used most by the population despite itcausing serious health problems in the community, mainly in children and elderly. MPzero is a device for reducing emissions of fine particulate material, developed in Chile, which captures up to 97 percent of the emissions produced by this heating equipment, helping to keep the air clean and heating costs low, especially for families who do not have access to less polluting heating methods. 

The Problem 

Although it is public knowledge how harmful the smoke produced by the combustion of biomass is for health, wood is still the most economical biofuel and is used for heating and cooking food in Chilean households. It is estimated that, in the residential sector, wood is present in 33.2 percent of households in the country (1.721.032 homes), a percentage that is increasing in the south, reaching 98.2 percent in the Aysén region. 

In 2016, the World Health Organization (WHO) pointed to Coyhaique, the capital of the Aysén region, as the city most contaminated by particulate matter in Chile and Latin America, reaching contamination levels in the population equivalent to smoking 16 cigarettes a day. These facts have led to the authorities taking prohibitive measures such as limiting the performance of any outdoor activity, restricting the use of wood-burning heating or cooking, prohibiting the sale of non-certified heating equipment and imposing fines for homes that use firewood for heating during environmental pre-emergency and emergency periods. 

The strong socioeconomic and cultural link to firewood is a fundamental element for its continued use. "Its entire chain, including production and marketing, is impregnated with practices rooted for several generations1". That is why, along with the hard facts of the problem is that, to achieve a radical change in the situation, the solutions used must be crosscutting, taking into consideration several factors and on a large scale. 

Solutions projected in the public and private sector have been ineffective due to the wide spectrum of the operating variables under which this type of heater works, which leads, for various reasons, to misuse by users. 

The State has been in front of the problem in different ways, from subsidized plans of replacement of heaters, to replacement of old wood-burning stoves with certified wood-burning stoves that are more efficient and less polluting2 or by other types of heaters (electric, pellet, gas, or paraffin) and periodically carrying out different plans and activities of environmental awareness in the population while trying to regulate and certify the sale of dry wood, among other measures. 

On the part of the private sector, improvements have been made in the design of heating equipment to make them more efficient and lower emissions; firewood sellers have begun to work with firewood management plans to be able to supply dry firewood in a sustainable manner, and equipment has been put on sale that helps reduce emissions from stoves, such as catalytic filters, permeability filters, and pills to improve combustion. 

Unfortunately against these measures, no significant changes or improvements have been detected in the air quality of cities affected by the problem in recent years, in fact, according to the National Firewood Certification System, about 40 percent of those who have received replacement of heaters, have gone back to using firewood. 

Looking for An Answer 

Due to the problems mentioned above, in the national entrepreneurial ecosystem, a seedbed of ideas and projects have been generated by private innovators that seek to solve this problem. Some of the initiatives are catalytic equipment that works by means of a semi-permeable ceramic material installed on the exhaust of the stove, which allows it to burn at a lower temperature so that the soot that cannot be incinerated inside the combustion chamber. The problem with this system is that, although its cost is relatively low ($200 USD), its benefits are limited, it has a maximum capture efficiency of only 60 percent and restrictions of use under non-optimal combustion conditions, such as low temperature or use of green or moist wood. Another product available on the market is a device called "living filter," which retains contaminant particles by permeability and, although it has a high capture efficiency close to 92 percent, its value is extremely high, (about $4,200 USD), more than 10 times the minimum wage in Chile. 

Move Up to an Efficient Solution: From Industry to Housing 

The control of polluting emissions in industries is a common problem for which there are different types of emission "abatement" systems, validated and used for decades to reduce the pollution produced by the processes that require combustion within industries. 

One of these systems is the electrostatic precipitator, which, by means of an induced electric charge, polarizes polluting particles contained in the gases, so that they adhere to metal plates with an opposite charge. These plates are hit with a certain periodicity, causing the solid waste formed by the continuous accumulation of particles to "precipitate" in a discharge zone. This technology is widely used in coal-fired thermoelectric plants, achieving a capture efficiency of close to 99 percent.3  

From the knowledge of this technology, a new edge appears to solve the problems of particulate matter pollution produced by burning wood: scaling this device by installing installed in each firewood-burning stove and cooker residentially in the country. 

MPzero, The Economic Heat of Firewood Can Be Clean and Sustainable: 

From this technology, widely validated on an industrial scale, the challenge is to design a device that can use the principle of electrostatic precipitator to reduce the emissions produced by wood-burning stoves and cookers. 

To carry out this challenge, an interdisciplinary team meets, composed of: Eduardo Burboa, an electrical engineer who holds a  master's degree in renewable energies and clean technologies, Esteban Soto, an industrial engineer who holds a master's degree in industrial management, Gabriela Bustos, a journalist, and Ricardo Soto, an architect. 

This group of young professionals, united by friendship and a common challenge, together embarked on the innovation path under the umbrella of "Potential Chile," an organization (company) created to be a hotbed of ideas and projects that, through technological development and innovation, seek effective solutions to problems of an energetic, social, and environmental nature, which are its three pillars of action. 

Having the idea and the knowledge to carry out the creation of this product, the team obtains the financing and support of the Government of Chile through competitions of entrepreneurship and innovation as "Impacta Energía" 2016 of the Government Laboratory and the Ministry of Energy and "Capital Semilla" 2017 from Corfo (Corporation for the Promotion of Production). 

Having obtained the resources to develop the technology, the Potential Chile team focused on the development, testing and prototyping of the product through an accelerated incubation period of approximately eight months, in which different versions of the product were built, in order to fully understand its operation and thus reach the most effective design to solve the pollution problem. 

After this iteration process and technology assessment, it was possible to find the design of a prototype for piloting, which was tested by end users, during the months of August and September of 2017. The process consisted of replacing the first section of the stove tubes of stoves of the users by MPzero, to later turn it on and operate its heating equipment in a traditional way. 

During the piloting, which was carried out in seven houses, surveys of satisfaction, operation, performance, thermographic measurements, and photographic records were conducted, in order to gather as much information as could be useful for the development of possible improvements to the final product design. 

Pzero Technology in Simple Words 

The developed product consists of a household-scale electrostatic precipitator, which captures the particulate material that passes through the stovepipe, generating an induced electric charge inside this tube, in order to polarize the polluting particles so that they are adhered to the inner walls of the tube, thus retaining the release of about 97 percent of the polluting particles produced by combustion. 

To understand the technology in a practical way, we can remember the effect produced in the classic experiment to understand static electricity, in which small pieces of paper are cut or bitten to be attracted to an inflated balloon, which has previously been rubbed against the hair. What MPzero does is to repeat this electrical behavior, in which the pieces of paper would be the polluting particles, the balloon would be the internal walls of the stovepipe, and the induced load produced by rubbing the balloon with the head would be produced electronically by a high-voltage source and carried into the stovepipe by means of an electrode (metallic bar located in the center of the tube) 

The results of piloting and laboratory tests validated the assumptions that initially led to the development of the technology, since capture measurements of up to 97 percent reduction in emissions were obtained, the reduction efficiency was certified in optimal combustion conditions by 66 percent and a savings of 22 percent in the use of firewood was obtained. Piloting provided important qualitative results, such as understanding the equipment operation and performance, validation of aesthetics, high sense of safety against technology and, most importantly, all participants would acquire the product once it was available in the market, which is estimated to have an approximate market value of $400 USD. 


After the technical and social validation of the technology, the application for the patent of the product was carried out, which is currently under evaluation. We are working together with local governments to carry out massive plans of installation of the technology in heating equipment, as an effective measure to decontaminate the air of the cities. Work is already underway on the construction of the first commercial units and there is a waiting list of more than 200 people who wish to purchase the device. 


Because only significant social and environmental changes can be achieved through massive use of technology, Potential Chile is in search of private investment capital to scale up the production of technology and achieve greater scope in the territory, thus being able to help effectively improve the quality of life of people living in areas of environmental emergency. 

It is expected that the use of this and other technologies, which actively reduce emissions produced by firewood-burning equipment, are part of public policies related to the use of heating equipment. Just as some years ago the catalytic converter was incorporated as a restrictive measure for the use of vehicles in environmental emergency zones, the same or similar could be carried out with the integration of these technologies to wood-burning cooking and heating equipment. 

To conclude, the validation of the developed technology and the implementation of its massive use could radically improve the quality of life of people living in communitiess that, due to the low levels of economic income and the precarious quality of the construction and insulation of their homes cannot resort to another heating method that is less polluting than the firewood combustion. To this day in Chile, it seems that poverty is synonymous with firewood and pollution, respiratory diseases and collapse of hospitals in winter, children who cannot go out to play at the break, and public and sports spaces that cannot be used because of pollution. This is why, as an organization, we firmly believe in the insertion of this type of technology as an effective response to the problem of current pollution, in the hope that in the future (we hope not very far) the quality of the houses and their insulation will improve; more efficient, clean, and sustainable heating methods are developed and finally, there is a real interest and motivation on the part of the population to take care of the environment, its surrounding environment and to be aware of the damage to health and quality of life that this entails. 

Works Cited

1 Policy on the use of firewood and its derivatives for heating, Ministry of Energy, Government of Chile, 2016. 

2 Law No. 20.586, Ministry of Energy, published on 05/16/2015, which regulates the certification of devices for firewood combustion and other wood energy products. 

3 Emission mitigation technologies in coal-fired thermoelectric plants, Electrostatic Precipitator as a mechanism to capture Particulate Material, Iris Silva Castro, Energy Markets, Magister in energy engineering.

Author bio

Ricardo Soto Espinace, is the CEO and Project Manager of POTENTIAL SpA. Ricardo is a father, an architect from the Universidad de Concepción 2015 and holdsa diploma in strategic management of organizations with emphasis on innovation from the Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile in 2018. He s currently pursuing a Master's Degree in Advanced Architecture Studies, with specialty in Technological Innovation in Architecture at the Polytechnic University of Catalonia. His work has been marked by the participation and development of innovation projects linked to the areas of architecture, technology, and environment. In 2016, due to his work in these areas, he was awarded the Revelation Architect Award given by the Concepción Architects Association. In his professional development, he has excelled in several competitions of innovation and entrepreneurship, such as the impact of the Energy Laboratory and the Ministry of Energy, Capital Semilla of Corfo, and Construye Solar, among others. 



This article aims to share the preliminary experience of the Laboratorio Campesino for the transition to the Agroecology (Lab Campesino) of Tierra Libre in the municipality of Fusagasugá, Republic of Colombia. Particularly, the use of the concept of the local innovation ecosystem in the territory as a framework to identify the actors, interrelations, and elements of these decentralized innovation networks, to generate strategies for their collective realization. To this end, a series of questionnaires were applied to determining actors from various social sectors related to Tierra Libre and its action in agroecology. The objective was to identify the values, policies, knowledge, infrastructures, and the natural environment that sustain communal innovation processes. The results of this analysis allow us to understand the opportunities and challenges faced by the actors to promote innovations in agroecological practices in the territory of the province of Sumapaz, Cundinamarca.


According to Colombian environmental authorities about 40 percent of the country's soil presents some degree of erosion (IDEAM U.D.C.A. 2015). Climate change, and in particular the soil situation, is not only a local problem, it is global in scope. Worldwide, 3.2 billion people are being affected by land degradation (IPBES 2018). This problem represents a progressive loss of soil fertility, biodiversity, and the ability to retain water and nutrients. In Colombia, the expansion of the agricultural frontier, the impulse of the green revolution paradigm, migration, and armed conflict have been some of the main factors that have influenced soil erosion (see Figure 1).

Figure 1. Percentage of soil erosion in Colombia.

Source: IDEAM-UDCA (2015)

In response to the critical situation of the soil (among other elements), rural communities have begun to create strategies for the recovery and preservation of the soil and its mode of existence, involving ecology and traditional knowledge. One of these strategies is agroecology, an alternative rural life with social, political, and economic implications. This materializes as a method of agricultural production seeking to understand the dynamics of the various elements of the natural environment to use them as allies in the struggle for climate change adaptation and food sovereignty (Altieri, 1999). In the words of the Declaration of Small-scale Food Producers, Agroecology is:

"A way of life of peoples in harmony with the language of Nature. It is a paradigm shift in the social, political, productive, and economic relations of our territories to transform the way we produce and consume food and re-establish a socio-cultural reality devastated by industrial food production. Agroecology generates local knowledge, builds social justice, promotes identity and culture, and strengthens the economic viability of rural and urban areas" (Via Campesina 2018, pt. 1).

Agroecological peasants are working to build networks of trust in their territories. In this context, it is necessary to promote local innovation ecosystems with the objective of increasing the complexity of interactions and the transition to agroecology in the community. It is important to refer to the local culture, public policies, infrastructure, values, epistemology, and ontology of communities as an essential part of this assembly of actors and relationships. However, the above elements are often not taken into account in traditional innovation systems at the national or regional level. It is precisely in this context that the proposal is circumscribed by a laboratory of peasant innovation at the local level, which delves into relational, communal, and collective creation dynamics in regions such as the province of Sumapaz. Therefore, this document describes how a peasant organization such as Tierra Libre can take advantage of its network of actors to co-design and collaboratively manage a local innovation ecosystem to drive the LabCampesino initiative (Laboratorio Campesino para la transición a la agroecología) in the province of Sumapaz, Colombia.

Tierra Libre and the Laboratorio Campesino as an IDDS Initiative

Tierra Libre is located in the towns of Fusagasugá and Pasca, near the city of Bogotá (Capital of Colombia). The organization has worked in the territory since 2005 on the empowerment of peasants and the autonomy of the rural population. They have developed different projects around agroecology with communities of seven villages in the province of Sumapaz. They also have a network of 10 community "biofactories" for the production of organic biofertilizers and a farm/school in Pasca where they generate popular education processes in the region supported by a diversity of crops and animals (chickens and sheep).

The Free Land LabCampesino initiative seeks to empower small agroecological producers through open access technologies and collaborative creation dynamics in the municipality of Fusagasugá. This municipality is the third most populated in the department of Cundinamarca after Bogotá and Soacha, and the 45th in the country. It was founded on February 5, 1592 and is located 59 km south-west of Bogota, on a plateau bounded by the Cuja River and Chocho, the hill of Fusacatán and Quininí that make up the valley of Sutagaos and the plateau of Chinauta. In this territory the main economic activities are agriculture, livestock, trade, and services, especially tourism. Among the main crops of the region are corn, blackberry, potato, vegetables, and peas in the high-altitude lands, and coffee, bananas, and fruits in the low-altitude lands.

The LabCampesino has its origins in the International Development Design Summit (IDDS) in 2017. IDDS is a diverse and intense space for practical learning at the collective level, where processes of co-design of low-cost solutions to collective problems and aspirations are carried out. It was created in 2007 by Amy Smith at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and since then there have been about 25 meetings in Asia, Africa, North America, and Latin America thus initiating the Innovation Network for International Development with more than 1,000 members from about 70 countries.

In Colombia, this program has been developed since 2015 with the leadership of the National University of Colombia, in addition to other organizations. Each year a meeting has been held in a different region of the country, addressing a diverse theme. In 2015, the first IDDS, called Zero Waste, was held in the city of Cali together with the Universidad del Valle and local recyclers' associations, with a focus on waste management. The second meeting in 2016 focused on primary education, which was developed with the support of C-Innova, the Bogota Workshop School, and the Circus School for All. In 2017, the IDDS Adaptation to Climate Change is organized in the municipality of Fusagasugá with the support of C-innova and the University of Cundinamarca. This time the theme is Adaptation to Climate Change. This last meeting took place in conjunction with six peasant and fishing communities of the province of Sumapaz and Alto Magdalena in Cundinamarca. One of the results of this meeting was a free digital hardware kit to monitor the humidity and temperature of biofertilizers . 

In this sense, the use of digital technologies based on free hardware to contribute to agroecology may in itself be a sufficiently innovative idea. However, it is the process of social appropriation of science, technology, and innovation in the rural sector and particularly from the rural or peasant population that creates conditions of rupture with traditional practices of technology transfer. Therefore, this article presents the progress and opportunities of Tierra Libre and especially the initiative of LabCampesino to strengthen an ecosystem of local innovation and promote agroecological practices by farmers in the province of Sumapaz.

This study exposes the need to understand the interrelations between the actors, as well as the opportunities and challenges for innovation present in the territory, in order to suggest strategies for the activation of the Laboratory of the peasant organization. The content of the text will then be presented. The second section describes the concepts of innovation and defines Local Innovation Ecosystem as a means to create and disseminate innovative solutions to the local challenges of a community. The third section explains the methodology used in the study and the scope of the project. The fourth section describes the local innovation ecosystem for Tierra Libre, its opportunities and challenges in the province of Sumapaz. Finally, the last section presents the conclusions and main lessons learned for the Laboratorio Campesino as a platform for the co-design of open and free agroecological technologies by the rural population.

Theoretical and Conceptual Foundations

Innovation as a process of creating new artefacts (technologies) and/or ways of acting in the face of a situation (social processes) has been studied since the middle of the 20th century. However, it still has a strong emphasis on economic development focused and led by large industries and universities (Reina-Rozo 2018). However, in recent decades, areas and concepts of innovation have emerged that go beyond this traditional framework and seek to create plural conceptions of science, technology, and innovation, particularly from users from a social dynamic. Elements such as Base Innovation (Gupta et al. 2003), User Innovation (Von Hippel 2005), and Citizen Innovation (Camaño and Pascale 2014), are some of the examples that can be observed among many others.

In this sense, the literature on innovation in rural environments or peasant innovation is limited when it comes to understanding the processes from the users, that is, from the peasants. The area of work and action of innovation is concentrated in urban environments, institutions of higher education, the metropolis, and industry. It is therefore pertinent to create frameworks of thought and action for rural environments and peasant populations (including settlers, Afro-Colombians, and indigenous peoples). Some efforts have focused on the generation of agricultural innovation systems, thought from a top-down perspective from the State, its dependencies, universities, and agricultural industries, but leaving aside the traditional inhabitants of the countryside.

In this way, it is crucial to generate concepts and modes of action at the local level that go beyond the paradigm of market-focused innovation towards an innovation that seeks collective well-being. In this sense, Reina-Rozo (2018) suggests the concept of Communal Innovation as a collaborative, autonomous, and free innovation process among individuals, collectives, and organizations at the local level, to achieve their aspirations and face their shared challenges. From this point of view, an innovation based on place and generated by the users themselves strengthens collaboration. This aims to focus differently on the quality of interactions and on a higher objective such as collective well-being.

Innovation is a social phenomenon that involves the knowledge, abilities, skills, relationships, networks, and work of a group of people. In the literature on innovation, it has been stated that it is an individual creation of the innovator. However, here this affirmation is questioned, to add other invisible actors and thus understand this dynamic, adaptive, and complex process. Therefore, the bet is to go from a systemic vision towards an ecosystem that allows articulating the complexity of natural environments and the interrelations of the actors. This idea is based on the ecological analogy in management studies, initially developed by Moore (1996).

Within this framework, Wulf proposes the idea of the ecology of innovation as the "set of interrelated institutions, laws, regulations, and policies that provide an infrastructure for innovation involving education, research, fiscal policy, and intellectual property protection, among others" (2007, 1253). This notion allows the articulation of the science and technology studies with those of innovation, in order to understand in a holistic way, the relations and actors, their environment for their promotion and strengthening towards the needs of the future (Wulf 2008). Thus, emerges the concept of Ecosystems of Innovation (EI), as a conceptual framework to describe and analyze the environment of creation of innovation processes.

In the last decade the concept of innovation ecosystems has had relevance in the scientific and management literature. Around this, Koslosky, Speroni, and Gauthier (2015), Gomes et al. (2016), and Ferasso et al. (2018) have conducted literature reviews, finding multiple definitions and frameworks for action. The objective was to describe the historical path, scope, and limitations of this emerging concept for innovation studies. One of the recent definitions, from the economic point of view is provided by Gomes et al. (2016, p16).

"An innovation ecosystem is configured for co-creation, or the joint creation of value. It is composed of an interconnected and interdependent network of actors, which include a focal organization, customers, suppliers, complementary innovators, and other agents such as regulators. This implies that members face cooperation and competition, and an innovation ecosystem has a life cycle, which follows a process of co-evolution”.

At the literature level there are several criticisms of the construction of Innovation Ecosystems by Oh et al. (2016). However, there are other academics who defend this framework for action and suggest its potentialities such as Ritala and Almpanopoulou (2017). Next in Table 1, following Gomes et al. (2016) are the main characteristics of innovation ecosystems which provide a way to analyze them.

 Source: Author (based on Gomes et al (2016))

In the field of Agricultural Sciences, Pigford, Hickey, and Klerkx (2018) develop the concept of Agricultural Innovation Ecosystems, as a broader framework than traditional innovation systems, which creates innovation niches multi-actor and across diverse sectors to support transitions to agroecology. For the present analysis, two reference cases are taken into account, which are the first to analyze the dynamics at the local scale. The first of them is Siqueira, Mariano, and Moraes, (2014), who present an example of microcredit case in Brazil, and on the other hand Coque, González-Torres, Lopez-Mielgo, and Vázquez, (2014), who present an example of the interaction of the academy with its environment in the region of Gijón, Spain.

In the local scenario, innovation processes are developed in a more particular way, with actors and relationships that traditionally are not taken into account. Community organizations, small businesses, workshops, and local authorities are determining elements on this scale. For Hoffecker (2018), local innovation ecosystems are communities of place-based actors who interact committed to producing innovation and supporting innovation processes, along with the infrastructure and enabling environment that enables them to create, adopt, and disseminate solutions to local challenges. For its part, the International Development Innovation Network (IDIN), a Local Innovation Ecosystem is "the enabling environment and infrastructure that enables people to engage in iterative innovation and problem-solving processes to generate solutions to local challenges and deliver them to the people who need them" (IDIN 2017).

In other words, a local innovation ecosystem should...

  • "... involve diverse stakeholders, from educational institutions to grassroots groups to government and business.”
  • "... include resources for people to acquire the skills/knowledge they lack. It should also consist of a set of resources for all to access.”
  • "... understand relevant and innovative interventions, involving beneficiaries and all stakeholders necessary to maintain their sustainability.”


In the framework of the first class of D-Lab Peasant Agriculture of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the idea of working with peasants from the province of Sumapaz in the department of Cundinamarca, in central Colombia, originated. The methodological approach is qualitative, integrating a research-action perspective with which the people surveyed exercise agency over the research process, making it cyclical. In addition, the methodology has a descriptive and analytical approach. In this sense, the model of local innovation ecosystems developed by Hoffecker (2018) was used as an analytical research tool (Figure 2):

Figure 2. Local innovation ecosystem model.

Source: Author (production based on Hoffecker (2018))

Based on the above, a questionnaire was designed based on the work of the Local Innovation Research Group of the D-Lab (Annex 1). During the first semester of 2018, it was applied in a virtual way to four organizations present in the territory of the province of Sumapaz and that have worked with Tierra Libre previously. In this way, four answers to the instrument were obtained as input to build the local innovation ecosystem and generate the subsequent analysis. The methodology developed in this inquiry is composed of nine steps shared below:

  1. Bibliographic review on communal innovation and local innovation ecosystems.
  2. Review on agroecology and the territory of the province of Sumapaz.
  3. Formulation of research questions.
  4. Creation of the questionnaire and interview protocol.
  5. To carry out the pilot interview.
  6. To carry out the questionnaire to representatives of organizations that work with the focal organization (Tierra Libre).  
  7. Analyze the qualitative data.
  8. Visualize the Local Innovation Ecosystem.
  9. Create the strategy and recommendations for Tierra Libre and LabCampesino.    

In this sense, it is stated that the methodological process was applied in all its phases with the objective of testing it with the organizations and within the framework of this emerging framework of analysis. Figure 3 shows the expected impact of this analysis in the short and long term, and the implications for the peasant organization. The results of this process support the prioritization of efforts in the organization to strengthen the connection with other ecosystem actors and improve the adoption of innovation practices in the region.

Figure 3. Impact of the analysis of the local innovation ecosystem.

Source: Author

In the short term, it is expected that the Laboratorio Campesino, as a platform to encourage innovation in the territory, would help farmers to obtain greater income from new sales and reduce costs with better practices based on the design of new solutions. In the long term, small farms could sustain and grow operations, making agroecological agriculture a future proposition for younger generations in rural areas, and we, as potential consumers, could have access to healthy local food in Bogotá.

Results and Analysis

Based on the questionnaire sent to the representatives of the organizations that have collaborated with Tierra Libre, the results and their corresponding analysis will be shared. According to the qualitative data collected, it is identified that the ecosystem has been dynamic, as it has allowed the creation of new relationships between the actors, making their interactions with the future of time more complex. In this sense, the knowledge of the actors that are currently related to Tierra Libre is relevant, especially around agroecology in order to foster communal innovation. Therefore, the identified stakeholders are associated in four groups of different interactions (Figure 4):

Figure 4. Local innovation ecosystem for Tierra Libre and LabCampesino 

Source: Author

  • Non-governmental organization (NGO): Oxfam (International NGO - UK), Massachusetts Institute of Technology (International University - USA), CEALDES (Local NGO). These actors potentially share knowledge and resources with the organization, while Tierra Libre provides them with legitimacy and practical knowledge.
  • Community-based organization (CBO): Aprenat (Tibacuy local organization), El Dorado (Fusagasugá local community), Wayra Sie (Silvania local community), Organiverso (Fusagasugá local community), El sprout (Silvania local community), La Red Kunagua (Collective Network). CBOs provide knowledge based on experience to create agroecological solutions, while Tierra Libre provides them with the tools, infrastructure, and innovation methodologies to co-design these innovations.
  • Public sector: National University of Colombia (National Public University based in Bogotá), University of Cundinamarca (Regional Public University of Fusagasugá), IICA (Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture (IICA), Ministry of Agriculture (state organization that develops all agricultural public policy), local government (Mayor and council of Fusagasugá). These actors provide resources, knowledge, and public policies to promote Tierra Libre innovation in the LabCampesino.
  • Private Sector: Tierra Libre and the consulted actors identify two subgroups along the food value chain: Input Suppliers, such as the market in Fusagasugá, and transportation, sales, and commercial partners: such as Cooperativa La Huerta, Asopromes (local association of organic producers in Fusagasugá), Punto Verde, and the Agroecological Market of Fusagasugá. These actors articulate and generate a market for Tierra Libre's products and innovations in exchange for economic resources.

As for the roles of the actors in the ecosystem, the following is proposed:

Tierra Libre as a focal organization in the ecosystem and the Campesino Laboratory is consolidated as a platform for promoting communal innovation processes with an agroecological orientation.

Meanwhile, the role of the universities and institutes should be that of facilitators in the innovation process, providing knowledge and infrastructure to enable these dynamics. As for other public entities, they should be the regulators with the objective of generating incentives and public policies that allow the development of innovations. On the other hand, the role of NGOs should be that of promoters of these efforts through the initial financing of these efforts for their sustainability. On the other hand, CBOs should be the primary users of this ecosystem where their knowledge and knowledge can be used to co-design solutions. Finally, the role of private actors, especially the Cooperativa La Huerta, should be to channel the commercialization of agroecological products and the innovations created.

However, the environment that allows the generation of conditions to encourage innovation processes or that can in the same way limit them is presented below. First, the upper part of the ecosystem represents the most abstract elements of it, that is, in an ecological analogy can represent the atmosphere. Here we find the shared norms and values that are identified collectively, among them are collaboration, community, sustainability, love for the land, autonomy, experimentation, curiosity, solidarity economy, associativity, and good living. At the other extreme we find the policies that create a space for innovation, among them are identified: intellectual property laws, rural education policy, quality standards of product seal, certifications for marketing, and the policy of free trade agreements. Also, support programs for agricultural production, such as the SNIA (National System of Agricultural Innovation), programs to promote research COLCIENCIAS, departmental programs of the secretariats of agriculture, and entrepreneurship programs of regional corporations.

On the other hand, in the lower part, there is the base or soil of this ecosystem that sustains the actors and their dynamics. Some of these elements are the natural environment, infrastructures and talents, and knowledge. As far as the natural environment is concerned, this ecosystem is particularly situated in the environment of the Paramo and its area of influence. In particular the Sumapaz moor, the largest in the world. On the other hand, at the level of infrastructures, there are secondary and primary roads that cross the territory, as well as some shared infrastructures (communal collection center), farms (living laboratories), classrooms in educational institutions, and private processing plants. Finally, in terms of knowledge and knowledge, knowledge or tacit knowledge is made visible in the territory by its inhabitants, in terms of crops, practices, climate, experiences, connections, and appropriation by the territory.

At the level of analysis, it is proposed that for now there is a low level of interference by peasants as fundamental actors of the ecosystem, without the mediation of any institution, therefore it is necessary to directly involve the rural population, especially youth, in these processes. On the other hand, there are no actors or projects that maintain and share knowledge in a systematic way, in the sense of a collective management of traditional knowledge. Therefore, it is necessary to foster more relationships between other actors and structures that can play an articulating role of innovation in the ecosystem, particularly in knowledge management. This is an explicit opportunity for the Laboratorio Campesino to promote and manage innovation processes through open platforms (digital or analog). Taking into account the words of one of the consulted comments:

"The greatest challenge is to generate sustainable mechanisms, in the dimensions (technical, economic, social, and environmental) of innovation that materialize concretely at the level of properties, sidewalks, municipalities, and region. This requires articulating many people with few resources looking for common and constant scenarios. The greatest opportunity is that community agreements can be made from the innovations generated, which allow an environmental, community, and productive ordering of the territory”.

Another crucial element of the ecosystem is the notion of the collective through the values shared by the actors and which must be transversal to future actions. Likewise, the regulatory framework related to agroecology, its commercialization and research are a shared opportunity for organizations. This must be a connecting element to close the gap with the private and public sectors, and by connecting with more actors in the ecosystem, Tierra Libre and especially Laboratorio Campesino could be a platform to dynamize innovation in the territory in an interrelated way with the actors and spread them openly in the region. Likewise, it is necessary to generate other types of relationships with the present actors, in addition to seeking to provide greater diversity of organizations, promoting new alliances.


The first conclusion is related to the concept of local innovation ecosystems as an emerging research niche in social innovation studies. Since it creates a space for reflection and action around the interactions of ecosystem actors. It also allows us to understand the constituent elements of the ecosystem, such as formal and informal institutions, values and norms, the natural environment where it flourishes, infrastructures, and finally, the knowledge and knowledge that allow its greater complexity. This generates greater knowledge of the relations between the actors, beyond a simple link or exchange, aims to make visible the complexity of the interrelations and common interests that promote local innovation in the territory. In this sense, the main opportunity for LabCampesino is to take advantage of the relations with the current actors, to diversify these links so that innovations can be disseminated in the region and a better management of knowledge can be generated together with the organizations.

On the other hand, there are several relationships between Tierra Libre, NGOs, and CBOs in the ecosystem. First, most of the main source of funding and resources for Tierra Libre comes from NGOs. As a result, the organization has a dedicated team looking for opportunities for local and international collaboration (e.g., grants, knowledge, etc.). In addition, over the years Tierra Libre has created various connections with community-based organizations, weaving a network in several municipalities of Sumapaz province. In addition, Tierra Libre takes advantage of community organizations to access a better distribution network and reach a wider set of farmers. Therefore, the LabCampesino must systematize, analyze, allow, evaluate, and share the different initiatives in order to promote the co-design in the ecosystem of local innovation with the farmers of the rural area of Sumapaz.

On the other hand, it is recognized that there is an opportunity to strengthen the relationship with local and national governmental actors in Colombia. There have been isolated efforts in the past with the Minister of Agriculture or the Local Mayor's Office, however trust has been broken and only the Academy has been able to maintain a successful relationship with Tierra Libre. In particular, the universities of Cundinamarca and Nacional de Colombia have been collaborating. In this sense, the strategy is to look for new public actors in the region and rethink the relations with those currently contacted.

The greatest collaboration gap within the ecosystem is with the private sector. Stakeholders affirm that the lack of integration among players in the value chain has been the greatest challenge to commercialize the products of peasants. In addition, the only commercial channel that has Tierra Libre is with Eco-shop La Huerta. Therefore, there is an opportunity to take advantage of the multiple commercial network in the towns of the province of Sumapaz and also in the capital city, Bogotá. In this way, it is a priority to generate new commercial links with private actors, such as solidarity networks and cooperatives that share the same values. Likewise, to create commercial relations with other non-traditional sectors.

Finally, LabCampesino's role as a Tierra Libre initiative is to be a platform for co-designing communal innovations (both technological and organizational) at the rural level. The opportunities with all sectors, both public and private, NGOs and grassroots organizations that legitimize the work of Tierra Libre are enormous. In this sense, it is concluded that the strategy for the LabCampesino must be oriented to connect the actors, through processes of collective innovation taking into account the propitious environment to continue co-evolving the ecosystem in relations, actors, actions and dynamics.  

Annex 1            

-   Questionnaire for actors of the local innovation ecosystem.

Personal Information


What is the mission and objectives of the grassroots/commercial/community organization?

What is your role in these goals?

1. Ecosystem Actors

Which are the different key actors your organization interacts with in the framework of Agroecology? Please separate them with a comma.

What kind of role do these actors have in the local innovation ecosystem -- agroecological based? Identify each previous actor with the role they have.

Which are the key actors that for you are not yet involved in the ecosystem?

2. Interactions

How is the type of interaction with each of these key players?

How intense is your organization's interaction with each of these key players? Rank from 1 to 5, where 1 is a weak relationship and 5 is a strong relationship.

3. Ecosystem Opportunities and Challenges

What are the greatest challenges and opportunities to work with each of these organizations?

What is the greatest challenge and opportunity for the local innovation ecosystem in general?

Is there any potential organization or actor to interact where Tierra Libre can play a key role in the local innovation ecosystem?

How do you see these new/potential collaborative relationships? What are the areas of greatest impact in which Tierra Libre can play a role?

4.  Local Innovation Ecosystem Environment

What are the collective values, norms, and objectives that you perceive in the agroecological innovation ecosystem?

What are the laws or public policies that affect the local innovation ecosystem?

What kind of shared or individual infrastructures, ecological assets and/or human talent does the ecosystem account for?

5.  Something Additional

Is there anything additional that you perceive critical for the development of the project that we have not considered in this questionnaire?

Final notes 

1 Co-design refers to the inclusive process of collective creation between different actors with a common goal. This generates dynamics of power distribution, joint decision-making, and collective prototyping (among others).

2 For more information about LabCampesino consult:

3 For more information on this innovation consult:

Works Cited 

Altieri, Miguel. 1999. Agroecología: Bases científicas para una agricultura sustentable. Montevideo: Nordan - Comunidad.

Caamaño, Hernán, y Pablo Pascale. 2014. “Innovación Ciudadana en Iberoamérica: participación digital para la transformación social”. En Memorias del Congreso Iberoamericano de Ciencia, Tecnología, Innovación y Educación, 1–16. Ciudad Autónoma de Buenos Aires.

Coque, Jorge, Pilar L. González-Torres, Nuria Lopez-Mielgo, y Daniel Vázquez. 2014. “Analysis of a local innovation system: Agents and network of relations”. Dyna 81 (184):209–16.

Ferasso, Marcos, Adriana R Wunsch Takahashi, Fernando A Prado Gimenez, Faculdade Meridional Imed, Passo Fundo, Marcos Ferasso, Adriana R Wunsch Takahashi, y Fernando A Prado Gimenez. 2018. “Innovation ecosystems: a meta-synthesis ecosystems.” International Journal of Innovation Science.

Gomes, Leonardo Augusto de Vasconcelos, Ana Lucia Figueiredo Facin, Mario Sergio Salerno, y Rodrigo Kazuo Ikenami. 2016. “Unpacking the innovation ecosystem construct: Evolution, gaps and trends”. Technological Forecasting and Social Change. Elsevier Inc.

Gupta, A. K., R. Sinha, D. Koradia, R. Patel, M. Parmar, P. Rohit, H. Patel, et al. 2003. “Mobilizing grassroots’ technological innovations and traditional knowledge, values and institutions: Articulating social and ethical capital”. Futures 35 (9):975–87.

Hippel, Eric Von. 2005. Democratizing innovation. Cambridge: MIT Press.

Hoffecker, Elizabeth. 2018. “Local Innovation: what it is and why it matters for developing economies”. 1. New Directions in Innovation Research. Cambridge, Massachusetts.

IDEAM U.D.C.A. 2015. “Estudio nacional de la degradacion de suelos por erosión en Colombia - 2015.” Bogotá D.C. - Colombia: IDEAM.

IDIN. 2017. “Local Innovation Ecosystem”. What is a local innovation ecosystem? 2017. (Consultado el 31 de Agosto e 2018).

IPBES. 2018. “Land Degradation and Restoration Assessment”. Medellin.

Koslosky, Marco Antônio, Rafael de Moura Speroni, y Ostuni Gauthier. 2015. “Ecossistemas de inovação – Uma revisão sistemática da literatura”. Revista Espacios 36 (No 03):1–17.

Moore, James. 1993. “Predators and prey - a new ecology of competition”. Harvard Business Review May-June 1.

———. 1996. The Death of Competition: Leadership and strategy in the age of business ecosystems. New York: Harper Business.

Oh, Deog Seong, Fred Phillips, Sehee Park, y Eunghyun Lee. 2016. “Innovation ecosystems: A critical examination”. Technovation 54:1–6.

Pigford, Ashlee-ann E, Gordon M Hickey, y Laurens Klerkx. 2018. “Beyond agricultural innovation systems? Exploring an agricultural innovation ecosystems approach for niche design and development in sustainability transitions”. Agricultural Systems 164. Elsevier:116–21.

Reina-Rozo, Juan David. 2018. “Communal innovation: collective creation towards the well-being”. 2. New Directions in Innovation Research. Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Ritala, Paavo, y Argyro Almpanopoulou. 2017. “In defense of ‘eco’ in innovation ecosystem”. Technovation 60–61 (February):39–42.

Siqueira, Ana Cristina O., Sandra R. H. Mariano, y Joysi Moraes. 2014. “Supporting innovation ecosystems with microfinance: Evidence from Brazil and implications for social entrepreneurship”. Journal of Social Entrepreneurship 5 (3):318–38.

Via Campesina. 2018. “Declaración de organizaciones de productorxs de alimentos a pequeña escala y organizaciones de la sociedad civil”. 2018. (Consultado el 31 de Agosto e 2018).

Wulf, William. 2007. “Changes in Innovation Ecology”. Science 316 (5829):1253.

———. 2008. “The Innovation Ecology”. En Science as a Gateway to Understanding: International Workshop Proceedings, Tehran, Iran., editado por Glenn Schweitzer y Yousef Sobouti, First, 15–23. Washington. DC.: National Academies Press.

Resumen Ejecutivo

Durante las Elecciones Federales de México en 2012, en el mismo momento político de la conformación de movimientos como YoSoy132, de la búsqueda de la democratización de los medios de comunicación, también se dio, desde la sociedad civil organizada, la búsqueda por acceder a nuevas herramientas tecnológicas que permitieran resolver problemas relacionados con la transparencia y la rendición de cuentas, de los cuales en la mayoría de los casos se sabía muy poco o nada sobre su funcionamiento y cómo ponerlos en marcha. 

La premisa era muy clara: Contar con una herramienta que permitiera a las organizaciones innovar en materia de sistematización y documentación de la información, de bajo costo y simple de usar. Convertirse en un vehículo para la innovación sin restringir las posibilidades de quienes usan nuestra tecnología. Es bajo esta premisa que se desarrolló la primera herramienta de reporte y documentación en su tipo en México y Latinoamérica. 


Durante las Elecciones Federales de México en 2012, en el mismo momento político de la conformación de movimientos como YoSoy132, de la búsqueda de la democratización de los medios de comunicación, también se dio, desde la sociedad civil organizada, la búsqueda por acceder a nuevas herramientas tecnológicas que permitieran resolver problemas relacionados con la transparencia y la rendición de cuentas, de los cuales, en la mayoría de los casos, se sabía muy poco o nada sobre su funcionamiento y cómo ponerlos en marcha. 

En ese mismo momento, por un acuerdo realizado entre el entonces Instituto Federal Electoral, el Programa para las Naciones Unidas para el Desarrollo, el Tribunal Federal Electoral y con apoyo de Social TIC, se presenta la posibilidad de resolver uno de los grandes problemas que presenta enfrentarse a una jornada electoral tan controversial como la de 2012: Habilitar a los 79,4 millones de mexicanos inscritos en el Padrón Electoral para documentar los delitos electorales de los que fueran testigos, antes, durante y después de la Jornada Electoral del 2012; La Nueva Observación Electoral.

Para ese entonces se disponía de mucha tecnología pero nada que funcionara como se buscaba. No era solo poner un punto en un mapa, sino complementar la información, incluir imágenes, videos, textos, ubicaciones… algo que después se convirtió en lo que hoy conocemos como Narración Visual (Visual Storytelling) y que permitió a un pequeño despacho de diseño de interacción, convertirse en una de las primeras empresas mexicanas enfocadas en la creación de herramientas de tecnología cívica para la recolección, procesamiento y análisis de datos en tiempo real (location intelligence), desde cualquier medio de comunicación digital, que hoy conocemos como Virk.

Creamos tecnología cívica

Si bien el proyecto de las elecciones de 2012 fue toda una aventura, en un territorio desconocido hasta ese momento por la coyuntura política y el alcance del mismo, sabíamos que estábamos ante algo que, con la visión adecuada, podría tener un impacto muy importante en México y en el mundo.

Dos años después de iteraciones de equipos de trabajo y socios, formalizamos nuestras operaciones como Virk en 2014. Para sorpresa de muchos, como una empresa y no como una ONG, lo cual nos llevó a encontrarnos con otro problema desconocido hasta el momento: Las grandes financiadoras no apoyan a las empresas, al menos no de la misma forma como apoyan a las ONGs. A pesar de nuestra filosofía de software libre y datos abiertos, ha sido difícil que entiendan la importancia de constituirnos como empresa privada, que no tenemos que reinventar la rueda cada vez en proyectos que inician y terminan por “falta de financiamiento”, algo con lo que nos encontramos todos los días y que de alguna forma, eso también ha sido una forma de validar lo que ofrecemos a las organizaciones con las que trabajamos, por lo que nuestra premisa era muy clara: Crear herramientas que permitiera a las organizaciones innovar en materia de sistematización y documentación de la información, de bajo costo y simples de usar. Permitirnos ser un vehículo para la innovación y no restringir las posibilidades de quienes usan nuestra tecnología. Es bajo esta premisa que se desarrolló la primera herramienta de reporte y documentación en su tipo en México y Latinoamérica, también con la premisa de generar ventas desde el primer momento para hacer la empresa sostenible. 

Pronto logramos llamar la atención de organismos como el Banco Mundial, Univisión, ICFJ, NDI, Transparencia Internacional y Aministía Internacional entre otros, y con ello lograr las primeras implementaciones de proyectos en Latinoamérica para visualización de datos y recepción de reportes en servicios públicos en diversos sectores (los llamamos reportes ciudadanos), y en algunos países del norte de África y Europa principalmente para proyectos de observación electoral. Logramos conseguir las primeras lecciones que nos permitieron encontrar los puntos de inflexión para la estandarización del software y la personalización para sectores como agua, energía, educación, transporte y movilidad, salud, investigación, observación electoral, periodismo, igualdad de género, derechos humanos, anticorrupción, y ciudades inteligentes.

Gracias a la implementación de procesos de análisis, diseño de experiencia e interfaz de usuario, basado en la interacción con clientes y usuarios, logramos identificar los elementos básicos comunes entre los proyectos que atendemos, de tal forma que hoy podemos brindar soporte y asesoría a las organizaciones que nos consultan sobre la forma en que deben iniciar, diseñar e implementar sus proyectos para diversos contextos. 

Hoy Virk atiende dos mercados específicos:

Proyectos sociales

Desarrollamos soluciones tecnológicas basadas en datos para el mejor entendimiento de problemas sociales complejos, permitiendo a la ciudadanía tomar decisiones sobre la información proporcionada, principalmente por organismos internacionales, agencias gubernamentales, medios de comunicación y organizaciones de la sociedad civil. A través de sitios y portales web, herramientas independientes o aplicaciones nativas para smartphones,  Virk se convierte en partner de estas iniciativas, permitiéndole participar de forma activa en el desarrollo de las iniciativas con el fin de alinearlos perfectamente a las soluciones más adecuadas para cada caso, buscando que cada organización tenga las mismas capacidades que los gigantes tecnológicos, a bajo costo, sin complicados entrenamientos técnicos, sin infraestructura y de forma inmediata. 


Creamos el primer City OS [Sistema Operativo para Ciudades] y un ecosistema modular que permite a gobiernos municipales y estatales contar con herramientas de inteligencia en terreno para gobernanza, seguridad y eficiencia de los servicios públicos. También habilitamos a los destinos turísticos en la migración a convertirse en Destinos Turísticos Inteligentes.

Proyectos relevantes

Voz Eléctrica

Source: Virk

Voz Eléctrica (2013) es un proyecto colaborativo en el que participaron la Corporación Dominicana de Empresas Eléctricas, las Empresas Distribuidoras de Electricidad (EDEs), múltiples organizaciones de la sociedad civil organizada de República Dominicana entre las que destacan Foro Ciudadano, Centro Juan XXIII, Toy Jarto, Alianza ONG, Participación Ciudadana, COPADEBA, Ciudad Alternativa y Centro Bonó, con apoyo del Banco Mundial y Virk para levantamiento de datos que dejaran de manifiesto el impacto en inversión sobre la rehabilitación de circuitos eléctricos específicos.

Logramos brindar atención a la ciudadanía en la recepción de cientos de reportes en diferentes canales, desde formularios web, call centers hasta twitter, procesando la información en el sistema de reporte y permitiendo la construcción de mapas de apagones en zonas específicas del país además de la detección de casos de corrupción en brigadas y oficinas de las empresas eléctricas en República Dominicana, con lo que además logramos generar interés de organizaciones públicas y de sociedad civil, en explorar nuevas tecnologías e implementar plataformas similares a Voz Eléctrica para la atención de las necesidades ciudadanas y mejorar la calidad de la información disponible en diversos sectores de prestadores de servicios.

Obra Chueca

Source: Virk

En medio de la burbuja inmobiliaria de 2017 en Ciudad de México, plagada de irregularidades que involucran a constructoras, desarrolladoras inmobiliarias, notarios, alcaldes y personalidades de la política nacional, creamos Obra Chueca: Una iniciativa 100% ciudadana que pretende traer luz a un problema ampliamente conocido, pero rara vez analizado y mucho menos transparentado. El resultado de este ejercicio de monitoreo ciudadano es la suma de información observada en la calle y las denuncias ante las autoridades, consultables en tiempo real, señala las áreas geográficas dónde hay irregularidades y procesos no transparentes por los cuales son legalizadas, así como los actores que operan y se benefician de prácticas corruptas.

Obra Chueca recibió el Premio Innovación Anticorrupción de Telefónica OpenFuture_ y OpcionA en 2017, junto con un apoyo en efectivo para continuar desarrollando el proyecto. Actualmente existen muchas ciudades interesadas en implementar obra chueca, por lo que nos encontramos trabajando en la búsqueda de organizaciones civiles que se especialicen en el área para dar soporte a este proyecto en entornos locales. 

Cozumel Smart Island

El Ayuntamiento de Cozumel (2016-2018), con apoyo del Consejo Nacional de Ciencia y Tecnología (CONACYT) buscaron propuestas para la migración de Isla Cozumel hacia la transformación en un Destino Turístico Inteligente, donde las evaluaciones apuntaron hacia Virk como la opción para lograr convertirse en el Primer Destino Inteligente de México y la Primera Isla Inteligente de América Latina. 

En 2016 logramos diagnosticar las necesidades de la Isla en materia tecnológica, para habilitar herramientas web y apps con el fin de poner a los productores locales al nivel de las cadenas internacionales, democratizando la oferta y persuadiendo al turista, por medio de la organización de itinerarios digitales, de extender su estancia en Cozumel, incrementando la satisfacción de 4.1 millones de turistas que visitan la Isla cada año y la rentabilidad política del proyecto frente al sector productivo. Habilitamos también herramientas para la transparencia y para la recepción de reportes de servicios públicos, así como mapas digitales basados en información abierta para promover el desarrollo sustentable que nos llevaron a ganar el Premio Smart Destination Award del Smart Island World Congress en abril de 2018.

Durante la administración 2018-2021 continuaremos con esta labor, donde además iniciaremos los trabajos para habilitar también servicios de contrataciones abiertas y pagos electrónicos a la ciudadanía, con lo que buscamos cerrar la brecha en la atención ciudadana, no solo al sector turístico, sino también a los pobladores del municipio en temas como el pago del impuesto predial, recolecta de basura, licencias de funcionamiento y acceso a licitaciones públicas.

El futuro

Actualmente nos encontramos trabajando una nueva versión gratuita del software de reporte, tanto para ciudades como para ONGs, que permita la implementación de este tipo de tecnología sin la necesidad de contar con infraestructura propia y con la capacidad de recibir información de forma inmediata (completamente en la nube). Esta apuesta, financiada gracias a la confianza de nuestros clientes y con recursos propios, nos ha llevado a iniciar acuerdos con múltiples municipios para capacitarlos en el uso de la tecnología y con esto conseguir espacios más eficientes y transparentes para la ciudadanía, desde sus organizaciones locales.


Iván Yza

Fundador y Director Ejecutivo de VIRK 
Emprendedor con más de 10 años de experiencia en construcción de negocios de base tecnológica; Especialista en diseño de experiencia e interfaz de usuario para medios digitales [UX/UI for Web/Apps/Data Visualization] para causas sociales y proyectos comerciales.

Links personales:

Twitter  LinkedIn.

Puedes encontrar más sobre Virk en: 



The Minuto de Dios Organization (MDO), created by Father Rafael García-Herreros in the second half of the 20th century, has focused its efforts on making service to society the driving force of each of its entities; these, always seeking to respond to social problems in Colombia in various aspects such as health, housing, education, and others. And it is thanks to this approach, that in 2012 the work of the Social Innovation Science Park (SISP) began as a commitment to social innovation channeled to responding to social needs. In the article presented below, we will look at how the SISP came about, what it is, how it works, and its impact.


In recent years, the term social innovation (SI) has evolved, being the central issue worked on worldwide; and in a country like Colombia, which has been characterized by its high rates of inequality, poverty, and social injustice, SI couldn't be postponed.

The Minuto de Dios Organization (MDO), created by Father Rafael García-Herreros in the second half of the 20th century, has focused its efforts on making service to society the driving force of each of its entities; these, always seeking to respond to social problems in Colombia in various aspects such as health, housing, education, and others. And it is thanks to this approach, that in 2012 the work of the Social Innovation Science Park (SISP) began as a commitment to social innovation channeled to responding to social needs. In the article presented below, we will look at how the SISP came about, what it is, how it works, and its impact.

Colombia, over the years and like many other Latin American countries, has presented great inequality and social problems that make the gap between the communities bigger. And it is thanks to this problem that the Colombian Catholic Father Rafael García-Herreros began in 1955 the Minuto de Dios, a proposal at the service of the community, which in an alternative way sought to respond to the needs of the most vulnerable communities in Colombia. This is how, after a few years, it begins with the creation of the MDO, composed of a group of nine entities created for social development, each facing a different theme with which to work.

Within this great diversity of entities that make up the MDO, the Corporación Universitaria Minuto de Dios (UNIMINUTO) was formed, an institution of higher education created in the late 80’s, as a commitment to education focused on social and social projection, human development, having a presence in low-supply sectors and whose objective has always been the facilitation of access to higher education in marginalized regions, taking into account social inclusion (UNIMINUTO, 2014).

UNIMINUTO became an example of SI being a reference, not only of the diverse innovations of the Minuto de Dios, but, also, of the facilitation of access to education, achieving the social inclusion that had as main focus, integration within its educational model for the neediest communities, following and articulating the educational model of the elementary and secondary schools of El Minuto de Dios, designing strategies to mitigate student desertion, and seeking coverage of the institution in Colombia (Gnecco, M).

As Bernal (2013) points out, the Minuto de Dios has been characterized from the beginning as an entity with a history of social innovation, all its works and entities have managed to be a source of inspiration in various areas, having a number of examples of where to reflect their efforts for the approach and development of social innovation.

How Was the Social Innovation Science Park Born?

Precisely, and thanks to the background in social innovation that accompanies the history of El Minuto de Dios, through UNIMINUTO and in partnership with various entities such as high-quality Colombian universities, government institutions, and private companies, the conceptualization of the Social Innovation Science Park began in 2011, with its inauguration in 2012.

Thus, the SISP is created as a UNIMINUTO entity, whose purpose is to be a service platform with which social innovation is achieved, adequately articulating actors from the public, private, and academic sectors within the marginalized communities, working to achieve more effective answers to the problems presented in the region where the community is a participant in the development of the same, together with science, technology, research, and innovation in order to achieve an integral development.

The social innovation approach of the SISP is addressed and understood as the creation of an original solution, thought either as a service, product, model, or practice, to a problem or need of a specific community. This must be created in a participatory manner, that is, it results from an exercise of co-creation between researchers and the community; additionally, this innovative solution must be sustainable, replicable, more efficient than other solutions presented within the same context and, above all, generate permanent changes in the community. 

In addition to this, the SISP responds to functions such as the support and training of researchers for a better relationship with the community actors and the transfer of knowledge and social technologies (social innovations created from knowledge, methodologies, and validated instruments, formed in a package ready to be appropriated by other communities that can adjust it to their needs).

Work Areas and Their Functions

To achieve the articulation of all the actors and resources necessary for the creation of new and more effective alternatives to respond to a social problem, the SISP is formed by work areas, where each one fulfills a specific task, in order to advance towards the objective as agile and effective as possible. In this way, the SISP is composed as follows: 

Project Platform

Being the largest area of the entity, the Project Platform is responsible for the presentation of the SISP to call for social innovation, science, technology, research, social appropriation of knowledge, among other topics, and also to track, control, and execute these social innovation projects financed by organizations from the private, public, national, and international sectors.

The platform also has four units in scaling or incubation, responding to various issues focused on the solution of social problems; among them is STEM Robotics (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics for its acronym in English), which has achieved the reinforcement of knowledge, skills, and abilities of approximately 150 children from various public and private institutions in marginalized communities such as those in the Ciudad Bolivar and Tunjuelito neighborhoods of Bogotá, Colombia. In the areas of Mathematics, Science, Technology, and Engineering support has been offered to these students through teaching tools such as LEGO and their link with robotics, all thanks to their work with communities of limited resources that have difficulty accessing education as well as its’ alliance with various national entities willing to help meet the objectives of the program.

Another of these units is Green Community Businesses (GCB): Tourism and Agribusiness, focused on the accompaniment and strengthening of small and medium sustainable business projects generating clean production businesses aimed at ecotourism and agroecological production. In the tourism part, GCB has made an agreement with the most important district tourism entity in Bogota, benefiting more than 4,000 people, with the completion of courses focused on tourism in the city, certifying the participants, and strengthening tourism. On the other hand, there is GCB Guadua, which seeks to strengthen the productivity of guadua, a kind of bamboo, in strategic sectors of Colombia by encouraging the use and commercialization of this product.

Likewise, EMPRENDEVERDE is the unit in charge of accompanying and promoting of "green" entrepreneurships, that is focused on the best use of resources with the least amount of environmental impact and its commercialization. Throughout its existence, EMPRENDEVERDE has achieved the support of more than 50 entrepreneurships presented by students of UNIMINUTO, has offered various courses with a focus on entrepreneurship training, and has managed to promote various brands resulting from entrepreneurship.

Articulation of Researchers Platform

As another work platform of the SISP, the Articulation of Researchers Platform seeks to bring together and articulate groups, students, and research nurseries with the community and the problems that are presented. In addition to this, it trains new mediators, known as "Social Innovation Managers," which can be a better communication bridge in social processes with the community. As another part of their work, they’re in charge of the academic demands to which it responds with the design of tools, courses, workshops, training communities, and groups of people who request support on topics such as innovation, design thinking, creativity, methodologies for the solution of challenges, entrepreneurship, use of the canvas model, among others; and the management of the information while making known the results of the investigations conducted.

Social Appropriation of Knowledge

It is a platform that supports the generation, transfer, and communication of the knowledge given in the interaction between the actors involved in a social innovation, so that, in this way, it can be made available to the public in general. This dissemination can be understood as the sharing of results of creative processes within the same areas of the SISP with the community. They also are responsible for communication through academic publications and the management of events, workshops, and activities for the circulation of knowledge and the review and monitoring of social technologies, brands, inventions, artistic works, literary, among others, to see their level of patentability and/or registration of intellectual property.

Observatory (Social Innovation Observatory -- SIO) 

The SIO is the area in charge of surveillance and intelligence, focusing on the search and recognition of trends in social innovation worldwide, the identification of territories through geo-referencing, analyzing what opportunities for action can be presented, specific locations in conflict, or with social problems and other issues of concern. On the other hand, the SIO offers the service of systematization of experiences and structuring of social technologies, where the methodologies, learning, and other success factors of the social innovations created must be translated, so it is possible to replicate and take into account these experiences for other territories.

Additional Services 

The SISP offers, to those who are interested in the development of entrepreneurship initiatives and social innovation projects, a workspace within the facilities so that these groups can stay and develop their ideas, always focused on social innovation and sustainable entrepreneurship. Additionally, accompaniment is carried out in the generations of spin offs and the incubation of projects, joining them to the SISP.

With this offer, it has been attended by more than 50 entrepreneurs in the digital area, the training of 500 social innovation leaders, and the accommodation of innovation groups such as the Information Access Center (IAC) of South Korea, who have used SISP as a platform to reach the Colombian community with the participation of citizens of South Korea to share their culture and knowledge in technology with those interested from children to seniors.


Besides the achievements already mentioned in the review section of the work areas, throughout its existence, the SISP has achieved the execution of 10 million dollars in social innovation projects, and thanks to its various work platforms, it has made important alliances and strengthened issues around innovation, training people, and promoting positive development alternatives for the country. About the regional businesses, a collaboration has been made with 250 companies from the Colombian departments of Casanare, Antioquia, and Boyacá, creating a program for business strengthening in these sectors. 

On the other hand, and in alliance with UNIMINUTO and one of the most important oil companies in Latin America, the SISP is supporting the strengthening of the Programa Nacional de Sustitución de Cultivos Ilícitos -- PNIS (National Program of Substitution of Illicit Crops) (Presidency of the Republic of Colombia, 2017), encouraging the replacement of illicit crops in the department of Putumayo for legal, productive, and sustainable crops. Additionally, only in the first semester of 2018, 120 UNIMINUTO teachers were trained in terms of social innovation, with the participation of professors from international universities in alliance with SISP and UNIMINUTO. Also, 10 research groups of UNIMINUTO have been articulated with the challenges of social innovation that have been identified at the national level thanks to the mapping exercise of the SIO.

Why is SISP Social Innovation? 

The SISP, unlike other entities, does not seek to generate solutions to problems through external work in communities in conflict, in the SISP the efforts are focused on working with and for the community, thus allowing the results to be more effective, understanding that a service, tool, or model designed to respond to a need, will be of better quality and more efficient if it is created through an exercise of synergy between the tacit knowledge provided by local actors of that community and “Formal”  knowledge or scientific solutions that can be offered by researchers from the technological and/or scientific side, immersed in a participatory action-research space, always allows the community to interact in the process of developing this innovation in response to their problems.

In addition, and as a strategy of strengthening of innovation in the work methodology, SISP in 2016 started with the conceptualization of the Social Innovation Route (Ruta de Innovación Social - RUTA), a work procedure created by the work team exclusively as a way of action of the SISP, consisting of a series of strategic steps that aims to generate more effective, organized, and agile social innovations in response to the needs of a community. Furthermore, this service or product always generates solutions that are more efficient, sustainable, replicable in other similar contexts and generated in a participatory way among the community. This allows the SISP to position itself as an innovative entity, proposing its own work methodology, and conceptualizing its own process.

The novelty of this route (RUTA) is not handled in a linear way, it is iterative, allowing it to go from a more advanced stage to an earlier stage to make necessary adjustments, if they are, and if they are going to be able to continue, achieving the desired result. It is composed of seven stages: Prepare, where the aim is to identify the problem to be worked on and specify what will be needed for its solution; Understand, where the community is listened to, understanding its problems; Analyze, at what points the synergy of "formal" knowledge can be given with knowledge proposed by the community; Create, using various tools to devise the most appropriate solution, even looking at the possibility of reusing existing solutions adjusted to the needs presented; Implement, the solution to the community, making a schedule and budget for its execution and then monitoring it; and Packaging, identifying key elements of the solution, capturing the information and validating it; and finally, scale, looking for that creation to be taken to other contexts and adapted to its requirements.

Future Perspectives  

The future goal of the SISP is, on one hand, to continue with the work that one day Father Rafael García-Herreros dreamed of making a reality, that enables the SISP to continue to be an example of the interest for social work that Father used as central objective to found the Minuto de Dios and so, continue to be an effective channel to break down barriers and keep working hand in hand with entities that bet on a better society. Likewise, the SISP is focused on continuing its projects with the community, as long as they are focused on finding a solution or response to their needs that lead to an integral development of the country. Additionally, new alliances are being considered at both the national and international level so that these unions result in products that can benefit others.

In the future, we dream of generating social changes not only in Colombia but also internationally, positioning ourselves in the field of social innovation internationally and setting benchmarks for the sector with offices in other countries to allow us to achieve the impact and objectives that were the basis for the creation of the SISP.


The SISP has achieved through its life the fulfillment of the mission of functioning as a platform of articulation of actors in order to contribute to the integral development of Colombia and the application of social innovation because its structure allow the community to participate in the solution of their problems throughout the process, and with its own work methodology, making the solutions better quality, durable, replicable and, above all, ensuring the improvement of the situation of marginalized regions of Colombia that seek help with their problems.

Thanks to the background of social innovation and the focus on serving people, the SISP as an MDO entity has channeled its efforts and resources to serve the community, transforming them into innovative solutions for the region’s most in need at a national level. Through its own work methodology, they are helping the integral development of the country and improving the quality of life of people, one project at a time.

The work of the SISP, during these six years of existence, has come to change the lives of many people, not only with the projects carried out with and for the community, but also by opening the horizons and minds of the personnel that work there. It is a unique opportunity where knowledge and human formation is enriched every day. The personal experience of working as part of this amazing project has managed to open my mind, enabled me to see different perspectives every day,  and all of this has always been taught to the SISP team in terms of being creative, always listening to the community and working with them and to be "outliers," to be different from others, and even to focus on having an added value, not only as a work group but, also, personally as individuals.

The focus on the integral formation of the human being of the Minuto de Dios means that in the SISP we have the opportunity not only to learn daily from the experiences lived through our work with the projects and entities, but also to get to know about the topics of our field of work, and continue studying about these, thus ensuring a properly prepared and trained team. As a SISP worker I have managed to acquire knowledge of all kinds, I have opened my mind and managed to see things differently from my experiences.

In conclusion, the SISP is the ideal example of the dream of Father Rafael García-Herreros, a space focused on the integral formation of the human being and on innovation for the sake of social development. It is here that we focus on continuing the work of the Father and are always thinking about the needs of the communities, making a union with formal knowledge, and thus achieving what Father Garcia-Herreros once said, “no one can go without serving others.”

Works Cited 

Arias, J. (2013) Parque Científico de Innovación Social, una práctica innovadora. En UNILATINA. (Ed.), memorias del seminario Innovación social: de la teoría a la aplicación (p. 43). Bogotá. Fondo Editorial Unilatina, Uniled.  

Arias, J. (2016) Estudios de Caso 5.1 Innovación Social, concepto ligado a la práxis; caso Parque Cientifico de Innovación Social de UNIMINUTO – Colombia 

Bernal, C. (2013) Una Historia de Fe y Razón. En UNIMINUTO. (Ed.), UNIMINUTO: Educación Integral al alcance de todos (pp. 44-65). Bogotá: Corporación Universitaria Minuto de Dios 

Gnecco, M. (2014). Innovaciones Sociales para la equidad y la inclusión social; El caso del Minuto de Dios. Bogotá: Corporación Universitaria Minuto de Dios – UNIMINUTO

Presidencia de la República de Colombia. (2017). Decreto Ley Número 896 de 2017. Colombia: Presidencia de la República.

Rocha-Jiménez, D., Rueda-Lizarazo, H., Chaparro-Guevara, R. A. (2016). El modelo de acción del Observatorio de Innovación Social en el marco del Parque Científico de Innovación Social. Cooperativismo & Desarrollo, 24(109),

UNIMINUTO. (2014). UNIMINUTO, Informe de autoevaluación con fines de acreditación institucional. Bogotá: Corporación Universitaria Minuto de Dios – UNIMINUTO

Author bio 

Paula Estefanía Castaño Álvarez is a social communicator and journalist of the Corporación Universitaria Minuto de Dios -- UNIMINUTO, with a certificate in Sustainable Business for Entrepreneurs. Her work has an emphasis on writing, review, and publication of academic chronicles and manuscripts. She is a participant in the realization of various communicational products such as reports, chronicles, film reviews, interviews, commentary, among others, in the audiovisual and written mediums. Her expertise includes the areas of intellectual property, management of patent registration, software, copyright, and other legalities within the field. 

Since 2017, Paula has worked in the Social Innovation Scientific Park -- UNIMINUTO and hold the position of Project Monitor in Science, Technology, and Innovation, with a background in the area of intellectual property registration. She also serves as a publications’s editor, notes writer for internal communication, information collection, transcription, transformation, and compilation of institutional publications, as well as a researcher of pertinent information, formulation of questions, and interviews with authors, co-authors, and relevant actors for the formation of manuscripts.


Interpreta’s Foundation was founded in 2016 in Santiago, Chile, to address some of the problems faced by the country’s growing migrant communities. Unlike other organizations that provide assistance-based solutions to migrants, such as communal breakfasts or Spanish lessons, Fundación Interpreta has positioned itself as a leader in innovative approaches to the issues surrounding migration, using tools of the corporate sector and technology to help solve social problems related to immigration. 

Fundación Interpreta: From left to right: Tomás Lawrence, Ignacio Loyola and Joselyn Gatic


Interpreta’s Foundation (Foundation) was founded in 2016 in Santiago, Chile, seeking to address some of the problems faced by the country’s growing migrant communities. Unlike other organizations that provide assistance-based solutions to migrants, such as communal breakfasts or Spanish lessons, Fundación Interpreta has positioned itself as a leader in innovative approaches to the issues surrounding migration, using tools of the corporate sector and technology to help solve social problems.

Founders Jocelyn Gatica and Ignacio Loyola, both journalists, and Tomás Lawrence, a public management engineer, had been working in the area of communications and marketing for more than eight years advising different companies on how to improve their productivity and work environment. Working well together as a team, but tired of the corporate world, these three professionals decided to make a U-turn and start a foundation that could help solve real problems within Chilean society.

“This story began when we realized that there was a debt to be paid in our society. Migration to Chile was growing exponentially, and migrants were living in conditions of increasing vulnerability, suffering from multidimensional poverty,” says Tomás Lawrence, the Foundation’s President.

Technology Helping to Solve Social Problems

One of the most complex problems that arose with the increase in migration to Chile was the idiomatic barrier faced by the Haitian community: most Haitians arrive in the country with no knowledge of Spanish, which leads to problems accessing information about their rights and the immigration process. In response to this problem, one of the first solutions developed by Interpreta were the creation of cellphone apps T-zen, written in Haitian Creole, and Yo Migro, for the Spanish-speaking community.

“We noticed that cellphones are a vital tool for migrants, more than for Chileans, as they are a way of keeping in touch with relatives back home,” says Lawrence. “The apps offer basic information for immigrants on their arrival in the country, regarding visas, migrants’ rights, access to public health services, culture, employment, among other issues. To date, both apps have more than 20,000 downloads in Google Play.”

Interpreta started a similar initiative in November 2017, when the Chilean Government granted refugee status to 14 Syrian families. With the aim of helping them in their integration into Chilean society, and to facilitate access to information, the Foundation and PricewaterhouseCoopers Chile joined forces in the #ChileIncluye initiative, to develop an app written in Arabic, called Salam. The app provides information similar to that of Yo Migro and T-zen but is adapted to the needs of the specific refugee population, including Syrian markets, restaurants, support groups, legal assistance, and a chat group in which users can communicate with other members of their community.

Another issue that Fundación Interpreta has had to tackle is the slow production of data on issues of migration by universities and research centers and a lack of tools for monitoring discourse on the subject via the web and social networks.

In response to this, in January 2017 Interpreta began using Social Intelligence for the analysis of social networks, applying techniques from the field of big data to generate information on the subject of migration. Currently, with the use of the Brandwatch Analytics software, a tool traditionally used to monitor brands on the web and social networks, the Foundation is conducting studies on xenophobia and hate speech and searching for new ways to combat these phenomena.  

Interpreta is also developing digital tools to monitor the perception of migratory movements on social networks, to better understand these processes. In particular, the Foundation carried out a study on the Venezuelan migratory crisis and presented their results at the “Brandwatch Now You Know” conference in September this year in Mexico City, considered the most important social intelligence convention in the world. 

“Social Intelligence allows us to anticipate processes that affect migrants and refugees, both in the country of origin and destination. The idea is to create a bridge between people who need help and those who can give it,” says Ignacio Loyola, Interpreta’s Executive Director. “The immediacy of information allows us to react in real time, unlike with traditional media, that tends to be outdated.”

Next Steps for the Future

The next step for Fundación Interpreta is to develop a prototype for an alert system to search for disappeared people across Latin America. Doing this requires not only data collection, but also efficient use and dissemination of the information. That is why, in addition to the use of social intelligence, the Foundation is working collaboratively with a number of NGOs and international organizations to coordinate the implementation of alert-systems for lost people, assure effective response to the alerts, and measure its impact.

“We came from the corporate world, which has tools and initiatives to respond to different issues within any company. The question was: how can we could use this technology and innovation for a different purpose? That’s what we’re doing, and with the support of Fundación Nómada and PricewaterhouseCoopers Chile, we are creating a virtuous circle in which we develop collaborative, proactive, and long-term solutions, seeking always to improve the Latin American migratory context,” says Tomás Lawrence, who considers innovation to be at the very heart of the Foundation.  


La contaminación del aire producto de la combustión de biomasa para calefacción residencial es uno de los mayores problemas ambientales que sufren las ciudades del centro sur de Chile cada invierno. Debido a que el uso de estufas a leña es el método de calefacción más económico, sigue siendo actualmente, a pesar de sus negativas implicaciones medioambientales, el más utilizado por la población, acarreando graves problemas de salud en la comunidad principalmente en niños y adultos mayores. MPzero es un equipo de reducción de emisiones de material particulado fino, desarrollado en Chile, que captura hasta un 97% de las emisiones producidas por estos equipos de calefacción, ayudando a mantener el aire limpio y reduciendo los costos de calefacción, sobre todo a familias que no tienen acceso a métodos de calefacción menos contaminantes. 

The Problem 

A pesar de que es de conocimiento público lo perjudicial que es para la salud el humo que produce la combustión de biomasa, la leña sigue siendo el biocombustible más económico y utilizado para calefacción y cocción de alimentos en los hogares de Chile. Se estima que, en el sector residencial, la leña está presente en un 33.2% de los hogares del país (1.721.032 viviendas), porcentaje que va en incremento hacia la zona sur, llegando a un 98,2% en la región de Aysén.

En el 2016, la Organización Mundial de la Salud (OMS) señaló a Coyhaique, capital de la región de Aysén, como la ciudad más contaminada por material particulado de Chile y Latinoamérica, alcanzando niveles de contaminación en la población equivalentes a fumar 16 cigarrillos diarios. Estos hechos han provocado tomar medidas prohibitivas por parte de las autoridades, como limitar la realización de cualquier tipo de actividad al aire libre, restringir el uso de equipos de calefacción o cocción a leña, prohibir la venta de equipos de calefacción no certificados y cursar multas a viviendas que utilicen leña para calefacción en periodos de emergencia y premergencia ambiental.

El fuerte vínculo socioeconómico y cultural con la leña, es un elemento fundamental para el análisis de su uso. “Toda su cadena, incluyendo la producción y la comercialización, está impregnada de prácticas arraigadas desde hace varias generaciones”1. Es por esto, junto con los datos duros del problema, es que, para lograr un cambio radical de la situación, las soluciones empleadas deben ser de carácter transversal, tomando en consideración varios factores y a gran escala.

Las soluciones proyectadas en el ámbito público y privado han sido poco efectivas debido a lo amplio que es el espectro de las variables de operación bajo las que funcionan este tipo de calefactores, lo que propicia, por distintos motivos, el mal uso por parte de los usuarios.

El estado se ha hecho presente frente al problema de distintas formas, desde planes subvencionados de recambio de calefactores, para reemplazar estufas a leña antiguas por estufas a leña certificadas que son más eficientes y menos contaminantes2 u por otro tipo de calefactores (eléctrico, a pellet, gas o parafina) y llevando a cabo periódicamente distintos planes y actividades de concientización ambiental en la población a la vez que se ha intentado regular y certificar la venta de leña seca, entre otras medidas. 

Por parte de los privados, se han desarrollado mejoras en el diseño de los equipos de calefacción para hacerlos más eficientes y bajar la producción de emisiones, los vendedores de leña han comenzado a trabajar con planes de manejo de leña para poder proveer sosteniblemente leña seca y se han puesto a la venta equipos que ayudan a disminuir las emisiones de las estufas, como filtros catalíticos, filtros por permeabilidad y pastillas para mejorar la combustión. 

Lamentablemente, frente a estas medidas, no se han detectado cambios o mejoras considerables en la calidad del aire de las ciudades afectadas por el problema en los últimos años, incluso, según el sistema nacional de certificación de leña, cerca del 40% de quienes han recibido recambio de calefactores, han retornado al uso de la leña.  

En búsqueda de una respuesta 

Debido a los problemas mencionados anteriormente, es que, en el ecosistema emprendedor nacional, se ha generado un semillero de ideas y proyectos por parte de innovadores privados que buscan dar solución a este problema. Algunas de las iniciativas son, equipos catalíticos que funcionan por medio de un material cerámico semipermeable que se instala sobre la salida de gases de la estufa, el cual permite quemar a una menor temperatura el hollín que no se alcanza a incinerar dentro de la cámara de combustión, el problema con este sistema, es que aunque su costo es relativamente bajo (US$200), sus prestaciones son limitadas, posee una eficiencia de captura máxima de tan solo 60% y restricciones de uso bajo condiciones de combustión no optimas, como baja temperatura o uso de leña verde o húmeda. Otro producto disponible en el mercado es un equipo denominado “filtro vivo”, el cual retiene por permeabilidad las partículas contaminantes y aunque tiene una alta eficiencia de captura, cercana al 92%, su valor es extremadamente alto, unos US$4.200, más de 10 veces el sueldo mínimo en Chile. 

Escalar una solución eficiente, de la industria a la vivienda 

El control de emisiones contaminantes en las industrias es una problemática habitual y para la cual existen distintos tipos sistemas de “abatimiento” de emisiones, validados y usados durante décadas para disminuir la contaminación producida por los procesos que requieren combustión al interior de las industrias. Uno de estos sistemas es el precipitador electrostático, el cual, mediante una carga eléctrica inducida, polariza las partículas contaminantes contenidas en los gases, para que se adhieran a placas metálicas con una carga opuesta. Estás placas son golpeadas con una cierta periodicidad, haciendo “precipitar” en una zona de descarga los residuos sólidos que se forman por la acumulación continua de partículas. Esta tecnología es ampliamente usada en termoeléctricas a carbón, logrando una eficiencia de captura cercana al 99%.3

A partir del conocimiento de esta tecnología es que aparece una nueva arista para dar solución a los problemas de contaminación por material particulado producido por la combustión de leña, escalar este dispositivo a escala residencial para ser instalado en cada estufa y cocina a leña del país. 

MPzero, el calor económico de la leña puede ser limpio y sustentable: 

A partir de esta tecnología, ampliamente validada a escala industrial, se plantea el desafío de diseñar un dispositivo que pueda utilizar el principio del precipitador electrostático para reducir las emisiones producidas por las estufas y cocinas a leña. 

Para llevar a cabo este desafío, se reúne un equipo interdisciplinario integrado por Eduardo Burboa, Ingeniero Eléctrico - máster en energías renovables y tecnologías limpias, Esteban Soto, Ingeniero Industrial - máster en gestión industrial, Gabriela Bustos, periodista y el Arquitecto Ricardo Soto. 

El grupo de jóvenes profesionales, unidos por la amistad y un desafío común, emprenden el camino de la innovación bajo el alero de “Potencial Chile” organización (empresa) creada con el fin de ser un semillero de ideas y proyectos que, por medio del desarrollo tecnológico e innovación, buscan soluciones efectivas a problemas de carácter energético, social y medio ambiental, sus tres pilares de acción.

Teniendo la idea y el conocimiento para llevar a cabo la creación de este producto, el equipo obtiene el financiamiento y apoyo del gobierno de Chile por medio de concursos de emprendimiento e innovación como “impacta energía” 2016 de Laboratorio de Gobierno y el Ministerio de Energía y “capital semilla” 2017 de Corfo (Corporación de fomento a la producción).

Habiendo obtenido los recursos para desarrollar la tecnología, el equipo de Potencial Chile se enfocó en el desarrollo, prueba  y prototipaje del producto por un periodo de incubación acelerada de aproximadamente 8 meses, en los cuales se construyeron distintas versiones del producto, con el fin de entender acabadamente su funcionamiento y así poder llegar al diseño más efectivo para dar solución al problema de la contaminación.

Posterior a este proceso de iteración y evaluación de la la tecnología, se logró dar con el diseño de un prototipo para pilotaje, que fue testeado por usuarios finales, durante los meses de agosto y septiembre de 2017. El proceso consistió en reemplazar la primera sección de los tubos de las estufas de los usuarios por MPzero, para posteriormente encenderlo y hacer funcionar sus equipos de calefacción de manera tradicional. 

Durante el pilotaje, que fue llevado a cabo en 7 casas, se realizaron encuestas de satisfacción, funcionamiento, operación, mediciones termográficas y registros fotográficos, con el fin, de levantar la mayor cantidad de información que pudiese ser útil para el desarrollo de posibles mejoras al diseño del producto final.  

La tecnología, MPzero en palabras simples 


El producto desarrollado, consiste en un precipitador electrostático de escala residencial, el cual, captura el material particulado que pasa a través del tubo de la estufa, al generar una carga eléctrica inducida al interior de este tubo, con el fin de polarizar las partículas contaminantes para que queden adherida a las paredes interiores del tubo, reteniendo así, la liberación de alrededor de un 97% de las partículas contaminantes producidas por la combustión.

Para comprender la tecnología de una forma práctica, podemos recordar el efecto producido en el clásico experimento para entender la electricidad estática, en el cual, se cortan o pican pequeños pedazos de papel para ser atraídos a un globo inflado, el cual con anterioridad ha sido frotado contra el cabello. Lo que hace MPzero, es repetir este comportamiento eléctrico, en el cual, los trozos de papel serian las partículas contaminantes, el globo, las paredes internas del tubo de la estufa y la carga inducida producto de frotar el globo con la cabeza, sería producida de forma electrónica mediante una fuente de alto voltaje y llevada al interior del tubo de la estufa por medio de un electrodo (barra metálica ubicada en el centro del tubo) Imagen referencia #.

Los resultados del Pilotaje y las pruebas de laboratorio validaron los supuestos que llevaron en un principio a desarrollar la tecnología. Se obtuvieron mediciones de captura de hasta un 97% de disminución de emisiones, se certifico la eficiencia de reducción en condiciones óptimas de combustión en un 66% y un ahorro del 22% de uso de leña. El pilotaje produjo importantes resultados cualitativos, como entendimiento del funcionamiento y operación del equipo, validación de la estética, alta sensación de seguridad frente a la tecnología y lo más importante, todos los participantes adquirirían el producto estando una vez disponible en el mercado, el cual se calcula tendrá un valor de mercado aproximado de US$400.  

Al día de hoy

Posterior a la validación técnica y social de la tecnología, se llevó a cabo el ingreso de la solicitud de patente del producto, la cual se encuentra actualmente en evaluación. Se esta trabajando junto a gobiernos locales para llevar a cabo planes masivos de instalación de la tecnología en equipos de calefacción, como medida efectiva para descontaminar el aire de las ciudades. Ya se está trabajando en la construcción de las primeras unidades comerciales y se cuenta con una lista de espera, de mas de 200 personas que desean adquirir el dispositivo. 


Debido a que solo se pueden alcanzar cambios sociales y medioambientales significativos, mediante un uso masivo de la tecnología, es que Potencial Chile, se encuentra en búsqueda de capitales privados de inversión para escalar la producción de la tecnología y lograr un mayor alcance en el territorio, pudiendo así ayudar a mejorar de forma efectiva la calidad de vida de las personas que viven en zonas de emergencia ambiental. 

Se espera que el uso de esta y otras tecnologías, que de forma activa logran disminuir eficazmente las emisiones que producen los equipos de combustión a leña, sean parte de las políticas públicas ligadas al uso de equipos de calefacción. Así como hace algunos años se incorporo el convertidor catalítico como medida restrictiva para el uso de vehículos en zonas de emergencia ambiental, lo mismo o similar podría llevarse a cabo con la integración de estas tecnologías a los equipos de calefacción y cocción a leña.

En conclusión, la validación de la tecnología desarrollada y la implementación de su uso de forma masiva podría mejorar radicalmente la calidad de vida de las personas que viven en comunas, que debido a los bajos niveles de ingresos económicos y la precaria calidad de la construcción y aislación de sus viviendas, no pueden recurrir a otro método de calefacción menos contaminante que la combustión de leña. Parece ser que, hasta el día de hoy en Chile, pobreza es sinónimo de leña y contaminación, de enfermedades respiratorias y colapso de hospitales en invierno, de niños que no pueden salir a jugar en el break de recreo y espacios públicos y deportivos que no pueden ser utilizados por culpa de la contaminación. Es por esto, que, como organización, creemos firmemente en la inserción de este tipo de tecnologías como respuesta efectiva al problema de la contaminación actual, en espera de que en un futuro, esperamos no muy lejano, la calidad de las viviendas y su aislación mejore, se desarrollen métodos de calefacción más eficientes, limpios y sustentables, y por último, que exista un real interés y motivación por parte de la población en cuidar el medio ambiente, su entorno cercano y tener conciencia de los daños a la salud y calidad de vida que esto conlleva. 

Works Cited

1 Política de uso de la leña y sus derivados para calefacción, Ministerio de Energía, Gobierno de Chile, 2016. 

2 Ley N° 20.586, Organismo: Ministerio de energía, publicada el 16/05/2015, Regula la certificación de los artefactos para combustión de leña y otros productos dendroenergéticos. 

3 Tecnologías de mitigación de emisiones en centrales termoeléctricas a carbón, Precipitador Electrostático como mecanismo para capturar Material Particulado, Iris Silva Castro, Mercados Energéticos, Magister en ingeniería de la energía.


Ricardo Soto Espinace
CEO & Director de Proyectos de POTENTIAL SpA.

Ricardo (29) es padre, Arquitecto por la Universidad de Concepción 2015, Diploma en Gestión Estratégica de Organizaciones con Énfasis en la Innovación por la Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile 2018 y actualmente se encuentra cursando el grado de máster en Estudios Avanzados de Arquitectura, con especialidad en Innovación Tecnológica en la Arquitectura en la Universidad Politécnica de Cataluña. Su trabajo se ha visto marcado por la participación y desarrollo de proyectos de innovación ligados a las áreas de arquitectura, tecnología y medio ambiente. En 2016, por su trabajo en estos ámbitos, se le otorga el premio Arquitecto Revelación, entregado por el Colegio de Arquitectos delegación Concepción. En su desarrollo profesional ha destacado en diversos concursos de innovación y emprendimiento como impacta energía de Laboratorio de Gobierno y el Ministerio de Energía de Chile, Capital semilla de Corfo y Construye Solar, entre otros. 


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