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Challenges of social innovation in Argentina – Politics, social innovation and social inclusion

May 26 2015

By Lucas Becerra and Paula Juarez (IESCT-UNQ).

The economic liberation process in Latin America was deployed with a premeditated implementation of the use of physical, institutional, economic and political violence; where the biggest damaged has been the grassroots social movements strongly linked to social innovation processes or initiatives.   

In the first years of the XXI century, Argentina was in an economical, political and social crisis that put in a “checkmate” situation the continuity of the democratic and republican order. However, from the perspective of long processes, that crisis –which caused 25% of unemployment and 50% of poverty- allowed the emergence of three phenomenon analytically relevant for our research project: 1) different groups of the society started to organize its production, circulation and consumption relations in creative manners (for example barters clubs, “popular dinning”); 2) the necessity to build originals solutions under public and private budget restrictions and 3) the incorporation of social inclusion topics in the state agencies agendas.   

This double movement, on one side the state repression and the dismantling of “social networks” (during the ’70 and the ’90) and, on the other part, the rehabilitation of civic actions and the State role in the post-crisis, have given two characteristics to the innovation social processes in Argentina. These two characteristics are important and interesting for academic analysis. The following paper is about the challenges that these two characteristics represented for the innovation study field.

Social Movilizacion in Buenos Aires. Picture by Paula Juarez.

Rooted-vertical-hierarchical practices' challenges

In the ’60s and ‘70s, the universities and other public institutions in Argentina worked in order to solve social local problems. At the sametime, students and many social actors fight to foster new economic and social rights, but the dictatorship stopped the process, and 30.000 university students and young social activist “disappeared”.  After that time, even in democracy, new generations were educated in the dichotomist idea of “good and bad” (including people, knowledge, ideologies, believes, etc.) In this context, new social innovation movements face the reification of the nesting of scientific and technical knowledge over other kinds of wisdom.  The emergency of heterogeneous networks of social innovators (oriented to the generation of solutions to social, economic and environmental problems) is a great opportunity for the country and the region. However, this kind of articulations that generate learning spaces and dissemination of knowledge within and between networks create new dynamics of horizontal knowledge dialogue without the knowhow of this new practice. The hierarchy of types of knowledge is the typical practice in public institutions, universities, research centers, etc.

The challenge of palliative actions or emergency actions.

The rise of new experiences of social innovation during the period of post-crisis acquired particular features. Almost all of them are characterized by a search of solutions to poverty circumstances. In other words, these new experiences are focus on the creation of non-commercial livelihoods, such as modes of alternative exchanges, cooperative production, collective use of diverse resources, etc. However, the empirical analyses shows that as the economical conditions improve (for example the employment rate and the salaries), the social innovation processes connected to social inclusion processes, begin to lose social actors. This represents a structural paradox for the overall social innovation process because, in dynamics terms, imply an improvement in the general life conditions in Argentina. That is to say, this social innovation processes tend to extinguished.

The challenge of prosper without the State support

Finally, in the last decade, the incorporation of the social inclusion topics into the public agenda prepared governmental resources for social innovation development. However, it seems that the state agenda in Latin America and Argentina will be back again to its conservative bias over the next decade, that imply a reduction of the state funding for social innovation projects aimed to social inclusion.  

Building capabilities in technologies for social inclusion: DAPED Public Project in rural areas of Argentina. Picture taken by Paula Juarez.

Social Innovation and questions emerged to TRANSIT Project  

This diagnosis could inform new questions for our project: What kinds of strategies are required to transform networks of social innovation into networks of transformative innovation oriented to social development? How to deal with institutional cultures that prevent/delay change? How to empower communities in order to foster horizontal networking? How to roll out new solutions (developed in networking activities) to broader communities? These questions are important for TRANSIT but also for the future of social innovation in Argentina and the region.  

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