Say It and Then Do It: Mobilizing in Colombia’s Conflict-Affected Regions

December 18, 2017


Movilizatorio, Purpose’s lab for citizen participation in Colombia and Latin America,  had a great challenge in 2017: leaving Colombia’s capital city and testing civic tech initiatives in conflict-affected regions. This was the idea behind Diciendo y Haciendo a project aimed at identifying and training young leaders from conflict-affected regions to develop bottom-up campaigns and technologies.

The regions selected for this first project were Montería (Córdoba), Urabá (Antioquia) and Florencia (Caquetá). Córdoba is a department historically affected by paramilitary presence, Urabá is one of the most conflictive regions of Colombia, with an enduring presence of armed groups disputing the territory, while Caquetá is an epicenter of conflict due to the presence of guerrilla and illegal crops.

Getting out of the comfort zone of Bogotá wasn’t an easy task, but setting one foot on the regions that need citizen engagement the most, was a key milestone to test Movilizatorio’s theory of change. Without any previous experience in any of those regions, a major challenge was building trust and finding the right partners in the ground.

To deal with this challenge, our team decided to find champions in each region, make alliances with local initiatives and pinpoint leaders who were willing to jump in. The result was astounding; we found 135 highly committed and talented young leaders in the three regions.

Later, the team developed a training methodology based on 3-day boot camps. This intensive experience allowed us to build trust and networks at a higher pace. After the boot camps in Montería, Florencia and Urabá, the participants came up with 10 initiatives that were refined through a mentoring process. Finally, the team identified 4 initiatives to pilot:

Colidérate: created in Urabá, this initiative seeks to use technology as a tool to protect social leaders. Only this year 62 social activists have been murdered in Colombia and Urabá is a region greatly affected by this issue. With this in mind, Movilizatorio’s team connected local youth leaders with The Guardian Project. They created and alliance to translate and test an app that allows its users to send alerts and geo-locations to a group of contacts –such as nearby police stations, friends and family- whenever they feel in danger. The participants tested the app with social leaders in Urabá and created a series of recommendations to implement it, among them, they identified the potential for using this app to protect victims of domestic violence.

 Todos al aula: aims at reducing school dropouts by incentivizing schoolchildren from Urabá with extracurricular activities. Movilizatorio joined a group of young leaders in creating a strategy and getting to key agreements with local authorities and cultural centers to provide a regular supply of extracurricular activities. The pilot is underway and the group has already found 3 potential funders to sustain the initiative and include new extracurricular activities focused on technology development and coding.

Check out how these youth leaders managed to mobilize their communities to reduce school dropouts:

Voces de mi barrio: this initiative based in Monteria seeks to map and connect local young activists and their requests/initiatives with decision makers in three of the most vulnerable neighborhoods of the city. The group of Voces de mi barrio developed a survey, collected information from three neighborhoods and mapped 133 initiatives, 22 leaders and a set of policy priorities based on the information provided by local youths. The information will serve as a tool to push forward a policy agenda from and for the youths in Montería.

Con empleo vamos por ti: is a web-based app designed to connect small companies and government led educational programs, with women heads of households looking for a job. This app will serve as a database of unemployed, vulnerable individuals to be prioritized by both recruiters and public policies. The leaders of the initiative tested the app on the ground and secured alliances with local companies, which pledged to use it as a tool on their recruitment processes.

The pilots are still underway, but their lessons are many. Through Diciendo y Haciendo, our team was able to prove that 1) Is paramount to continue pushing the boundaries of Colombian civic tech to reach those who need it the most 2) There is no need to invest heavily in technology; the creation of sound strategies and effective partnerships is the starting point for great ideas to bloom 3) There is a critical mass of highly motivated digital citizens in conflict-affected regions in Colombia; the participants of this program included coders, engineers, youtubers and designers in need of a push to be able to put forward civic tech projects 4) The limitations of internet access are real, but not the main issue when working on these projects. The most valuable skills for youth leaders are the ability to strategize, design projects and build partnerships.

More to come about this project in 2018!

Lina Torres Movilizatorio