Back in Santiago: the Delivery of a Special Gift

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December 25, 2009

I write the last post of the year from Santiago, Chile, where a workshop on social innovation co-organized by the Inter-American Developmental Bank (IADB) and our partners from the Innovation Center of Un Techo para Mi Pais brought together a handful of educators in business, engineering and design from universities across Latin America (Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Costa Rica, Chile, Colombia, Brazil and Peru were represented) to connect about best practices and “apply innovation and creativity to fulfill unmet human needs” and improve basic quality of life of low-income communities—a population of 360 million folks throughout the continent who make the bottom of the pyramid bracket.

The two day meeting was also a great platform to share the outcomes of our students’ work from the Safe Agua Chile project led by the departments of Environmental and Product Design, and to experience anew and first hand the inspiring work of Techo here as the countdown for the end of campamentos (slums) in Chile–September 18, 2010–is less than a year away.

Techo organized a very special site visit for the group: lunch with a few families and a tour of the construction site of the neighboring permanent houses where the community is getting ready to move soon to. Veronica, the community leader who hosted us shared how proud everyone felt about one of the local girls winning the important short story contest Techo runs each year. Janitza Muñoz, the twelve year-old author of the story, inspired her to no longer call her community “campamento” but “ciudad de madera” (the city of wood). A magical place, where all work to rally strength, overcome obstacles, and make it together with collective savings for their viviendas definitivas.

On my last day, and back at Techo, the highlight was to get reunited with Rosita Reyes, the community leader who facilitated so much access to the twenty families from campamento San Jose where the team worked this past August. It was a privilege to say hello again, and share on behalf of the faculty: Dan Gottlieb, Penny Herscovitch and Liliana Becearra, a photomontage of each student at finals. Rosita took a long and careful look of this highly symbolic document of the exceptional bond that this project brought about for all of us, and said proudly: “this goes with me when we move into our homes next year.”