The ecosystem of social innovation has become a field of interest for researchers and practitioners in Mexico. One of the leading voices in this matter is Foro Consultivo Científico y Tecnológico (FCCyT for its Spanish acronym), an organization based in Mexico’s capital city that has conducted and published several studies on social innovation in the country. To get to know more about the work of FCCyT and his own work, Dr. Victor Guadarrama, researcher and project coordinator at FCCyT since 2013, provides us with valuable insights.
This is the first of a series of interviews about the various critical aspects of the ecosystem of social innovation in Mexico from the viewpoint of practitioners.
What is Foro Consultivo Científico y Tecnológico (FCCyT) about?
Foro Consultivo Científico y Tecnológico is an organization focused on the promotion of academic, scientific, technological and innovative communities that are putting forward public policy proposals on various critical fields such as Innovation and Social Innovation, through the National Council of Science and Technology (CONACYT for its Spanish acronym).
How did FCCyT come up with the idea of looking at social innovation as a field of study? Why did FCCyT start this social innovation?
Since the beginning, FCCyT has been working towards innovation. This topic (innovation), however, had been neglected as key element of the national science and technology policy. Only in recent years, the last two national programs of science and technology paid attention to the promotion of innovation. This topic, in the framework of these two programs, was however only understood as technological innovation, and as business and high-tech. For this reason a group of researchers, and previous studies conducted by FCCyT, identified the need to broaden the understanding and the promotion of innovation taking into account both social aspects and sustainability. From that moment onwards, different work groups were created to try to understand how innovation can be seen in a different way that might include other aspects, namely social impact and sustainability. We have then organized forums, we invited different actors of the ecosystem of social innovation, and we looked for those already working towards these topics.
This was a first effort to identify what are the current issues related to social innovation in Mexico. We found out that, in Mexico, social innovation is not well understood, and is often associated with social entrepreneurship. For many actors is not yet clear the difference between both concepts. In this regard, FCCyT has made valuable efforts to clarify what social innovation is about, to promote social innovation, and to make recommendations for developing public policies on this matter. Basically, our work has taken a significant step forward with the involvement of universities and researchers; we have let them know that there is a new way of conceiving innovation that goes beyond technological innovation.
Lately technological innovation has been critized as being responsible for creating social inequalities, for instance because technological innovation is often conceived as related to great advances in the production of autonomous vehicles and smartphones that are not affordable for neglected groups, and the desired impact of this technology has not been reached. For this reason, it is important to think about solutions that respond to social needs, empower society and promote a greater benefit. We therefore have produced a few guiding documents to understand what social innovation is, how it works, and what actors are involved.
We have also collaborated with the National Association of Universities and Higher Education Institutions (ANUIES for its acronym in Spanish) through the organization of a workshop with the participation of researchers, in order to let them know what social innovation is, and how they can apply social innovation in their universities. So far, five universities across the country have participated. Fortunately, at international level, this effort coincides with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) that seek to alleviate social inequalities and to contribute to sustainability. Moreover, in Mexico, political changes have brought about this topic at the center of the National Development Plan looking forward to a greater social inclusion, less social inequalities, and greater respect to the environment.
In the same vein, the special Plan of Science, Technology and Innovation led by CONACYT pay attention to these issues. CONACYT has also changed his view towards innovation. Nowadays, if we take a deeper look at the guiding documents of development, and the National Plan of Science, Technology and Innovation, we can notice that they highlight the importance of rescuing traditional knowledge, the need of empowering communities, and that we need to promote more citizen participation, more social benefits, social changes, and that we need to respect the environment. In other words, to ensure that the benefits of development reach all and this development is sustainable.
I do believe that we are in the right time to spread the word about social innovation. We need to change the way people think about social innovation, and see it in its broader sense. People are interested in knowing more about social-impact technologies, and how changes with social impact take place. In this sense, FCCyT has contributed to promote this approach through the production of documents, conferences, workshops, certificate programs and specializations.
Is there any creative or collaborative process involved in these projects led by FCCyT?
In fact, social innovation should be understood as co-creation and participative processes. In this regard, FCCyT itself promotes an active participation of communities, civil society, universities, enterprises and government. Although we are moving forward slowly, this approach is promoted. We have to admit that many people were not interested in social innovation in the beginning, but now due to changes in the national policy, they have a growing interest in social innovation; how it can be applied, and what its impact is. The current (national) policy is facilitating the concretion of social innovation.
Would you then consider that there are enabling conditions for social innovation in Mexico?
Yes, precisely because the ongoing policy towards science, technology and innovation is already demanding it. However, we are yet few agents working on this field. If we look for those with an understanding of the topic, or those promoting social innovation, we are only few people. We need to make bigger efforts to get, for instance, graduate students and people from different disciplines involved, to make advances. Otherwise, we are going to be left behind. This means that we need the encouragement of a public policy that acknowledges the need to support such schemes, which may understand that social innovation is a way to solve social problems. There are already methodologies, and social innovation is a tool to make such solutions sustainable.
What are the biggest challenges FCCyT have faced in the way to study or to promote social innovation, and what have you done to overcome these challenges?
I consider that an aspect that is very important, and we lack of it, is to talk more about social innovation initiatives taking place in Mexico. There are initiatives already going on, but they are very little known, thus we need to promote them and to talk about their impact; that such impact is sustainable and positive. I do think that if we talk more about these initiatives, the usefulness of social innovation will become apparent. I thus consider that these initiatives would eventually led to recommendations for public policy. We do need to reach decision makers with solid proposals based not only on theoretical aspects, but above all, on good practices of social innovation.
Now, talking about initiatives related to social innovation, could you please tell us more about the study on the ecosystem of social innovation coordinated by FCCyT?
The mapping of the ecosystem of social innovation in Mexico was a huge effort to identify and to talk about whom we are as actors in this ecosystem, what we do, and how to collaborate among actors. On the basis of this study, for instance, some calls and contests (in Mexico) have now included the topic social innovation, and are focused on social impact. An example of this is UNIVERSIA (university network for Ibero-American countries), an organization that has included the social innovation topic in its prize. Likewise the National Technological Institute of Mexico (TecNM for its acronym in Spanish) has realized the importance of promoting not only technological entrepreneurship, but also social entrepreneurship, looking for social innovation. Even some companies took a look at good practices of social innovation to improve their working conditions.
This mapping thus contributed to make visible the impact of social innovation. Moreover, different organizations set their hands to the improvement of methodologies to evaluate social impact, and to promote collaboration in this matter. Some academic programs were also developed. For instance, the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM for its acronym in Spanish) developed a certificate program on social innovation, where FCCyT collaborated together with the university and some private sector organizations. The Benemérita Universidad Autónoma de Puebla (BUAP for its acronym in Spanish) also offered an on-line program intended to provide training opportunities opened to all who might be interested.
How did you scale your initiative?
Unfortunately, we have done this only in academic terms. I say unfortunately because we would like to be already working in terms of recommendations for public policy, alongside with research projects. We are currently supporting some master thesis projects and research stays with Colombian students, but we are aware that in Colombia they have made big advances in this field. We know that we are still on our way to collaborate more intensively. It has been demonstrated that Latin America has enabling conditions for social innovation, and conditions to solve problems through social innovation. Nowadays, the new CONACYT has come up with a new approach to tackle social problems, where we think social innovation has many opportunities to offer solutions.
What are the future plans of FCCyT in this field?
Our role as an organization is to gather the voices of scientific, technological and entrepreneurship communities, and to take these communities to decision makers, in order to help them design new public policies and new programs related to social innovation. Our role is to demonstrate the importance of social innovation and to raise awareness among decision makers to develop plans and programs to support social innovation. For instance, when we look at the already mentioned new National Program of Science, Technology and Innovation, we can see that this document reflects, somehow, the views of what we have been saying about social innovation.
As a researcher, I defined my line of investigation towards social innovation with focus on how the ecosystem develops itself, and what the similarities with other ecosystems in Latin America and other regions are. I started my career focusing on technological innovation, however, after reading the advances of the European Union in this topic, I decided to change my line of investigation.
What is the one advice you can give to young researchers interested in social innovation? And how do you promote the interest of young researchers in social innovation?
I think this question is very interesting because I have already realized two things. First of all, it seems to be very natural for young people their interest in social innovation. I think this might have to do with present conditions in Mexico, i.e. unfavorable working conditions; their awareness of social inequalities, which they do not like. They are looking at their current situation with more critical eyes, therefore they need new models or ways to achieve development, sustainable development, where social innovation has a great potential.
When I talk about social innovation, and I ask who is interested in this topic, I see mainly young people, and above all, women. Women are taking a leading role in social innovation. I think this might be due to their greater commitment to society, their empowerment, their more active participation, and their broader vision of social issues. I have noticed through the online and in situ courses, that when it comes to social innovation and social impact, women are those willing to further their knowledge and understanding. In the state of Coahuila (in northern Mexico), for instance, a network of women in science and social innovation (Red de Mujeres en la Ciencia y la Innovación Social) has been created. I thus think that we should be working more actively with women and young people.
Does FCCyT offer any opportunity to young people and women to co-create, contribute and/or innovate in the ongoing research projects?
Yes. Fortunately social media has helped us to spread the word about our work, and it has brought young graduates from different (Mexican) states to develop their master thesis and to do internships. We have promoted this exchange. We are currently also working with a small group of researchers from different universities in Mexico, namely University of Guadalajara (UdeG), Michoacan University of Saint Nicholas of Hidalgo (UMSNH), and National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM), promoting young talent through master thesis supervision and research stays.
Is there any interest in welcoming other topics to the work of FCCyT?
Regarding further developments in the field of social innovation, I think that other academic programs, e.g. master and PhD programs will take place. For instance, we have published a study where we included a chapter devoted to the training of young talent. In this chapter, we analyzed international academic programs, i.e. masters and PhDs programs, and specializations in social innovation, taking a deep look into their curriculum, in order to make recommendations to institutions, so that they can know what critical topics and contents might be included.
Apart from theoretical aspects of these programs, are there any other contents relevant to the training of young talent that you consider might be included in the curriculum?
Yes, through our study, we found out examples international cases (in Canada and the United Kingdom) that talk about the importance of an existing linkage between young talent and the community, which means to work directly in the field. In other words, there are some hybrid programs that combine what they learn at the University and promote their engagement with the community. Among other topics, these programs include contents such as traditional knowledge. These new models of social innovation thus require a more empiric approach. Agents of change are wanted, and a new vision of social innovation is needed.
Remarks from Dr. Victor Guadarrama on the work of FCCyT:
After the publication of the study Ecosystem of Social Innovation in Mexico (available only in Spanish), we continued working on documents tackling different issues related to social innovation, for example, theory and praxis of social innovation, recommendations for public policy in social innovation, new approaches to innovation, social inclusion and sustainability, inclusive innovation, and frugal innovation, etc. All documents are available on the website of Foro Consultivo Científico y Tecnológico.
Interviewed by Durdana Prado
Durdana Prado is an International Cooperation professional, and Social Innovation and Sustainable Entrepreneurship enthusiast with formal studies, work and research experience in local development, international education, public policy, internationalization of healthcare services, and the cooperation between Latin America and Europe.
She has solid experience working as project manager, area coordinator, and consultant in different sectors namely public administration, CSOs, private sector and academia in Mexico, Germany and the United States of America. In recent years, she has paid considerable attention to the study of social innovation ecosystems and sustainable entrepreneurship initiatives in Mexico and Latin America. She currently works on the implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development in the state of Jalisco, Mexico, at the Ministry of Planning and Citizen Participation.
Social media handles: LinkedIn
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