INSIGHTS FROM GABRIELA CARRASCO AND WALDO SOTO, CO-FOUNDERS OF 2811 Co-authors: Malu Landaberea
Waldo Soto and Gabriela Carrasco are the co-founders of 2811, a platform for social and ecological change that is currently in various continents but has a special impact in Latin America. This platform began by creating a social innovation laboratory at the Catholic University of Chile, and today, it has already created services such as the impact investment community, the climate action academy, and several social innovation projects in higher education from the hand of Ashoka. The objective of this platform is to offer social and ecological solutions through regeneration in the educational ecosystem. During this interview, they will share with us how it all began, what are the current challenges, and what may be the ways to face them.
How and why did you start this social enterprise?
Gabi: 2811 was born as a way to support different types of institutions to advance towards social and ecological change. The two of us co-founded the laboratory of social innovation at the Catholic University in Chile and there we realized the importance of cultivating an ecosystem, with the different institutions being the ones that promoted change at the same time. 2811 was born as a platform that specifically allows many different organizations to advance in issues of training, policy, practice, and social innovation for change.
Waldo: When we set up the laboratory of social innovation in the Catholic University of Chile, we were enthusiastic about the idea that there was a different economy that was not always neoliberal, and was at the service of the problems we have. I was personally disillusioned with the race, and social innovation was what re-challenged me a little with the economy and the possibility of creating solutions to current problems. There, we set up the laboratory and realized that a different approach from universities can be more enthusiastic, in fact, that is what happened to us personally. As we studied the course we developed and scaled up the laboratory internally, and we began to realize that it was also possible to create mechanisms of social impact in complex universities, such as this university in Chile, which is considerable and which was possible. We were encouraged by this and set up this 2811 platform to create the same impact and experience in other types of organizations. We have dedicated ourselves to this and to installing new mechanisms of social-ecological impact in institutions of higher education and recently in schools as well.
How do you build an ecosystem of social innovation? How do you cooperate and interact within these ecosystems? How do you build ecosystems of social innovation? What are the key agents of social innovation?
Waldo: The idea of ecosystems comes from another biological science, and without wanting to take the whole analogy of what that term involves because that would be unfair, what we have been wanting to do is to understand ecosystems as a systemic and ecosystemic structure. We have challenges that are rooted in our territories in a complex way and the solutions are also built in a complex way, without being overwhelming. So, from this comes the idea that we need to create social innovation ecosystems, we need to create solutions that address the complexity of the challenges, which involves different types of actors, considering the power dynamics that exist in the territories and considering the territorial culture. The world of social innovation has so far been very naive, it is thought that very simple solutions can solve very complex problems.
Gabi: The actors in an ecosystem are very diverse; there is the government, the academic world, the state, the public sector, the private sector, and the civil society. In fact, the social innovation ecosystem is the ecosystem where all the actors are interested in the problem and want to address it and have the capacity to address it jointly. When we started, Ashoka had already entered a couple of years ago, new social innovation umbrella organizations were being set up and universities were a very necessary space and actor to strengthen the ecosystem and this was expanding. Because of the scope that universities have at the level of capacities, research, and training, we felt that they were a central actor for the impact that we were trying to achieve. The aim is for young people to learn about the different ways of tackling problems from their training and for there to be a link with the environment and for opportunities to be created to solve complex social and ecological problems.
How are you growing your impact around the world? And what tips for (fund-raising, expanding could you share?) Latam, Europe, Africa…
Gabi: We started out in a space that had an impact on Latin America and our alliance with Ashoka, which is the largest foundation in terms of social entrepreneurship worldwide, and which is present in 90 countries, always gave us a regional vision of the impact we could generate. Thanks to that, from day one, we began to work with universities around Latin America, and naturally allies were created in different countries. Thus, we have been growing and creating projects in different countries, and from there, generating teams around Latin America. This is how we formed the team in Colombia, with our third partner Luz Mila. The realistic part is that Waldo and I went to different countries to study our masters and we both had access to different knowledge and networks, which has led us to expand our variety of partners and associates. This has been very valuable for our work in Chile as we have been able to connect with other experiences around the world. We have also seen the value of collaborating with other countries. Normally university authorities are not used to having conversations with universities in other countries or even in their region. We have tried to promote this value, which is why we are currently in Berlin, the USA, Colombia, Chile, and other countries. As we are a platform, we take on board the need or idea of a change of the different people who join our team, we adapt to their territories and their needs with the aim of offering local and global solutions.
Waldo: 2811 is a platform that is put at the service of the people around it. It is a real form of the economy at the service of people. Our reason for creating the company is that it is social and that it is armed to solve questions that we ourselves have in different territorial challenges. Sometimes we are unaware of this because generally at university we are taught that companies are created to maximize the owners’ profits. Actually, these social and ecological platforms are for these with other people, working together, having fun, enjoying what we do, and offering solutions to current problems. The aim is to recover the form of why we do business and organizations.
What are the climate action labs?
Waldo: The laboratories are devices for accelerating solutions for the climate crisis that different territories are facing. Sometimes we define them as sandboxes. They serve to experiment with solutions in a systemic way, understanding the diversity of actors and knowledge. They are devices that are installed in universities to improve their performance in solving problems of their scope. Today, one of the challenges facing universities is that research was put on a research market track and competition, and that market is becoming separated from real problems. Universities have been studying the poverty around them for 40 years but the community is still poor today. The aim of these climate actions and social innovation schemes is to break this gap and bring universities closer to the concrete challenges of communities and focus their efforts on practical solutions in a cooperative manner. This project is an experiment, but we believe that there is a great need and many universities in Latin America have already joined in experimenting with climate labs, 5 universities in Colombia, 2 in Mexico, and 3 in Brazil. We already have these climate action hackers and now we have 3 years ahead of us to work together with them. We want to work with universities on this climate action crisis, which, unfortunately, especially in Africa and Latin America, adds to vulnerable contexts and inequality. That is when we understand that universities must play a very decisive role.
Gabi: Climate change is not the only problem in our generation, but it is one of the biggest problems. Since 2811 we have wanted to put this urgency on the table. We not only want to talk about social innovation but also concentrate on the problems that we have to solve as a society and we are committed to climate change because we understand that this is the responsibility of this new generation.
How do you think we can involve the community more in this action? How do you think governments and the educational system can contribute to this climate action movement?
Waldo: We have to recognize that there are already many actors working on these challenges and that there are many efforts already underway. We, after all, have just joined this struggle. The first thing is to understand the tradition of this problem. The problem of global warming was diagnosed in 1912 and scientists already warned that we were burning a lot of fuel and there are already people who have been studying these issues for over 100 years. Now what we have to do is get to the heart of the matter. There have been many ancient peoples and tribes in Latin America and Africa who have been dealing with the climate and so we already have very interesting knowledge. Now it is time for universities to reflect on this knowledge and focus their efforts on bringing it into their classrooms and their projects. As a society, we have to start co-creating together, and that means opening up to new knowledge and a different way of dialoguing and making decisions. This is our hands and it is also in our hands to ask for more. Individually, we can change small actions, but asking the actors of power to do more is also in our hands.
Gabi: There is a trap in thinking that only our lifestyle will have a big impact, but that one person eating something or decreasing their plastic consumption is no longer enough. It will create little impact and also generate a feeling of complacency in the individual. As citizens, we must go beyond the individual and start transforming the dynamics of the ecosystem from its roots.
How do you imagine the society and the system of your dreams in reference to climate action & education?
Gabi: As the saying goes, less worrying and more caring. I would like to have a society with less guilt. One that goes back a little bit to the origin and that doesn’t settle for everything. Nowadays, it seems that more means better, more cities, more buildings, more money, and more and more. This is causing serious mental, behavioral, family, and many other problems. I believe that this is the basis of today’s challenges. I would like to see a society that understands that this is not what really makes us happy and seeks happiness in a simpler way. In terms of higher education, it leads to that, because today higher education is based on a degree so that you validate your capacity in the market and have more money in the future. That creates a nefarious ambition. I would like us, as a society, to be able to reflect more in the family, in the community, at school…
Waldo: In relation to education, an education that considers the natural world more in its complexity and takes it as a center of learning. Our relationship with our species and with others. We have reached an economy that has become separated from the real needs of the planet and of human beings. I would like us to have an educational system that serves the ecosystem, that allows us to be better equipped to solve problems. In that construction of the vision, there are many people who are enlightening us, and fortunately, I see the generations much more equipped. I would like them to take more space, to generate new education systems, and finally give more prominence to the people who come with less fear and less guilt. That is what the struggle of 2811 is about right now, and that is why we also understand that the challenge of our platform is to find out if our methods work or not. We have had a 4-year intervention and it is still up to us to find out how they impact and how we can improve them.
Malu Landaberea is a 24-year-old entrepreneur with studies in LEINN (Leadership of Entrepreneurship and Innovation) at Mondragon University where she specialized in social innovation and education. She is the co-founder of Nautiluz, a regenerative educational project in the West Algarve, Portugal.
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