Community & Territorial Innovation in the Colombian Pacific
Since 2014, CoLab has worked with networks of Afro and indigenous leaders in the Pacific region of Colombia to co-create knowledge, support collective leadership development and build capacities for community innovation.
The Colombian Pacific is one of the most ecologically diverse areas in the world, with extraordinary natural, human and cultural resources. Yet, this wealth in the Pacific contrasts with a socio-economic reality characterized by extreme poverty and lack of access to basic services, an extractive development model that damages the natural environment and reproduces inequality, the effects of a decades-long armed conflict, and structural racism that poses a barrier to inclusion and equitable development.
At the same time, for centuries, Afro and indigenous communities in the Pacific have developed rich cultural and ancestral knowledge systems that are deeply tied to territory and identity. This knowledge is a powerful form of wealth that exists in the region, and includes sophisticated insights about the use of natural resources and ecosystems as well as political and community organization.
The 2016 Peace Accords represent a pivotal moment of change, and offer important opportunities to leverage the unique assets that exist in the Pacific Region to advance regional development, strengthen civic participation, and improve community wellbeing. Additionally, the Pacific has entered the national and international spotlight as a key site for large-scale development investments. However, a business-as-usual approach to development planning runs the risk of replicating the exclusionary and extractive models that have fueled and perpetuated conflict over the last half century.
With prospects for sustainable peace inextricably linked to an equitable and inclusive development agenda, sustainable peace-building efforts will require long-term development planning that includes the voice and vision of communities across Colombia, particularly those in the country’s most marginalized regions.
PREVIOUS WORK: EIC + EIC LAB
MIT CoLab’s first program in the Pacific, the Escuela de Innovación Comunitaria (EIC), employed collective innovation tools to expand common assumptions about what kind of development is possible in the region. Through the EIC, carried out between August 2014 and May 2015 in partnership with Corporación Manos Visibles and Ford Foundation, a group of 60 Afro and Indigenous leaders from different areas of the Pacific Coast participated in a series of in-person workshops and online engagements. Interactive case studies focused on sharing lessons from innovative community-led development efforts in the Bronx, NY, and Fortaleza, Brazil. The program sharpened participants’ individual leadership in development initiatives in their own communities and established a new network of local leaders committed to supporting regional efforts for change.
By their own report, the EIC experience proved transformative for participating leaders, who indicated the need to go beyond the individual leadership development model to focus on strengthening the work of community initiatives at various stages of implementation. In our second program, EICLab: From Ideas to Practice, 2016-17, we built upon the methods and frameworks that sparked innovative ways of thinking in the EIC. In collaboration with partners, we selected 12 promising initiatives, located primarily in Quibdó and Buenaventura, approaching social and economic development from different sectors, including eco-tourism, cooperative business, media and culture, youth empowerment, job training, and education. The EICLab focused on identifying strategic local capacities and assets in order to develop collective leadership skills and accelerate the initiatives.
TERRITORIAL INNOVATION LAB 2018-2019
In the third phase of this work, CoLab worked with partner organizations in the cities of Quibdó and Buenaventura to deepen a focus on territorial development and social infrastructure for peace. This became the Laboratorio de Innovación Territorial - LIT (Territorial Innovation Lab). This phase of the work involved monthly programming that brought together youth and community leaders from distinct sectors for capacity building, prototyping, and capturing stories that demonstrate the role of community-led innovation in generating shared wealth, peace, and wellbeing. With this focus on “territorial innovation,” the program created spaces and built capacities for experimentation and collaborative problem solving around territorial development challenges.
Information about CoLab's Inclusive Regional Development program can be accessed here.
More information about our work in the Colombian Pacific, including resources and documentation, can be found at: