Beyond Mariachis and Tequila
What is the first thing that pops up in your mind when you think about Mexico? If the only answer is tequila, mariachis and fiesta, this article has arrived just in time to give you another perspective on this country. There is another side of Mexico that is worth getting to know and explore. And that has to do with the development of different social innovations that are advancing the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in the country. It does not sound as fun as the Mexican festivities, but hey, social innovations have come to offer novel solutions for health care, sustainable energy and gender equality for the Mexican society, just to mention a few.
What is Social Innovation?
Social innovations (SI) have passed from being an exception to being a mainstream option to find solutions for social problems in different regions and countries in the world. A SI can be defined as any initiative, product, program, platform or design that challenges, and over time changes defined routines, flows of resources and authority, or the beliefs of the social system in which innovation occurs. In other words, the intrinsic motivation to implement a SI is to satisfy a social need and create a positive impact for the people who benefit from it. This type of initiatives are developed by social entrepreneurs, who are pioneers in innovation within the social sector through the entrepreneurial quality of a disruptive idea. Social entrepreneurs can be individuals, groups, networks or organizations, and among their main objectives is to promote sustainable social changes. They aim to deliver good work that goes above and beyond what traditional entrepreneurs and business leaders deliver.
Mexico – A Good Example of Social Ecosystems
The Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean´s (ECLAC) report “From Social Innovation to Public Policy” offers interesting insights on the development of SI across the Latin American region. Chile, Mexico and Colombia are presented as good examples of social ecosystems that are starting to foster the implementation, growth and sustainability of these innovations. Talking about social ecosystems also means exploring who are the resource providers, the dynamics of the relevant players and institutions that are in charge of creating the environment that supports and drives SI, and finally understanding the barriers that could be found at the system level.
In the specific case of Mexico, the country presents a favorable financial support system that has multiple players and that has close ties with many US-based social enterprise intermediaries and social impact investors. This has allowed the development of new combinations of grant and crowdfunding opportunities that are becoming more accessible for mature social enterprises. On the other hand, the government has created specialized institutions that are in charge of supporting and advising social entrepreneurs. However, there are still several challenges that must be overcome for Mexico´s ecosystem to become an ally to social innovators, e.g. government corruption and lack of funding for start-ups. Nevertheless, there are interesting SI in Mexico that have scale their social impact at the local and national level and are advancing the different SDGs.
Examples of Social Innovations in Mexico Advancing the SDGs
For example, SalaUno is a for-profit social enterprise based in Mexico that has attended more than 350,000 patients aiming at eliminating visual problems in Mexico through alliances, innovation, efficient processes and without the patient absorbing all the cost. The organization integrates private and public sector partnerships to provide eye care to low-income populations and it engages in a variety of activities, from remodeling community clinics to training doctors and nurses. SalaUno also runs mobile care units that reach remote communities.
Another example advancing the SDG 3 – Good Health and Wellbeing is Hoope, an affordable, easy to use medical device that enables painless and rapid testing for the 4 most common curable STDs in one test. Results are shown in Hoope´s app, where users can find valuable information on sexual health and follow up recommendations to their test results.
Advancing the SDG 7- Affordable and Clean Energy is Iluméxico, a Mexican social enterprise run by young entrepreneurs that brings solar energy to rural communities. The organization is based on 4 pillars of innovation: solar technology, community social participation, accessibility of credits for all, and the innovative scheme of ilucentros for the distribution, service and maintenance of their products in the communities. So far, the organization has installed 22,387 systems and electrified more than 1,900 communities.
Creating Social Value Through Social Innovations
The social impact and disruptive elements of these initiatives are triggering changes in Mexico and creating social value for communities that were left out of the equality equation before. The social ecosystem of Mexico and the SI presented here offer just a glimpse of the current innovative system that is being developed in the country. Yet, they present a dynamic Mexico with social entrepreneurs who, apart from enjoying the traditions of their country, are also acting in innovative ways to favor their own communities.
An article by Ana Rocio Sandres Mendoza, YGC 2020.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Global Solutions Initiative.
Ana Rocio, a Young Global Changer of 2020, is a lawyer by training and holds a Master Degree in Public Policy and a MSc in Economics and Management of International Organisations. She has 8 years of experience working as a consultant on cross-national and multistakeholder projects at the intersection of democracy, citizen participation, youth activism and social innovation. In 2018, she founded NuupLab, a citizen innovation lab in Honduras.