Social Innovators in Latin America: A Disruptive Force for Change

February 20, 2015Yasmin Lalani

Last Thursday, the Atlantic Council's Adrienne Arsht Latin America Center, in partnership with The Huffington Post, hosted the event - “Social Innovators in Latin America: A Disruptive Force for Change.” The panel discussion featured Alberto Beeck, Founder of the Beeck Center for Social Impact and Innovation at Georgetown University, Wilfredo Fernandez, Director of CREATE Incubator at Miami Dade College and Cofounder of the LAB Miami, and Susana García-Robles, Principal Investment Officer at the Multilateral Investment Fund, Inter-American Development Bank (IDB). Moderated by Gabriel Zinny, Nonresident Senior Social Impact Fellow at the Adrienne Arsht Latin America Center of the Atlantic Center, this panel focused on the potential growth of social entrepreneurship in the Latin American region.

Susana García-Robles kicked off the conversation with the observation that multilaterals were the original social impact investors. However, she noted that in recent years, private sector actors have played a more prominent role in the space, and institutions like the IDB no longer have to take the risk of building a social entrepreneurship ecosystem alone. She also noted that innovators tend to be driven by a dissatisfaction with current social sector issues, and that governments were beginning to take notice and collaborate with innovators, funders and multilaterals alike.  She went on to describe a vision for a “sophisticated support system” that pushes public and private sectors participants out of their comfort zones.

Meanwhile, Alberto Beeck who splits his time between the private and social sectors drew from the insight  he has gained from being steeped in both sectors. For example, he emphasized the importance of placing a strong profit component on social sector activities.

Wilfredo Fernandez had a similar point to make, stating that “social entrepreneurs need to be passionate about profit as well as problems that need to be solved.” He added that in order to have an effective social entrepreneurship ecosystem, the government needs to strike a balance between nurturing an atmosphere that is conducive to the development of new ideas, and giving innovators enough space that their ideas can flourish. Under this scenario, social enterprises can focus on impact and profit, while also getting, at minimum, encouragement from the public sector.

All in all, the panel discussion highlighted emerging opportunities and the potential for growth in the Latin American social enterprise sector. 

To see some examples of these 'disruptive forces for change', we encourage you to browse CEI's database of innovative Latin American education programs.

To view a webcast of the event click here.

Yasmin Lalani is a Program Associate at the Results for Development Institute (R4D). Her role includes managing CEI's database of programs and contributing to analytical research.

The photograph above is from the Latin American Center's Twitter feed.

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