The Future of Latin America: Can the Sharing Economy Spark Inclusion?

June 21, 2017

Young entrepreneurs and civil society activists crowded into a small conference room in Recoleta, Buenos Aires, in early June. With them they brought the hope that their technical know-how can build a more just and inclusive future for Latin America.

Participants at the Innovation Laboratory

Gerardo Torres (Center Right) Facilitates the Innovation Laboratory.
Photo Credit: La Red Argentina para la Cooperación Internacional (RACI)

Having grown up in the era of the sharing economy, also known as the digital economy, these young tech rising stars have seen how apps and start-ups like Lyft, Etsy and Airbnb have changed the global marketplace. Some of them have even created their own digital platforms.  And yet, the disruption of business as usual has not meant progress for everyone.

What about the inclusion of women and minority voices?  What about climate change?  What about economic inequities?  Could these young entrepreneurs and civil society activists use the sharing economy model to help create a future that delivers more inclusivity and equality?

In the room were the fellows of the Young Leaders of the Americas Initiative (YLAI), members of the Latin America and Caribbean Hub of Innovation for Change, members of the Argentinian Network for International Cooperation (RACI), and civil society activists from more than 20 countries in Latin America, the Caribbean and beyond.

“We kicked off the ‘Innovation Lab’ with two rounds of speed-geeking where the YLAI fellows spoke about the disruptive digital platforms and mobile applications they have created,” described Noel Dickover, Project Director at Counterpart International. “It was then followed by ‘deep dive’ sessions with the speakers. Our goal was to incubate innovation by helping network members flesh out new ideas that address inclusion, civic participation and green technology in Latin America,” added Dickover.

And innovate they did.

The Innovation Laboratory

Spark talk groups gather at the Innovation Laboratory

Gabriel Alborta of Bolivia (R corner) hosts a Spark Talk at The Innovation Laboratory; Photo Credit: La Red Argentina para la Cooperación Internacional (RACI)

“We all know that we live in a world that is very polluted,” noted Gustavo Palacios, a member of the Innovation for Change LAC Hub.  “In our Innovation Lab, we focused on how the sharing economy can mitigate pollution and climate change and we developed the Clean Air Campaign.” The campaign could potentially work with municipal governments, city institutions and private companies to improve air quality in Latin America.

As a part of their Campaign, the group created Sube Mas (Ride More), a digital application that gives users an easy way to find available seats on city buses.

“Sube Mas would be a quick and practical way for users to jump on and off the bus. By connecting the buses to the internet, we could rapidly update the app with bus availability. We could then tell users, ‘the next bus has ten unoccupied seats,” noted Catherine J. Fox, a member of the LAC Hub Community from Colombia.

The group hopes that by making public transportation easier and more accessible, more people will choose to ride the bus, cutting down on car traffic and pollution. The app would also raise awareness around bike sharing and carpooling as effective alternatives.

The knowledge sharing and idea generation continued the next day — this time, with a special focus.

Toward Collaborative Cities

Towards Collaborative Cities Conference

The conference gathered more entrepreneurial-minded citizens with the Innovation Lab participants for deeper collaboration on shared challenges. Photo Credit: La Red Argentina para la Cooperación Internacional (RACI)

On June 9th, at the Usina del Arte, Innovation Lab participants joined with nearly 50 speakers and 300 of their peers at the Towards Collaborative Cities Conference supported by Counterpart International, CIVICUS, the Inter-American Development Bank, the Argentinian Network for International Cooperation (RACI) and the Center for the Implementation of Public Policies for Equity and Growth (CIPPEC). The conference featured panel discussions and breakout sessions that engaged participants in debate and hands-on sessions focused at the intersection of technology, the sharing economy and urban development in Latin America.

Looking toward the future, a special panel entitled “Challenges in the Global South” addressed the need to make sure that these new digital platforms spark inclusive development in a region challenged by climate change, gender inequality and poverty. For Carlos Huertas, the CEO and Founder of Connectas Hub, a collaborative journalism platform that empowers budding and professional journalists from 15 countries in Latin America, this panel was of particular importance.

“Poverty and gender inequality remain serious social issues in Latin America. And we don’t even yet know the effects of climate change. So the value of events like the Challenges of the Global South panel at the Towards Collaborative Cities Conference, is that it allows us to discuss the issues we face, to put our civil society and entrepreneurial minds together, and use our skills, abilities, and experiences to construct new services that meet the needs of our future.”

As the sharing economy continues to grow, collaboration between civil society, technologists and entrepreneurs will become more important than ever. In the new digital era of global growth, Counterpart International is excited to support the young men and women who will lead by innovating for a better world.

Innovation for Change is a growing global network of people, online hubs and regional centers in Africa, Central Asia, East Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean, Middle East and North Africa and South Asia. These shared working spaces – both physical and virtual – are places where people and organizations can connect and exchange ideas, debate challenges and create solutions to some of the challenges facing our societies.

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