Interview with Benito Baranda "The more people participate, the more social innovation you have"

January 8, 2018
Communications Colunga Foundation

In an interview, the Director of Colunga and Executive President of America Solidaria reviews the path taken from its origin by the organization, the main challenges of the civil society in Chile in strengthening, maturity and work areas and the role that Colunga can take on to them.

Colunga turns five years old: How has this road been?

In the prehistory of Colunga there was a strong interest on the part of the Cueto brothers to put part of their resources in an adequate way in the social world, particularly in relation to poverty. It happened to Roof, it happened to all the area of preschool education of the Hogar de Cristo, it happened with the bringing of J-PAL to the Catholic University, and many other initiatives where they were participating and were providing resources to small, medium and large organizations that later began to mature, among them, America Solidaria, and many others that have been appearing later.

I want to tell this because Colunga is part of a conviction: if democratic societies do not have an adequate balance between the different actors, particularly the three most important actors, it is very difficult to sustain democracies later. Then you have space for populism left, right, where they are from, you have room for authoritarianism, you have space for very large disorders in society and that balance implies a strong civil society that is committed to what is happening with the society, with the spaces where the market does not arrive or where the State or the market cause damage.

This is achieved by civil society because it manages to empathize with what is happening in reality. Civil society historically in Chile has a high dependence on the State and, of course, on entrepreneurship, on philanthropy. It is not bad that you have dependence on donations or contributions, but when that dependence causes the meaning of your work to end up violating the objectives for which you were created, good is serious. It happens with organizations that continue to stimulate a welfare bond, for example, or an unequal treatment among people, provide bad education, or a health of fifth category. In Chile, civil society has faced these dynamics in an immature manner, with few articulations and little impact on the construction of public policy.

Now I believe that with the emergence of young professionals, of many people who became involved in the realities of greater pain and exclusion, this strong pressure began to do well what we have to do. As a French thinker said and then he used John XXIII and I think it applies in Colunga: it is not enough to do good, good has to be done well. Many times you want to do good but the path you take causes more harm than the benefit you want to cause in that community. For example, you usurp your autonomy, however limited, and you make it extremely dependent on you, the State, the company. In the book Manufacturers of misery, where Álvaro Vargas LLosa participated, the authors say that the construction of poverty in the American continent has been important partly for churches, companies, States ... the construction of poverty!

I see that Colunga is exploring how to make that incipient civil society, with initiatives that mobilize the rest of society, begin to mature, begin to be demanded in its processes, in its way of working, its evaluation. In these five years have been building wonderful things, organizations we did not know, small, medium or large that began to receive resources, knowledge, connect more strongly with others and today you see them flying alone, have an opinion in front of society , they can publish, count and evaluate what they are doing.

Today, what are the issues in which civil society is most articulated and in which we are in debt?

Today far in education. Most organizations have programs linked to education, informal or formal, how to make the school structure a structure that respects the dignity of people, for example.

And what's next?

What is coming today is migration, it is going to be something that is going to push a lot and comes with great force. You had 2% and now we are only reaching 4% of the migrant population in Chile, and people forget that we had a very strong impact on migration at the beginning of the 20th century. There are cities today of course that receive a large amount of migration, such as Antofagasta, this migration is Latin and that changes the perception of citizens about migration, before it was Asia, Africa and Europe.

The second area that we should explore is the original peoples. I think that we have not gotten fully involved, but I imagine that a deep reflection on that will come because the next governments are going to have to do many things in those territories and collaborate a lot. For example in bilingual education, recovering the language, as the Basques did.

The role of Colunga in front of these organizations that work in migration or native peoples, how should it be?

In Colunga we must reaffirm more strongly that the organizations with which we make alliances have an impact on citizenship, I believe that they should mobilize more citizens. One of the ways to do it is to involve volunteering, another way is with a lot of diffusion of what they see, the eyes that these organizations have to go looking at reality. And within this is the impact on public policy, on the structure of the State.

Today there is a law of participation and civil society councils that meet in state organizations, but the organizations have been learning on the fly to participate and represent. How to strengthen this area?

You can talk about civil society based on what you do. You can say "I'm working in Araucanía, look at what happened to me in Cunco Chico's schools, this is what I see every day with the students that arrive". And from that, I generate the discussion about public policy. I believe that Colunga can not be tempted to have lobbyist organizations, most of them have to talk about the practice, from how the organization gets involved in the territory, because that is the historical characteristic of Colunga, which we have to prolong. (...) I do not have the strength to connect with the State if I do not have the conviction that what I am doing is what those people expect and require.

A line of Colunga are funds and financing, which is vital for the especially smaller organizations, and another strong line is social innovation. How do you think innovation should be promoted?

I believe that the more people participate, the more social innovation you have. When you have many views of people linked to reality, of abandonment, of pain, of exclusion, the amount of ideas that can arise there is almost infinite. So how are you recruiting organizations, the same Hub, with other places that are very linked to reality. That makes you allow changing procedures.

The second is to choose three or four areas where there has been very little innovation and induce civil society organizations to work there to work on innovation. Today Colunga is doing it, for example, with Sename. But we can also innovate in youth employment, the inclusion of young people in society. What is happening there? If we did not do well in middle school, if we did not open the range of educational offers, then the children were expelled. There you can innovate a lot.

If you had to choose a unique attribute, how would you rate the essence of Colunga that needs to be taken care of?

I believe that what needs to be taken care of is that Colunga is a space for the construction of networks of trust among civil society. As in the business or political world, in civil society even more immature, networks of trust between organizations are extremely fragile. If you do not build trusted networks you can not demand them from others. Colunga has to push us to know each other, to converse. Some of that has been happening in Colunga and I would like it to be more intense for later.

Where do you see Colunga in five more years?

I see it multiplying the Hubs in the main cities, working more outside of Santiago in financing and in the accompaniment of organizations. I see it also involved in the three big areas in which I feel we are in debt in the construction of public policy: migrants, young people and indigenous peoples. I would like to investigate more strongly and innovate in these areas.

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