Inclusive Regional Development

Students, faculty, and staff from MIT and the Southern University of Chile (UACh) develop culturally relevant variables to use in evaluating entrepreneurship training programs in May 2014. Photo by Alyssa Bryson.

CoLab’s Inclusive Regional Development program (IRD) works with communities, practitioners, and engaged academics to co-create knowledge, strengthen capacities for collective leadership, and support innovative models for equitable development and wellbeing in Latin America.

Countries across Latin America, like many around the world, are dealing with severe crises of socioeconomic inequality. Across the region this manifests in dire consequences for livability, including epidemics of crime and violence, social and political conflict, environmental crisis, and stigmatization of marginalized groups.

Within this context, isolated regions and small or mid-sized cities far from centers of political administration, concentrated economic wealth, and centers of authoritative knowledge production face a distinct set of challenges. These dynamics often include development policies that don’t respond to regional needs; low mobility and connectivity due to inadequate physical and technological infrastructure; environmental and socio-economic consequences of resource extractivism; and ethno-racial discrimination.

Despite these challenges, sub-national regions also represent spaces of unique potential for creating alternatives. In many of the places where our partners work, distance from political and economic centers has contributed to strong informal leadership networks, collective regional identities, and distinct conceptions and models of the economy – all of which are crucial assets to leverage in the pursuit of equitable development.

IRD’s work has involved building capacity for collective leadership, supporting values-based entrepreneurship, facilitating participatory action research processes, and strategic planning that leverages local and regional assets to address regional disparities. In addition, our partners form part of a transnational learning network focused on sharing knowledge and lessons about economic democracy, community innovation, and self-determination in their local contexts.

IRD Partners & Initiatives:

Community & Territorial Innovation in the Colombia Pacific Region

Since 2014, CoLab has worked with networks of Afro and indigenous leaders in the Pacific region of Colombia to co-create knowledge about regional assets, support collective leadership development and build capacities for community innovation. Now in the third phase of this work, CoLab is working with partner organizations in the cities of Quibdó and Buenaventura to deepen a focus on territorial development and social infrastructure for peace. This phase of the work will involve monthly programming that brings 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 aims to create spaces and build capacities for experimentation and collaborative problem solving around territorial development challenges.

More information about the current phase of this work can be accessed here. Information about previous phases of CoLab’s work in the Pacific region, carried out in partnership with Corporación Manos Visibles and the Ford Foundation, can be found here.

Research from the Periphery: Building Community Capacity at Instituto Banco Palmas

In 2015 CoLab expanded its collaboration with Banco Palmas, an innovative community bank in Fortaleza, Brazil working with a solidarity economy model. During 2015 and 2016 CoLab partnered with youth leaders at PalmasLab, the bank’s technology and innovation center, on a participatory action research project focused on exploring the material and immaterial forms of wealth and poverty in their neighborhood, including how residents’ desires and aspirations shape visions and action around local socio-economic development. Additionally, the collaboration produced a set of methodological tools and resources to continue to support youth leadership in areas of research and local development.

Assessing Community Innovation Capacity in the Piedemonte Amazónico Region

In 2016, CoLab worked with Patrimonio Natural, a Colombian organization focused on environmental conservation and governance, on a program to strengthen community innovation capacity in the Piedemonte Amazónico region. This program, which focused on innovation methodologies and sustainable territorial development, was modeled on the Community Innovation School that CoLab introduced in the Pacific Region of Colombia in 2014. As part of this collaboration, CoLab developed a framework and toolkit for assessing efforts to strengthen community innovation capacity and to learn from the deep knowledge and experience of community groups in the region.

Using Entrepreneurship to Create Value in Southern Chile

In the Los Ríos Region, our partners at the Southern University of Chile (UACh) have been working with youth since 1999, combining education and entrepreneurship training to support the development of self-employment strategies. In 2012, CoLab began supporting UACh in its efforts to incorporate young parents and students from indigenous communities more intentionally into their programming, including developing a set of tools to assess and expand the program’s direct and indirect impacts. Using student-to-student collaboration and technical exchange, CoLab and UACh aim to create a network of future professionals who have the skills, knowledge, and relationships to create businesses, policies and programs to build a more productive, equitable, and resilient economy in southern Chile.


Alison Coffey