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Diario El Mercurio: Is there room for innovation even in the most conflictive places in the southern macrozone? Balloon proves yes

El Mercurio report on Balloon Latam (May 9, 2024)

“The greatest inequalities in the country are in rural areas. That is why we are dedicated to these invisible territories, our projects, work and focus being the search for mechanisms to balance that balance,” says Sebastián Salinas, founder and executive director of Balloon Latam.

The enterprise that he has been leading for more than 10 years does not shy away from challenges, not only is it in the difficult “field” of generating social capital, but it also decided to do it in one of the most complex places in Chile, in the rural world. of the La Araucanía Region, the heart of the so-called southern macrozone.

An environment that has been shaken by years of violence and that has just experienced one of its most brutal episodes in Cañete (Biobío Region), with the ambush and murder of three police officers.

It is there, where even the State finds it difficult to enter, where this team has managed to open doors. And from there they have earned credit: they have already supported more than 6,080 local projects in 76 communes in eight regions of Chile. But its strong point remains La Araucanía.

How do they do that?


For Salinas, “innovation occurs when social relations change and our way of working is the PPP, which if people participate in the decisions in which they are going to be affected, they will have relevance, which in sum achieves permanence.”

A creed that translates into very specific keys. The first is that to generate initiatives and projects from rural areas, it is necessary to be in the place. For this reason, Balloon's regional office in La Araucanía is in Cunco (they have others in Paihuano, Licantén, Puelo and Coyhaique).

And from there they have had as a priority what they call "strengthening the social fabric in areas stigmatized by abandonment." Its star program is Balloon International, a training model in innovation and entrepreneurship that focuses on promoting social relationships.

“The idea is not to stay with the stable beneficiaries of the municipalities, but to go to the people who are invisible. People who are very isolated or have a lot of economic dependence. "There are the real pains and the most sensitive fibers," explains Juan Ignacio Cordero, head of Advocacy and Knowledge Management. With this work with more than three thousand people from 18 communes (including the “red zone”), what they have discovered is that there is a desire to do things, but people “cannot find the connecting bridges with the State or any institution, which They don't reach them. And they don't arrive, because they are very illiterate interculturally speaking.”

The work is slow: they talk to the ancestral authorities, explain their programs, ask for authorization and little by little they begin the connection. “A classic error of the State is that of temporalities. They arrive with a program and the deadline for closing the fund is in a couple of weeks and that does not give time for people to understand it, think about it, look for a problem in their community and plan a venture to solve it,” adds Cordero.

Notable cases have come from there, such as Lorena Garrido, in Cunco, who turned her field into a platform for educational agrotourism. Or José Luis Hueche, in Padre de Las Casas, with an inclusive nursery. Or Brisa Stempelet, from Pitrufquén, with a workshop for trucks with an official brand license.

“I've been at Balloon for a little over a year now and the experience has been incredible. Every day we have new projects, initiatives that arise from communities, public or private organizations. We seek to build social capital that strengthens and provides solid foundations to find solutions based on the perspective of those who are affected, repairing cracks that are sometimes much smaller than what is seen from afar,” says Alicia Hidalgo, former executive director of TVN. , who assumed the general management of Balloon in October.

Stories like these will be broadcast, he says, in the “Innovadores Invisibles” vodcast, available on Spotify and YouTube. The key, they say, is that innovation is considered for community benefit. “Every action that we are going to support in a community, we do it with it. Everyone is part. It is the only way to generate roots and that does not happen in public policy, which is imposed, comes with a certain temporality, with results to be achieved. There, participation is a mere procedure and I would say that in the macrozone that is a great pain. People demand participation and conflicts emerge because the things that are done do not connect with real needs. We change that logic,” says Cordero.

This allowed them to carry out the Special Arauco-Malleco Roads Program, in which they managed to align the Ministry of Public Works with 43 communities of CAñeta, Tirúa, Contulmo, Victoria, Traiguén and Ercilla. The achievement was major: that they co-designed, together with contracting companies, bidding contracts to build roads such as routes R-800 in Victoria and R-730 in Traiguén, in addition to collaborating in the maintenance of rural routes in Ercilla. There, they even managed to enter (and several times) Temucuicui.

“We had to follow some protocols, notify the community authorities, but if you think about it, when you go to a condominium, you have to let us know where you are going…they are codes of people like the Mapuche and you have to understand and incorporate them into the policies. Understanding that has allowed us to do things that others have not been able to,” says Cordero.

This experience allowed them, for example, to help the CEP Special Survey 87 be applied in the area, which collected the perceptions, attitudes and expectations of the inhabitants of the regions of Biobío, Araucanía, Los Ríos and Los Lagos.