UniPID/FinCEAL+ panel at CILAC 2018 on cooperation between academia and local actors in projects promoting sustainable cities and communities

In late October 2018, UniPID/FinCEAL+ LAC joined forces with experts from Aalto LAB Mexico/Aalto University, Helsinki Collegium for Advanced Studies/University of Helsinki, Perpendicular (Guatemala) and Design Your Action (Mexico) in a dialogue session at Open Science Forum for Latin America and the Caribbean (CILAC 2018), organized by UNESCO. This new regional Forum was organized now for the second time, this year in Panama City, with the aim of providing a multi-stakeholder platform for different actors in the region to jointly discuss and explore the contributions of Science, Technology and Innovation to the Agenda 2030. CILAC 2018 focused on discussing how to generate sustainable territories. The core themes this year were sustainable cities, bioeconomy and resilient territories.

The FinCEAL+ session was organized on the first day of the conference under the theme of sustainable cities. The panel discussion focused on the importance of promoting cooperation between academia and local actors in the implementation of projects that help urban and rural communities to solve some of their most urgent problems, either within the community itself, or by forming strategic alliances with other actors. Two different case examples of such projects were presented by the panelists. The first one was the case of the project "Fragile cities in the global South: Societal security, environmental vulnerability and representative justice” (FCITIES) in the framework of which a new collaboration has been established between the University of Helsinki and Perpendicular, a Guatemalan social innovation lab. FCITIES was presented by Dr. Florencia Quesada from the Helsinki Collegium together with the founders of Perpendicular, Onice Arango and Andrea Valladares. The second case presented in the panel was that of Aalto LAB Mexico, a collaboration between Aalto University, Technological Institute of Monterrey, National Autonomous University of Mexico and Mexican NGO Design Your Action (DYA). Dr. Claudia Garduño, the founder DYA and post-doctoral researcher at Aalto University, was responsible for showcasing the collaboration.

The two cases of cooperation were compared, and it became clear that although one has taken place in an urban and the other in a rural setting, they share a context of inequality, marginalization, poverty and vulnerability. Clearly, promoting actions of transition towards sustainability are of critical importance in both settings. Projects such as FCITIES and Aalto LAB Mexico combine the efforts, experiences and interdisciplinary knowledge of the academia with those of the local actors, allowing for an important synergy to address the problems of violence, poverty and marginalization that many communities are facing. It was concluded that developing this type of cooperation requires a lot of time and effort from the stakeholders involved. However, the collaborations, when successfully implemented, yield many positive results that benefit not only the local communities, but all the other actors involved as well.

The panelists highlighted the importance of the academia getting involved in this type of cooperation with local actors, which involves co-production of knowledge and uniting theory with action. Thus, it allows the academics to become active agents in the promotion of development and more sustainable cities and communities and not only in the production of knowledge through the publication of scientific articles. Moreover, academic knowledge production is enriched by the reflection processes of the community and local actors, and the community benefits from getting new perspectives on the issues they wish to change - often difficult to identify because of "being too close to the problem" . It was concluded that on one hand, the collaboration between academia and local actors allows for reaching adequate and in-depth diagnoses of local problems; but on the other hand, their impact is limited, and dependent on the availability of financial and institutional support . Therefore, the panelists proposed extending the collaboration by integrating the public and private sectors in order to unite the efforts of academia and local actors to municipal and state efforts. This would allow the projects to contribute towards achieving the long-term vision of the territory, while increasing their impact and making the projects themselves more sustainable over time.

Picture credit: Florencia Quesada and Kajsa Ekroos

Text: Kajsa Ekroos with input from Florencia Quesada, Claudia Garduño, Onice Arango and Andrea Valladares