Agents of Change

More than 570 Uruguayan and international students and professionals participated in the LOOP Innovation Week

The Innovation Week LOOP, which took place in Uruguay from August 1st to 5th, was built on the three pillars of innovation, impact and inclusion. The event consisted in a compromise with university education and was therefore organized by five Uruguayan universities. The first UIF meet-up in Latin America was also coordinated, with speakers and assistants from Colombia, United States, Peru, Israel, Puerto Rico, Venezuela and Uruguay. 

“My 2018 changed radically in relation to how I had planned it”, said Universidad de Montevideo Communication Student Gala Maldonado. She and seven other students were selected to participate in the UIF at Stanford University at the beginning of 2018. Now, the fellows gave life to LOOP on the other side, along with other university students. “I worked a lot. I wanted the students who trusted us to feel at home and to have the greatest experience of their lives,” assured Maldonado, who now is part of the Initium team.

Action and ability

The agenda consisted in meetings with the speakers, workshops, and a boot camp. UM Communication student and UIF fellow Carolina Vassalucci explained that everything was prepared for “exchange and dialogue”. The boot camp participants were divided into groups and worked in relation to three sustainable development objectives: poverty, education, and women’s impulse in the work environment. They were supported by three organizations committed to some of these challenges: The Luceros Movement, Teach Uruguay, and the Center for Promotion of Human Dignity (CEPRODIH).

Business Administration student Lucía Rodríguez was in charge of contacting with these NGOs. “It was key to develop teamwork between the members of each organization and LOOP participants, because it would help to think of more adequate proposals for each of these challenges. LOOP proposed to apply these innovation tools to topics which concerned us and involved everyone,” she explained. 

In order to learn by acting, each group identified certain problems in the assigned area and tried to search for innovative solutions through Design Thinking methodology, an activity lead by UM professors Ma. Martha Passadore and Josefina Maisonnave. This consisted in field work with deeply researched interviews towards the future beneficiaries of the project and by observing their context; an ideas session; developing a prototype, and demonstrating the possible solutions to the users so that they could test and receive their feedback. At the same time, the participants received skillsets about the business models which they needed in order to develop their projects, and also on storytelling and improvising their pitch in front of the jury.

Carolina Vassalucci was in charge of accompanying the team members who worked on poverty solutions. She went with them to visit a family who lived by the train tracks in AFE, explaining how enriching it was to receive the family at the UM to listen to their opinions about the initiative. Lucía Rodriguez mentioned that “by applying the reality that our society is confronted with, innovation and entrepreneurial spirit can strongly contribute to social development.” Without intending that it be so, each of the three winners was from a different area. They were awarded an online course in business models for social development.

With the aim of promoting environmental care, LOOP used the recycling system Resuena, which was developed at the John XXIII Institute. Ten stations of the project were placed in UM installations. Each of the participants classified their waste into three categories: those for compost, recyclables, and mixed material. This provided that 60% of the residue generated was recycled, and 10% was destined to a compost process, managed by a pre-university student who came up with the idea.

An encounter which transcended

LOOP was declared of national interest by the Ministry of Culture and Education and the National Agency of Research and Innovation (ANII). It was sponsored by the National Agency for Development (ANDE) and the U.S. Embassy in Uruguay, and supported by various entrepreneurships and organizations. Nicolás Fynn, a student of Business Administration, was in charge of dialoguing with the sponsors. He explained that he saw that the business members whom he was in contact with were impressed by the work of the students. “They performed with an excellent attitude and generosity, trusting in LOOP and knowing, at the same time, that their objective was the give them the most participation that we could.”

Thankful for the experience and the tools he developed, Universidad de Montevideo student concluded: “This experience has allowed me to ground many of the material I have studied, but principally, it has filled me with expectations and convinced me that there is no such idea that can be difficult or foreign enough when we are surrounded by people whom believe in it and who and who see its potential.” Carolina Vassalucci added that “the ability to participate in UIF was the gateway to this world, in which we discovered the spirit of innovation and entrepreneurship, and returned with the desire to generate an impact on education. LOOP has allowed us to see that changes do exist and that students can be protagonists. In this event, five universities came together to craft something both for the society and for the youth population in this country.”

Along those same lines, some of the UM authorities demonstrated their support towards the activity and to the commitment to developing an entrepreneurial and innovative culture. Luisa Peirano, director of the Department of International Relations, pointed out that the meet-up “was very good for students because it gave them the certainty that ‘they can’ in and from Uruguay.” Claudio Ruibal, dean of the School of Engineering, stated that “LOOP has left us with a group of young people with great skills and ability to innovate, launch and lead, and with a higher conscience that they should place both their knowledge and their skills to the service of the society.” The dean of the School of Business and Economics, Alejandro Cid, thought that LOOP “has become an accelerator for talents and has transformed the students into catalysts of change.” Initium’s director Josefina Maisonnave concluded that “for the UM, LOOP was a turning point. We were able to both design and offer an innovative event for Uruguay and for the region. We are already thinking on how to exceed this is 2019.”