Kevin Mendes, UNV Specialist in Social Policy and Innovation with UNICEF Nicaragua

When thinking about innovation, one’s mind goes – as mine does, or did, before joining UNICEF in January – to state of the art technologies and big infrastructures.

That being said, launching the first UNICEF supported innovation lab in Central America on the Southern Caribbean Coast of Nicaragua, in cooperation with the Bluefields Indian and Caribbean University (BICU), was all but random.

Bluefields, the capital city of the region and heart of indigenous and afro-descent populations in Nicaragua, is facing great disconnection from the rest of the country and the world – geographically and socio-economically speaking. On top of that, children and adolescents are facing various social risks: violence, drugs, vulnerability to natural disasters, etc.

The lab found its raison d’être as a space where students can unite their knowledge and skills towards one common goal: tackling violence against children and adolescents in Nicaragua.

Children outside of classroom, Southern Caribbean Coast Autonomous Region of Nicaragua, 2013 (c) UNICEF Nicaragua/2013/LAAKSO
Children outside of classroom, Southern Caribbean Coast Autonomous Region of Nicaragua, 2013
(c) UNICEF Nicaragua/2013/LAAKSO

How will the BICU Lab contribute to prevention of violence against children?

One of the root causes affecting the protection of children in the region is the lack of opportunities of all kinds: socialization, coaching, training, professional experiences, to name a few.

The BICU Lab will offer them an opportunity to connect with other bright minds from around the globe and discuss the challenges that the region is facing on the grassroots level, while acquiring a wide range of new skills.

‘Chance only favours the prepared mind’, said Louis Pasteur, a French scientist. The idea is to give young people the tools to analyse, think outside of the box and get involved in problem solving, rather than just being AFFECTED by problems.

Students, for example, are currently being trained in entrepreneurship, design-thinking and prototyping processes and have learned to use open-source technology like OpenStreetMap to prevent urban violence.

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One of the activities facilitated by the BICU Lab: Children in Bluefields working with the OpenStreetMap/MapaNica team to learn about mapping as a tool for reducing urban violence. Bluefields, March 2015 (c) UNICEF Nicaragua/2015/JIRON

Connect globally to solve problems locally

To foster local problem-solving, they need to be exposed to new ideas, methodologies and thinkers. This is why we are also busy lining up innovative partnerships in and out of the country: for example, with the American College and the Telefonica Foundation here, and Villanova (United States) and Aalto (Finland) universities abroad.

 What counts, in the end, is that young people in Bluefields feel ‘connected’ to their peers, to coaches or mentors, to the rest of the country, and thanks to creative use of technologies, to the world.

This Lab for me is a way of doing development differently, integrating innovation in UNICEF and its partners’ work. It conveys the idea that with little funds and above all, through innovative ways of thinking and working facilitated by youths, we can achieve big changes with, and for children and adolescents of Nicaragua.

Join us, follow us: BICU Innovation Lab

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