By Ana-Julia Van Bilsen Irías, Innovation intern for UNICEF and the BICU Innovation Lab

“It’s amazing, we can finally speak and give our opinion concerning the problems that affect us”
Young students from “Instituto Nuevo Amanecer” (INA).


The Caribbean Coast of Nicaragua has the lowest indicators compared to the national average. Both autonomous regions (The North Caribbean Coast Autonomous Region (RACCN) and the South Caribbean Coast Autonomous Region (RACCS)), have historically been isolated from the rest of the country in terms of infrastructure, basic social services, and an overall absence of political will and interest at the national level. The BICU Innovation Lab started in the Caribbean Coast, as a process to understand challenges at the grassroots level and to address social problems affecting the rights of children and adolescents. The Lab identified violence against children and adolescents as the major problem in the region, problems that are exacerbated due to a lack of equitable access to services in prevention of, and response to violence.

INA students during mapping session. Photo: (c)UNICEF/Van Bilsen Irías

The Innovation Camp took place at El Bluff and aimed at identifying different sources of risk within the community, for example: violence, insecurity, drug and alcohol abuse, sexual harassment, and environmental problems. We employed a problem analysis methodology combined with mapping workshops and interviews with key figures in the community, conducted by students from BICU University. This gave us a comprehensive overview concerning the rights of children and adolescents at El Bluff. This was a great occasion to empower children and adolescents through different activities to develop transferrable skills.

Lucy Medina and INA students during mapping session. Photo: (c) UNICEF/ Van Bilsen Irías

Through collaborative maps in which children and adolescents identified the places that they like/don’t like, feel safe/don’t feel safe, we were able to pinpoint the sources of risk within the community and identify the main problems affecting the rights of children and adolescents at El Bluff.

INA students during mapping session. Photo: (c) Van Bilsen Irías

Besides identifying these sources of risk, we tried to develop an innovation process that could represent an opportunity to tackle these social challenges, and at the same time enable different members of the community to be a part of the problem solving process. The involvement of the community during the first Lab session was incredibly high. It was very interesting to use different methodologies to analyze problems with different audiences and strong community involvement. Being in the frontline of this project made me realize that the Camp had an important impact for children and youth: to help them feel that they can be agents of change.

For many members, violence, drugs, sexual abuse, the presence of drug traffic, crime, ineffectual law enforcement and justice institutions, are all a normal part of their daily lives in El Buff. Being exposed to this contributes to high levels of violence. To reach out to isolated communities, we followed our strategy of community participation of children and adolescents, and a multi-sectoral cooperation, where the Lab facilitates an innovative process, implemented through partnerships with community key actors: teachers, parents, police, council members, and students from “Bluefields Indian and Caribbean University” and “Universidad de las Regiones Autónomas de la Costa Caribe Nicaragüense.”

INA students during mapping session. Credits UNICEF/ Van Bilsen Irías 2015

The dialogue between participants was motivating. It represented a successful opportunity of experimentation and integration of various modalities of capacity building, this means strengthening the skills and abilities of El Bluff’s community in order for them to try and overcome the causes of their exclusion. This experience mobilized and strengthened the commitment of local and regional authorities in the fight against various social problems that affect the community. In addition, the experience of camping in the community gave us a better understanding of the conditions they live in and have a better approach.

Lucy Medina and INA students during mapping session. Photo: (c) Van Bilsen

Our problem solving strategy followed different phases, after a phase of sources of risk recognition and a phase of incubation, we’re now starting the prototyping phase, in coordination with the moderators in order to effectively develop these innovative solutions.

The Social Innovation Camp Team. Photo: (c) Van Bilsen Irías

The work done during the Innovation Camp is exciting; it represents an opportunity to innovate and drive social change with the participation of young students and community members. Improving the conditions of children and adolescents in the Caribbean Coast, will not only contribute to national and local efforts to reduce violence against children and adolescents, but can also help increase their opportunities.

The Social Innovation Camp at El Bluff was a complete success. Photo: (c) Ramirez

This activity represented a chance for everyone to dialogue with different members of the community, to prove that innovation is possible with little funds, and that we can achieve big changes with and for the young children and adolescents in El Bluff.

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