Los Supercívicos is creating a movement of active, engaged citizens and more accountable governments by making civic participation easier and more accessible through the use of humor and technology.
The New Idea
Arturo is helping an old theme - civisism - recover its crucial role in Mexican society under an entirely new approach based on the core elements of humor, an interactive platform, and government alliances. Through Los Supercívicos, Arturo has turned political satire into a movement for citizen engagement in Mexico, where citizen apathy reigns supreme. If the most fundamental civic values are not taken seriously, both by government and by a population that has grown indifferent to the absence of a respectable authority, public civility becomes a joke. Los Supercívicos operates under the belief that the best way to respond to this problem is with a different kind of joke. He has built a powerful platform and app, with over two million subscribers, making it easy for citizens to post complaints and geolocalized video reports about issues facing their communities that have been left unaddressed by the responsible authorities. Arturo is also supporting the formation of more accountable governments, by partnering with city councils to secure their commitment to resolving issues publicized via the platform. Los Supercívicos incentivizes government participation by not only critiquing officials that have neglected their duties but also applauding those officials that perform well in resolving issues reported on the platform. In these ways, Arturo is forming a citizen army of engaged urban reporters and change agents, and helping to heal a ruptured relationship between citizens and the authorities charged with maintaining the safety and wellbeing of their communities.
Arturo is creating a virtuous circle, in which people post complaints because they trust the platform and see that problems publicized through it are resolved. As this visibility and confidence grows among users, more people come on board, thereby growing the movement of engaged citizens and generating a systemic change in the way people view and act upon the subject of civic duty.
Moreover, using humor helps attract more followers and thereby expand the reach of the Los Supercívicos platform. Such expansion will be further assisted by having a platform which easily adapts for each city and region. Arturo plans to scale his work throughout Mexico by training ambassadors that will carry the Supercívicos mission around Mexico and other countries. He has already started in the states near Mexico City and he is contemplating expansion into Colombia. His model has proven to be scalable and using humor to address serious issues has grown virally, with broader reach and deeper impact than he imagined.
Citizen apathy is a major problem in Mexico. A long history of corrupt, authoritarian administrations and unilateral decision making has left a deep-rooted legacy of citizens who feel their voice won’t count even if they choose to speak up about their concerns, and therefore are better off not trying.
The problems of citizen apathy and unresponsive governments become mutually reinforcing, as citizens feel increasingly impotent in the face of governments that are driven by their own interests and benefit only the privileged few rather than the masses, including through egregious abuses of power like placing public money in their own pockets and those of their friends, rather than using it for the good of society as a whole. Another key problem is the absence of an effective communication channel between citizens, responsible private initiatives, and a functioning authority.
The lack of civic participation drives other problems including corruption, injustice, crime, poverty, and more. For example, Los Supercívicos had received multiple complaints about a prevalent chain of pharmacies across Mexico that has cut down hundreds of trees in front of its storefronts without permission from city governments, and gotten away with complete impunity despite the illegality of this behavior due to corruption and impotent governance. Another major source of complaints is road safety, including lack of pedestrian crosswalks, dangerous potholes in major streets, and poorly enforced traffic regulations. These problems have given Mexico one of the highest rates of traffic-related deaths in Latin America. The citizens who suffer as a result are unsure of who is the appropriate authority to contact, and therefore feel unable to act to demand change. These conditions produce a society in which basic civic values are trampled upon every day, and which lacks a functional civic culture.
Existing efforts to boost the participation of citizens in improving their society have fallen short of effectively reaching the masses. Government initiatives have focused solely on the electoral angle, thereby empowering citizens only in terms of voting rights while failing to improve other aspects of civic participation. Private initiatives to boost civic participation also suffer from a lack of creativity and ingenuity, saturating media with sterile campaigns that fail to truly connect with citizens.
Los Supercívicos connects citizens and government and generates a civic consciousness through three principal strategies: the use of humor, an interactive platform, and government alliances. Humor is the hook that Arturo uses to establish his reputation and attract attention to the causes he champions. For example, to call attention to a dangerous and poorly marked pothole in a major street of Mexico City, Arturo visited the site dressed as the Grim Reaper and accompanied by his colleague, who arrived at the scene decked out as a funeral conductor. Arturo made a brief recording that was seen by thousands of people, prompting the relevant politician to cover the pothole in quick succession. Another example of Arturo’s use of humor is a video he created in which he travels around the Riviera Maya accompanied by several indigenous Mayans donning traditional dress and beach equipment. The group is continuously turned away from beaches under the claim that they are the private property of hotels and resorts, only open to paying guests. The video takes on a satirical tone, but addresses the serious subject of indigenous people’s lack of access to beaches in their own native lands. In this manner, Los Supercívicos holds great influence to visibilize issues, using humor to make them both easily understandable and urgent.
The second part of Arturo’s strategy is democratizing civic participation through an interactive platform. Any citizen with the app can easily post their complaints in 30-second videos that are immediately uploaded to the platform. If the report is made in Mexico City, Locatel, the government’s citizen contact center, gives the user a folio number and channels the report to the unit in charge of solving the problem. Los Supercívicos has already secured commitments from seven city councils in Mexico City (out of a total of sixteen) to resolve 100% of the citizen reports that come from the app. The app also serves as a space for citizen-to-citizen communication as users can report on issues perpetuated by citizens, such as illegally parking in street space not designated for parking. Posting about these issues serves to inspire reflection and generate a civic consciousness among citizens. In the future, Arturo plans to run workshops to teach people how they can become influencers and reporters using technological tools, thereby further diffusing the message that any ordinary citizen can create real change. Arturo also hopes to leverage the platform to create neighborhood groups, using a geolocation tool that allows users to identify citizens near them who have made reports and subsequently create group chats to collectively address problems. Users of Los Supercívicos include influential reporters who consult the app to inform themselves of current news stories, which are then picked up by major media outlets. In the future, Arturo plans to create his own visual humorous news bulletin of unresolved issues whose contents will be distributed through his channels and serve as a detonator to resolve even more issues reported by citizens. Los Supercívicios also investigates issues in alliance with strategic partners when the received complaints carry significant weight. For example, in the case of Farmacias del Ahorro, Los Supercívicos had received multiple complaints about this pharmacy chain that has cut down hundreds of trees in front of its storefronts without permission from city governments, and gotten away with complete impunity despite the illegality of this behavior. Los Supercívicos partnered with two anti-corruption organizations to launch a media campaign and a formal denouncement against the chain.
The third strategy branch is political alliances. Besides Locatel, other government institutions with which Los Supercívicos collaborates include the Mexico City Water System, Office of Territorial Order, Federal Consumer Defense Office, Secretariat of the Environment, Secretariat of Public Safety, and the Urban Management Agency. Thanks to these strong collaborations, reports from Los Supercívicos carry significant weight and are taken seriously by the government, as evidenced by the fact that 700 citizen reports have already been resolved. Beyond publishing stories that critique politicians responsible for unaddressed problems, Los Supercívicos also recognizes officials who have done a good job by applauding those who have resolved reports to its audience of two million followers. This system has generated a friendly competition among city councils to resolve the greatest number of reports. This incentive scheme becomes mutually beneficial: for governmental institutions used to receiving solely criticism from the public, the celebration of each resolved report serves as free publicity from a credible source, and the growing desire for this publicity fuels the resolution of more citizen reports.
Los Supercívicos leverages its collaborative power and trustworthy reputation to launch campaigns for government, social organizations and businesses. For example, in collaboration with Movistar, Arturo launched a social media campaign about the risks of using a cellphone while driving. Campaigns such as this one perform the dual function of further spreading the impact of Los Supercívicos’ work and serving as an income stream, which is reinvested in generating more impact. Other collaborations have included Telefonica, AXA Insurance, FEMSA, Mattel, BP, Cerveceros de México, Univision, the state government of Chihuahua, and the National Electoral Institute, among others.
In terms of replicating, Los Supercívicos plans to secure commitments from the remainder of the city councils in the Mexican capital, and then progress to national and international expansion. Arturo aims to create an educational center that will train ambassadors in his unique mix of methods for the enhancement of civic engagement so they can carry the model to new states and countries. Arturo has already identified an ambassador in Nezahualcoyotl City and Oaxaca who have started to work independently by channeling the reports received to local governmental institutions. Arturo is also in discussion with a potential implementer in Colombia, and aims to secure a presence for Los Supercívicos in at least two or three more countries in five years’ time. In internationalizing, Los Supercívicos will leverage its impactful alliances with global collaborators such as Facebook and the Inter-American Development Bank, which has invited Arturo to speak at different events in front of more than 300 city councils of Latin America about the use of comedy as a tool for change.
The Mexico City of Arturo’s childhood is one that he feels is drastically different from the present-day reality. As a child, Arturo played freely with his friends throughout the city and never felt that it was an unsafe place. In the years since, he feels this freedom has been replaced with greater mistrust among citizens and toward their government.
Throughout his childhood, Arturo was made fun of for his short stature. But his response to such bullying was always to use humor, a strategy influenced by his having grown up in a family that frequently used comedy to communicate with one another. Arturo’s son was diagnosed with cancer at just three years old. Fortunately, doctors detected it on time, but the experience marked Arturo: though he had the resources and accessibility to help his child, he worried about those who did not. He began to seek solutions for children with cancer from low-income families, first by bringing in voice actors to entertain the children, and then by crowdfunding through the platform of Los Supercívicos. These experiences left Arturo with a profound realization of human vulnerability and the fleetingness of life.
After university, Arturo worked as a video jockey for MTV Latin America in Miami, Florida, where he learned to go out on the streets equipped with a camera, recording conversations with the diverse people he encountered. His empathetic, natural manner of communicating with and relating to people led the program to achieve great success and led Arturo to become a well-known public figure. Moreover, the experience prepared him to use the same tools and techniques in his future work with Los Supercívicos, albeit with a focus on serious social issues instead of the largely frivolous ones he reported on for MTV.
Upon returning to Mexico, Arturo found a country far more apathetic than the one he had left a decade earlier. His altered attitude was also related to having lived abroad in a place where there was more communication between government and citizens. Seeking to address the issues he felt citizens and government alike were ignoring, he proposed his idea of a program called Los Supercívicos to different TV channels who all replied positively. But in the television world, Arturo faced censorship and industry greed. For example, one year before national elections in Mexico, Arturo’s supervisors continuously asked him for favors, such as supporting certain political parties and denouncing others on his show. When Arturo refused, the TV station leaders switched his program to a 3 am slot, when barely anybody would see it.
He knew he couldn’t give up his idea or compromise his values, so instead he left the TV world and doubled down on his commitment to fight the injustices he witnessed in his country. Realizing the great potential of Los Supercívicos, in 2013 Arturo took the project from television to the internet, a move he financed through his own resources, in order to proceed with greater autonomy on platforms like Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and Instagram. In 2016, Arturo added the app as a powerful tool to permit citizens to be urban reporters, and since then his reach has continuously grown. The accessible and engaging nature of the app manifests Arturo’s mission to create a far-reaching movement of active citizens and engaged governments, which is on a fast track to majorly transforming society in Mexico and beyond.