Delfina Irazusta is stimulating economic development and improved governance in under-resourced municipalities in Argentina. Through workshops and cross-city visits with mayors and municipal staff, she offers a framework for collaboration and new tools so that municipalities can tackle their own and each other’s local challenges.
The New Idea
Delfina Irazusta believes that municipalities have great transformative potential that needs to be released. As a result, she created the Local Innovation Network (Red de Innovación Local, or RIL). It promotes a culture of much needed innovation in the local public sector, which eventually contributes to local development. Her approach seeks to revolutionize the way local politics are designed and implemented at a municipal level, based on three modern day necessities: knowledge, transparency and collaborative construction. Delfina has developed and improved on an existing agricultural scheme which has had relative success in the Argentina for over fifty years. The improved model aims to create flexible and dynamic local government teams with new skills who will collaborate with other municipal teams. The process (and project) is organized in a professional manner and includes a trained moderator who works with the participants on their ability to see change in their communities. This includes increasing awareness of opportunities to incorporate modern ideas and technology. This visible change is valuable for these regional municipalities especially during election time. The entire initiative is planned to give new life to local communities and municipalities and to bring about positive change. Delfina aims to nationally scale her impact. In order to achieve this, she is working with the National Municipal Affairs Secretary with whom they jointly launched the first national contest for local public innovation. Delfina has established an exchange with Ashoka Fellow Jorge Sotomoreno from México, with plans to spread her work there in the near future. She has also connected with other organizations in Paraguay for similar expansion purposes. Delfina has a global perspective, and has already started connecting with international organizations that specialize in public innovation, such as Bloomberg Philanthropies (USA), Nesta (UK), Mind Lab (Dinamarca). Bloomberg Foundation has already shown an interest in advancing the contest
Argentina is a strongly centralized country: 30% of the country's inhabitants live in the Buenos Aires metropolitan area, which accounts for 0.1% of Argentina's total territory. At the same time, some of the largest territories in the country have very low population density. There are a total of 2,200 local governments in the country, of which only 370 have more than 10,000 inhabitants. This means that approximately 1,800 local governments have very few resources to carry on their municipal activities. These municipalities generally lack
Delfina Irazusta Argentina, 2015
qualified officials as well as updated methodologies, technologies or innovative practices in the public field. These deficiencies impact the population of each territory as the citizens’ quality of life is affected by the lackluster public policies. This is especially evident in matters like housing, waste, security and development. The low management capacities are generally related to the lack of working tools and methodology as well as the absence of incentives to enhance local policies. This generates inefficiencies at the time of implementing programs. Moreover, there is a lack of knowledge about possible solutions to local problems with hardly any frequent interaction among municipalities. This breakdown in communication prevents the creation of new ideas and the use of existent knowledge and resources. As a result, there is a generalized distrust of government which hampers the common citizen’s expectations in local development possibilities through public avenues.
Delfina started her work with municipalities in Argentina in 2012. Her work was devoted to public policies research and development. She shaped the idea of applying the CREA methodology (developed in France by a group of agrarian producers, after World War II) to the Public sector, at a municipal level. She started with the offices of two mayors and noticed her ideas had potential for great social impact. After this experience, Delfina decided to create an organization and expand the range of activities in order to transform the local development and design of public policies at that level. This led to the 2014 launch of the Red de Innovación Local (RIL), or Local Innovation Network, which is currently going through the legal process of becoming a civil association. The approach Delfina proposes has two focusses. First, RIL aims to be an advice platform among peers (mayors and municipal agents) to enhance local policies through transferring methodologies from the CREA groups. Second, it offers guidance to government groups on
how to implement “public innovation tools” in order to solve current issues as well as create
development opportunities. Both parts of the project complement each other: one serves as an exchange between municipalities and the other gives municipalities one-on-one attention. Monthly meetings with mayors and team groups from the same areas (production secretaries, for example) form a part of the consulting between peers in the network. A host agent invites a team from the network to his/her municipality. He/she then states the main management challenges, everyone in the group visits the concerned area together. At the end of the day, the guests provide the host with proposals and solutions. This process is moderated by an specialist advisor provided by RIL. Currently there are two Mayors’ groups and a Production Secretaries group, consisting of 8 Municipalities each. These activities include the participation of 15 districts from the interior of the country.
Shortly after the groups began, the initial impact was already apparent. For example, the Rivadavia Municipality (Buenos Aires province) gave the challenge of finding jobs for youth. After the RIL workshops, the mayor convened local companies – those that had already initiated systematic meetings -- and focused on analyzing new investment lines that would open new options for local employment. In RIL’s guidance to the Government teams, Delfina proposes training workshops on 5 subjects she identifies as a priority to a municipality: innovation, entrepreneurship, public-private partnership, environmental sustainability and cultural management. The workshops include content, public innovation tools and the actual work the government teams initiate to tackle their main challenges, applying the provided tools. The trainings end with action plans with which RIL reviews in their implementation follow-up. In 2014, RIL held innovation and entrepreneurship workshops in 10 country districts and public-private collaboration workshops in 2 districts. In Dolores City, Buenos Aires province, Delfina worked in the development of an innovation that is already in its implementation stage. Delfina recently contacted the nation’s Secretary of Municipal Issues with the idea of developing an innovation incentive for local governments. The proposal was approved and she started working in the design and technical assistance to the first “Innovation for Local Governments” contest. The contest objective is to generate, among the local government teams, ideas to improve public management. The contest will have three stages: one of virtual training, a stage for presentation of ideas and the awards phase, which provides resources for the implementation of the winning ideas. The focus is in four themed areas, in which challenges at a municipal level usually converge: management and internal procedures, solid urban waste management, territorial urban development and production and economic development promotion. For the training stage, Delfina is working together with Acámica, a virtual educational virtual platform, that will be used as a base for the design of other virtual training spots for local governments. Joint ventures at a local level is one of the core principles for RIL’s work to be
successful. An example of this is linkage between two municipalities through local companies is in Sunchales, Santa Fe and Catrilo, La Pampa. Delfina got the support of
companies outside the local territories to support RIL’s proposal for local development,
including Banco Hipotecario, La Anònima, Nidera, Grupo Román and Minicuotas Ribeiro. Delfina envisions inner cities across the country that would be able to offer their citizens opportunities for development, thereby preventing migration to big cities and reframing capacity for value creation in the local sphere.
Delfina grew up and spent her adolescent years in the interior of the province of Buenos Aires. This stage in her life made her realize how quiet and safe it was outside of the big cities in Argentina, a reality that ran contrary to the popular belief that the best quality of life is in the big cities. When she finished high school, she had to leave her town to study and make a living, like most teens living in the interior of the country. Delfina studied Political Science. When she graduated, she realized she couldn’t go back to her town as there were no
job opportunities for her to develop her career. She also realized that most cities in the interior of the country were in a similar situation, where young people only go back if they decide to start a family or if they find a stable job. While she was in her third year of university, a teacher suggested that she take the Managerial Development Program at the Catholic University of Argentina. During those four years she organized management training courses in different sectors (entrepreneurial, social, university, and unions). She was especially interested in the workshop for councilors and municipal agents. She came across the different types of management issues that municipal agents had to deal with and started to think of different ways to solve them. She started by helping with administrative tasks and eventually coordinated the entire workshop, including redesigning the content. During her local development graduate training, she decided to transfer the CREA methodology to the municipal field, as her thesis project. This idea transcended the thesis project and in 2012, CIPPEC received more support to be implemented. With the first group of mayors the results were so good that Delfina was encouraged to expand the work through the creation of RIL. In early 2014, she created the Local Innovation Network, further increasing the activities in individual work with the municipalities. Delfina is adamant about the need to awaken and strengthen the interior of the country to make it one of the country’s development pillars. She has channeled her dreams and efforts to reach that goal.