Transparency without citizen participation does not solve the issue of modern-day government corruption. David is developing an organization led by young changemakers that seeks to transform citizen culture and monitoring systems to solve the problem of corruption from its core within the education sector.
The New Idea
Through ReAcción, David materializes his dream of achieving a Paraguayan youth demographic with values, commitment, and action, and which not only acknowledges but also fights for its rights. With a focus on high school and university students, he creates a space that fosters the development of leadership and a citizen task force, teaching citizen-monitoring skills that can be applied to a variety of social issues. Creating spaces where youth are the driving actors, enabling and fortifying their potential as Changemakers, sits at the crux of his mission. Through the ReAcción platform and its programs, he provides teens with formative trajectories that expand their horizons, inspiring them to be protagonists in solving the social issues that plague their communities.
David has designed an empowerment model based on action, analysis, and reflection, that allows young adults between the ages of 15 and 24 to develop their abilities of research, communication, community building, and impact. They also develop new technologies, so that they themselves can be the ones that start campaigns to monitor and control public funding with a focus on educational resources. Through their teamwork, aside from learning new skills, these young adults produce unbiased informational materials that are broadcasted through media channels before educational leaders and schools.
The development of technology and skills by themselves will not guarantee a social transformation. For this reason, David aims to create an ecosystem of organizations and projects led by ReAcción graduates, creating collaborative community action and long-term strategic impact. Through academic research and open-source tools, David is creating and generating interest in his model from youth organizations and from transparent democracy organizations across Latin America.
The lack of transparency in the management of public funds is a widespread issue in Latin America. In the case of educational infrastructure in Paraguay, the problem is complicated since all funding depends on the National Fund of Public Investment and Development (FONACIDE), a public entity that administers 90 million dollars annually, in coordination with the Ministry of Science and Education (MEC) and the Ministry of Public Works and Communication. Many teachers, directors, and alumni of the 250 municipalities of the country are not aware of the availability of these public funds and the operations that allow investment in educational infrastructure. A ranking system for schools is currently in place to prioritize the investment of funds, even though the Ministry of Education and Science does not have the staff necessary for an audit or revision of their funding operations. Consequently, only 11% of urban schools and less than 1% of rural schools find themselves in good conditions and meet the requirements established by the MEC for funding, and very few schools are aware of this inequity (World Bank, 2013).
The issue of educational infrastructure has a strong impact on educational quality. Extensive literature documents the relationship between infrastructure and educational quality, especially in relation to three benchmarks: assistance and culmination of educational cycles, the motivation of teachers and students, and learning indicators. The corruption involved with funds designated for education in Paraguay is visible: lack of bathrooms in schools, roofs on the brink of collapsing or that have already collapsed, lack of electricity and running water, and the inexistence of classrooms and chairs for students who are forced to sit on bricks and attend classes under trees, among other examples anachronistic to the realities of the 21st century.
The problems are most visible in the heartland of the country. Civil society organizations dedicated to the themes of democratic transparency operate with low technical capacity and are centralized in Asuncion, the urban center. The scarcity of hybrid civil society organizations (those that link technical work with community efforts) affects the feasibility of generating sustainable change. Organizations equipped with resources often generate work that highlights analysis and research but ends up forgotten and unseen on a web page after a public presentation, with a low likelihood that social pressure will force the system to materialize the proposed necessary reforms. Meanwhile, popular organizations with strong bases successfully generate sustained mobilizations of people but very rarely rely on strategies and budgets to reform the system through institutional channels. David, with ReAcción, proposes to generate a bridge between the heartland of the country and the capital, combining sophisticated technical work with community and youth mobilization.
Citizen participation is central to the functioning of democracy, along with access to human rights such as education, health, and work, among others. Achieving active participation requires access to quality education, connectivity, and access to information on basic conditions that today are not being covered in Paraguay and in other countries of the region, which become barriers against systemic change. Paraguay has a centralized development structure, with an informal economy larger than 40% and with an infrastructure deficient in school resources, transportation, and community health.
In this context, young adults are growing disconnected from their capacity to become influential and lack access to organizations that can help them channel their interests to learn valuable skills for themselves and society. Much of this youth come from humble families in which their parents do not have the time, information, or education to exercise their rights as democratic citizens. Many young adults must work in order to study. The spaces that do exist, like student centers, have often been utilized for politics and are used to get votes and generate corrupt leadership of public funds. These problems at the root of the corruption issue have been sustained over decades and have crystallized, forming part of the culture as a toxic structure that has become nearly impossible to eradicate.
At 17 years old, David led a mobilization to publicize the corruption he discovered in the usage of public funds and the impact of the corruption on the quality of public education. Since that first mobilization in 2010, he has built on the experiences that have helped him to structure his work little by little and to allow him to move from a student movement to be recognized on a national and international scale for the quality of his initiatives and methodologies of his network. After six years of intense experimentation and learning, David consolidated ReAcción to be the only organization in Paraguay dedicated to combat corruption, led by young adults that average 22 years old, which combines community action, academic research, and leadership development to create a bridge between local movements and international organizations specialized in their focus areas.
Through the ParaguaYoite (“authentically Paraguayan”) initiative, high school students work with ReAcción to learn different skills, which include management of complicated and technical cases, which contribute to the monitoring of school infrastructure and the management of public funds destined for them. Poor school conditions represent an important factor of daily concern in students, and David takes this concern as a basis to generate change. Most young adults hear about his program by word of mouth. The program also looks to re-evaluate the Paraguayan identity, disconnecting it from the current stereotype which is strongly associated with corruption and apathy.
The empowerment program includes the formation of skills like application design, information journalism, debate and argumentation, access to public information, and a writing workshop, among others. To participate in the volunteer program ParaguaYoite, teens should show a strong commitment to community and not participate in partisan politics. The young adults, as a part of their formative process, are the ones in charge of visiting schools in their cities, recording the current state of school infrastructure, and then analyzing the data in collaboration with school rankings documented and shared by the MEC.
David and his team understand the importance of developing ecosystems for social organizations in the heartland of the country to fortify opportunities for teen development without having to ask them to leave their communities. With ReAcción, in addition to creating new leaders, teens are trained in subjects they are interested in, looking towards the future to form groups to create projects and organizations that they are passionate about.
ReAcción also created the AIGA (Driving Alliance for Open Government), formed by university students and young professionals that work to promote information, analysis, and processes of impact. This space is also a way for ReAcción alumni to stay connected with the group as they expand on their education at university. With the AIGA, students work on the design and improvement of policy linked to transparency and democracy. The pathway for teens begins with one year of training at ParaguaYoite, and once they graduate from school, the majority continue being members of AIGA, and these students are the ones that mentor the subsequent generations of ParaguaYoite.
To make the work more attractive and scalable, the innovators at ReAcción designed the Laverinfo app, a game that teaches teens everything necessary to monitor the FONACIDE. This game is open to the general public, but it focuses on university and high school students. They have promoted it in the municipality Ciudad del Este, and plan to promote it through 2021 in Asuncion, which would include a third of the schools in the country and serve as a pipeline to identify new leaders. Another recent development from ReAcción is the FOCO tool, which allows students to systemize the revisions they record for their schools. The tool allows for more efficient collection and analysis of data and the prioritization of urgency for specific data points. The FOCO questionnaires were developed in conjunction with the MEC to assure their validity and enable institutional collaboration. The data generated will eventually allow for predictions based on evidence of public investment by municipality, the geographic identification of the most in-need areas, and the areas that have received the most funds. Because of its capability, FOCO is a tool that is adaptable to other sectors, especially healthcare, a field in which ReAcción has begun monitoring activities and citizen-auditing with greater focus since the pandemic began.
In order to complement their work and expand upon it, ReAcción teams have been creating Quantico, a new media platform for promoting topics relevant to the region with content generated by the very same ReAcción. The platform will utilize a streamlined design with visual representations and integrate various outlets such as social media and podcasts, broadcasting media produced by young professionals. Student spaces will play an important role in the distribution and production of the content.
David understands the importance of creating alliances with civil society organizations and international groups in order to achieve objectives in the long run and to scale his vision and projects beyond a regional level. In addition to an existing relationship with the MEC, he collaborates with the Planning Committee and Infrastructure Committee, providing relevant data, methodologies, and auditing support when necessary. As a young Changemaker, David has worked for the World Bank, the National Endowment for Democracy, USAID, and the British Council of Global Changemakers, where he participates regularly in conferences and research and impact spaces. He has also developed a partnership with the Open Contracting Partnership and with Transparency International, both of which will collaborate in the scaling of his solutions. In Argentina, he has connected with Fellow Aberto Croce from Fundacion Voz, who shares an interest in replicating the infrastructure monitoring model in Argentina and in other regions where Alberto works.
The impact of ReAcción can be measured by the creation of groups of young leaders: more than 100 young adults have come together in intensive volunteer programs and more than 1500 have participated in transparency workshops. The programs have made a transformative impact on those who have already participated. The ability to visit schools in areas with less resources and connect with those of their age group from these disadvantaged regions inspires and pushes them to strengthen their commitment as Changemakers. In some cases, this results in the formation of new organizations like OPACE (Organization of Paraguayan Student Centers) created and led by these same students.
In terms of school infrastructure, ReAcción monitors more than 50 schools from its operating regions each year, updating diagnostics and reporting on the prioritization of public funds. In these revisions, the same students inform and empower teachers and administrations with data from FONACIDE, which they are completely unaware of. During the period 2015-2017, they optimized a 400% improvement in allocation of funds to areas that were underserved through monitoring and publications in local and national media outlets. In 2020, they established a collaboration with MEC, generating an alliance that allowed ongoing collaboration with the Director of Planning and Infrastructure for the design of FOCO. In 2018, they published the first administrative progress map for FONACIDE, included in the Ministry of Economics and Finances 2018 report, and create yearly publications in transparency topics, including reports on FONACIDE on national and international levels.
Since starting ReAcción, David has maintained a strategic connection between community effort, regional alliances, and international partnerships. The development of civic technology, accompanied by the development of new leadership, enables a steady growth trajectory for the organization. With the new Quantico media outlet, and alliances with universities, he allows young adults to bring new ideas and information to the center of the ReAcción operation. To grow the expansion to more young adults, ReAcción student teams utilize Laberinfo, an app with games and algorithms designed to identify the most promising students and recruit them for their social change network. All the creations and developments at ReAcción are open sourced, so that anyone who wants to learn from them or replicate them can do so without barriers.
In 2020 David joined the Paraguay Ahora (Paraguay Now) project, created by the World Bank. Along with seven other representatives from the civil society in Uruguay, David opened a strategic national conversation for the improvement of public politics, where David spoke on the topic of corruption, transparency, and youth leadership. The symposium has selected 65 impressive young adults from Paraguay to actively participate in its dialogue and conversation.
David Riveros is the oldest brother in a humble family from the Ciudad del Este, the region of the three-way-border in Paraguay. From his parents he learned the values of hard work through their daily life. During his childhood, he experienced circumstances of inequality and injustice that strongly impacted him, and he strove to highlight them through his studies and sports. In addition to his parents, David recognizes the community of neighbors and his village whose solidarity and work ethic has greatly inspired him.
When he was 17 years old and finishing high school, he became aware of situations of mismanagement of educational funds, which was strongly prejudiced against the schools that needed them the most and unveiled to David the misunderstanding of the issue in schools and among fellow students. He quickly organized with other students to work together and lead a mobilization effort against corruption as the president of the Student Center of the Regional Education Center in Ciudad del Este, his school. This first movement was the kickstart for his involvement in the area of anticorruption and the beginnings of his trajectory for ushering in a new era of young changemakers in Paraguay.
David has been recognized on numerous occasions as a young leader in the Transparency field by international organizations. He was selected as the Young Ambassador by the U.S Embassy in 2009 and named a Global Changemaker by the British Council of the United Kingdom the same year. In 2010 he was co-founder of the Global Youth Network Against Corruption, incubated by the Institute of the World Bank. The same year he led the planning of a hemispheric summit in Panama for the International Youth Ambassador Network with support from the U.S Department of State. He has a Master’s degree in international development from the London School of Economics as a Chevening Scholar, which he completed in 2016 and 2017.
He has lectured on transparency, anticorruption, civic participation, and open-source civic technologies in more than twelve countries and in events like the World Economic Forum, The International Anticorruption Conference, the World Summit for Democracy, and the World Bank Annual Reunion. These experiences in the international sphere have enabled him to develop a critical view of the disconnection that exists between ideas and the reality of change. In his country, David is a member of the National Innovation Team and Board Member for the World Youth Movement for Democracy in Latin America.