Juan David Aristizábal is producing a culture of active changemaking among Colombian youth through Buena Nota, a platform showcasing socially minded initiatives and engaging the broader community in their development.
The New Idea
Juan David is giving voice and agency to citizens and civic groups at the grassroots level. He identifies budding leaders in society who lack visibility and guides them to sharpen their messages to ones of action. Juan David helps citizens’ discover their talent and their potential to generate high impact social change.
Buena Nota is based around an online platform that informs, engages, and connects young Colombians to social problems and their solutions. Through this platform, Juan David and his team have developed a novel way to help citizen groups and social entrepreneurs articulate their visions and their projects and elevate their standing in the country. These groups can share their projects through notes, blog posts, videos, Buena Nota radio, and other content that attract the attention and interactions of other Buena Nota users, widening the audience of committed and engaged citizens. People share ideas and strategies, refine their projects, and solicit and provide financial support—forging a dynamic, efficient marketplace that eliminates old barriers to cooperation. The Buena Nota team identifies certain projects and social ventures to provide in-depth guidance and advisory in their basic messaging and self-definition.
Juan David envisions a paradigm shift in the way Colombians see themselves and express their ideas for social good. Today Buena Nota has at least one million individuals actively involved with the platform. Currently, Juan David is ramping up the number of projects with which the platform works and is building a base of volunteers that can offer their experience. Other new elements, such as a strong integrated relationship with academia, and a Social Entrepreneurship Bank that will connect ventures with potential investors, serve to expand Buena Nota’s reach and guarantee its sustainability and long-term success.
Colombia’s traditional media tends to feature superficial and sensationalist content about conflict, violence, and corruption. Drug traffickers and guerrillas are disproportionately emphasized in the mainstream media, practically converting them into national heroes. Sadly, such figures end up serving as one of the few lifestyle examples Colombia’s youth can relate to and aspire to become. Meanwhile, newspapers, radio, and TV scarcely highlight stories of positive change that inspire citizens to take pride in their society, engage, and act. Without positive role models, young Colombians may grow up disempowered and disengaged from the social fabric that is starting to develop in their country. The poor visibility of social change efforts has become a barrier to social change itself and perpetuates a sense of pessimism.
Those with positive ideas for change lack the opportunities to express them and share them with others. Platforms to connect leaders, entrepreneurs, and ordinary people with a conviction to confront social problems in Colombia simply do not exist. As a result, these changemakers tend to work in isolation, and project leaders do not communicate with each other or with those who might support their work. This lack of productive networks results in the duplication of efforts and lost time and resources; reducing the potential impact of new projects.
As Colombian society recovers from strife, citizens have begun to search for new ways to engage with one another and to improve their society-at-large. Internet technology has become one of the most exciting opportunities. In spite of an online news media duopoly that fails to cover solutions to social problems, people have found web interfaces to share their ideas with one another. Nonetheless, this movement is still young, inexperienced, and struggling to best express itself and its message. The Colombian citizen sector deals with a long-held sense of victimization and charity, rather than a conviction to empowered initiative. Without the proper coaching and self-evaluation, many of the nascent leader’s ideas will not gain traction or the opportunity to appeal to a wider audience.
Juan David created an online platform so reporting on social change could be shared and, importantly, acted on. Colombian citizens need to see positive experiences of social change to be fully engaged citizens, and inspired to make change themselves. He has built Buena Nota into a notable impact catalyst for leading social projects and ventures, deepening their results and their social footprint.
Buena Nota has involved a number of distinct social projects with national impact in its focused message and connecting key social projects and entrepreneurs with volunteers with needed skills who are committed to help. The core notion is to help identify and give voice to messages anchored in action. Juan David came up with the simple “VICA” method that he applies when collaborating with the social ventures. After asking the citizen leaders to conceive of their “messages to the future,” he helps them devise plans to render them more visible in society. This allows the project to inspire other Colombians to take part, contribute to the project or take similar actions. Through its web platform, Buena Nota also makes a conscientious effort to connect citizens and citizen organizations (COs) to those solutions and to other actors who can assist them to expand their impact. To Juan David and his team, it is crucial to focus on stories that are worth replicating in other parts of Colombia.
The projects with which Buena Nota works vary widely in scope, but all have a potential for national social impact—once they attain a better understanding and expression of their efforts. In 2011 for instance, Buena Nota coached Book for Book, a CO that seeks to provide low-income children with integral education by supporting schools and libraries. Before Buena Nota’s intervention, the CO delivered new books to libraries around the country on a small scale. After coaching, Book for Book visualized a new mission based on the fundamental human value and right to education. This became the premise for its large-scale public campaign “Books for Colombia.” Buena Nota helped design this campaign and secure the sponsorship of Spanish businesses and Colombian foundations and universities to collect some 70,000 gently used books and transport them to 100 different schools across the country. Now Buena Nota is assisting Book for Book as it creates a new curriculum for teachers and students that will also teach leadership values and financial literacy. With Buena Nota’s assistance, Book for Book transformed its outlook and managed to launch a widely visible project that not only increased its impact but also gained it some valuable allies. Likewise, Juan David and his team worked closely with well-known Ashoka Fellow Haidy Duque. First, they helped transform her messaging with the disadvantaged communities in which she supports, constructs, and refurbishes homes. Buena Nota connected her with new allies, provided media exposure, including paving the way for major public funding for her project, and business leaders to serve as advisors. Retooling the missions and messages of these organizations left an indelible mark in their ability to create greater impact.
Apart from these close interventions, Buena Nota’s online platform cultivates multiple connections between social projects and a wider audience on the platform. Juan David began by developing a network of volunteers who work in communities across the nation, training people to do research, cover breaking news, interview, and write articles about social projects. Through partnerships with two universities and with the airline Avianca, which covers travel expenses, journalists and university professors have trained volunteers. Volunteers contribute valuable insights about the projects, and the articles and notes they share on the Buena Nota interface has earned the projects greater visibility. Readers are encouraged to find ways to engage with the projects directly or in some other form of social change. Buena Nota has collected and published many exemplar stories of successes and failures for a “best practices” guide for readers interested in executing their own ideas. Finally, individuals interested in investing in projects can enter the Social Enterprise Bank, a space to receive monetary or in-kind donations. To date, Buena Nota has raised the visibility of 28,000 positive social ideas, projects or ventures.
Buena Nota initially envisioned itself as a media enterprise and focused on number of visitors to the site, but with support and guidance from the Knight Foundation’s Alberto Ibargüen, Juan David came to see that number of visitors was the wrong metric. Buena Nota now focuses on developing dozens of niches in which people can become aware and then involved with many projects whose measure of success is social impact. They draw their audience from four target areas: (i) the 3 million Colombians whom Juan David estimates have access to the Internet and are interested in learning about and participating in social change (ii) project leaders who want to make their efforts visible and join forces with other leaders and organizations (iii) organizations and individuals who can support social change projects through donations, volunteering, or other contributions, and (iv) the 4.5 million Colombians living abroad, many of whom can be engaged in change efforts that benefit their homeland.
Juan David has created deeper and more effective participation through partnerships with businesses, funders, and universities; especially important to accelerate the scale of the social projects. A growing network of companies, including Avianca, Publik, AVIATUR, Genesis Foundation, and Telefónica, have forged lasting relationships with projects that they first identified after entering the platform. Buena Nota also established a partnership with Compartel, a national initiative of the Ministry of Information Technology that will bring Internet access to 5 million people in the country’s most remote areas. According to their agreement, every person who will access these public computers will have a home page configured as the Buena Nota website, thus dramatically increasing the platform’s reach. Juan David has also established partnerships with two of Colombia’s leading universities: all journalism students from the Colegio de Estudios Superiores de Administración (CESO—Institute of Advanced Studies in Administration) and San Martín University now complete their mandatory internship at Buena Nota.
As a CO, 70 percent of Buena Nota’s funding has come from its founders, with the rest coming from advertising and corporate sponsorships. In the long-term, Juan David expects more revenue will come from commissions charged against online donations to the projects it features. Buena Nota recently hired a young lawyer from one of Colombia’s most respected firms as its executive director, and is beginning to design, with the help of mentors and partners, a more financially sustainable revenue stream.
Juan David is thoughtful about the expansion and replication of Buena Nota’s impact, especially with regards to the more in-depth visibility and messaging coaching. He will incrementally advance with new projects while he establishes new allies. Once he has clear evidence of a deep impact within the initiatives that receive coaching, he will reproduce this strategy with other organizations. In terms of the platform itself, Juan David is continually seeking more contributors. Within five years, he expects Buena Nota to grow from 23,000 to 300,000 unique visitors daily and to build an online community reaching 700,000 members. Juan David wants to improve content by recruiting more professional reporters and editors and by forging a self-governing community of contributors. Eventually, Buena Nota will be a recognized platform that shares new social solutions and encourages people to become changemakers.
Juan David is a natural leader who has long been engaged with his community. From an early age, growing up in Colombia’s coffee-growing region, he felt an urge to participate, to lead, and to be part of groups that improved society. At 13 he began to dream of a way for Colombians to engage better with one another and to grow more involved in social change, thus laying the cornerstone in his mind for what would become Buena Nota. As a teenager, Juan David directed his high school journal, leading his team to cover news of social change in Pereira. He saw how news of positive change inspired youth to engage in their community. At the same time, he began work on youth projects with Juan Alejandro Sanz, a leader of the Risaralda department who was later tragically killed. Sanz’s courageous leadership was a powerful example for Juan David; so was his death, which showed him that social change was the only true path to lasting peace.
In 2005 Juan David represented Colombian youth in the world congress of youth leaders in Washington D.C. He was invited to join WOYL, an organization that promotes youth participation in Latin America. Juan David led the initiative of training youth social organizations in elaborate projects for international aid agencies. Over three years he trained over 2,500 young people in leadership, entrepreneurship, and social responsibility.
Juan David began attending CESA University in 2007 and with his friend Juan Manuel Restrepo, soon conceived the idea behind Buena Nota. He has spent about 28 hours a week on the project while completing his studies. Meanwhile, he was elected student representative to the university’s board of directors, where he leads “CESA for All,” a plan to promote entrepreneurship and student participation in university activities. He recently was recognized by Shock Distinction magazine as one of “15 Young Visionaries” in Colombia.
Despite his age, Juan David has demonstrated an incredible wisdom, especially in his decisions to form partners. Recognizing that as Buena Nota’s impact and prestige increases, his age may pose a challenge, he is preparing an organizational structure that will enable him to remain the key visionary behind it.