Felipe Estefan
Principal, Investments

Can Civic Tech help overcome the problems between citizens and governments in Latin America?

February 23, 2017

The problems that have historically doomed the relationship between citizens and governments appear to be as prevalent today as they have ever been: corruption, mismanagement, inefficiency, and a lack of responsiveness.

Around the world, trust between citizens and governments is at an all-time low and continues to erode precipitously.

It isn’t surprising that citizens are feeling disenchanted with government — governments at all levels and in every region often fail to understand the needs of citizens. And even when they do, they may lack the resourcing and technical skills necessary to comprehensively address those needs.

Similarly, citizens generally don’t believe that governments have their best interest at heart, and even if they did, citizens don’t trust that governments have the ability to effectively address the problems that they face everyday.

This rings very true in Latin America — one of the regions in the world with most widespread inequality and in which governments are most commonly unable to conduct basic functions, such as providing services to citizens and protecting them from criminal activity.

Yet, while these issues between citizens and governments may seem intractable, the tools and solutions we now have available to tackle them are more sophisticated, numerous, and far-reaching than ever before.

In this context, civic technology is playing an increasingly essential and impactful role.

Civic technology provides an opportunity for citizens to connect with one another, to mobilize around common causes and concerns, to express their needs and desires to their government, and to more easily access the goods and services that government provides.

Similarly, for governments, civic technology provides an opportunity to become smarter and more efficient, to engage citizens, and to respond appropriately to their needs and concerns. It also provides governments an opportunity to create more inclusive and effective policies, and to better deliver for their citizens.

Latin America is emerging as a leader in field of civic technology.

At the heart of this growth in Latin American civic technology has been the partnership between Omidyar Network and Fundación Avina. Since 2013, through the Accelerator Fund for Civic Innovation, we committed over $2.3 million to providing resources and support to 26 civic tech projects in nine Latin American countries: Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Mexico, Peru, Paraguay and Uruguay.

The projects which participated in the Fund showed great success in leveraging technology to increase transparency, to fight corruption, to improve public service delivery, and to promote civic engagement.

For example, “A Tu Servicio” in Uruguay now provides citizens more timely and accurate information about public health services in their country. “Caminos de la Villa” in Argentina created a platform to engage citizens and digitally map the slums in Buenos Aires. Organizations such as Codeando México (in Mexico), D.A.T.A. (in Uruguay), Democracia en Red and Wingu(in Argentina), and TEDIC (in Paraguay), proved the positive benefits of civic technology in a region in which democracy and democratic institutions are so often tested.

While the success of civic technology in Latin America has been impressive, there is far more that can and must be done. And at time in which the relationship between citizens and government is so broken, the need and the potential could not be any greater.

As such, we have announced that Omidyar Network and Fundación Avinaare coming together once again committing $3.5 million to launch the Latin American Alliance for Civic Technology (ALTEC). ALTEC will support over 20 nonprofit and for-profit civic technology projects all across the region.

We believe that Latin America has the potential to continue to set a global example for how civic technology can be leveraged to improve the relationship between citizens and governments in the pursuit of far-reaching social impact, and we want to help realize that potential.

We are calling on any Latin American civil society organization, independent media platform, technology startup, or citizen collective with an innovative civic technology idea to submit an application before March 31st at http://altec.lat.

Projects selected will receive up to $150,000, as well as wide-ranging support to develop, launch, and scale their work.

We hope you’ll join us as we strive towards a Latin America in which citizens are more empowered, in which governments are more effective, and in which we can collaborate in creating a better future for all.

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