Painter connects with Colombia’s social innovation pioneers, explores collaboration
USC Price Professor Gary Painter, center, visits Social Innovation Science Park with UNIMINUTO’s Juan Fernando Pacheco and Miguel Angel Gonzalez Palacios (Photo courtesy of Gary Painter)
By Matthew Kredell
When USC Price School of Public Policy Professor Gary Painter, director of the Sol Price Center for Social Innovation, heard about a university in Colombia with more than a hundred thousand students committed to social-impact work, he had to see it in person.
Painter spent a week in June visiting Bogota to better understand the unique learning model at UNIMINUTO, which in just over 25 years since its founding by a Catholic priest, has grown to 85 campuses across the South American country.
“At UNIMINUTO, it’s a requirement for students to develop a project that aims to address a social problem in the community,” Painter said. “Given that they have 135,000 students, the fact that they are deploying this force to address social ills in Colombia is very impressive.”
Painter was hosted by his counterpart at UNIMINUTO, Miguel Angel Gonzalez Palacios, the director of projects for the Social Innovation Science Park, a platform to enhance social innovation in the region, founded in 2010, as well as the park’s director.
In addition to learning about UNIMINUTO, Painter gave multiple presentations to the Colombian university’s faculty, staff and students on the work of the Price Center for Social Innovation.
While spending most of his time in Bogota, Painter did take a trip out to another UNIMINUTO campus in Soacha, an impoverished region south of Bogota in which half of the village doesn’t have formal plumbing or electricity.
Opportunities to combine efforts, expertise
For the past decade, USC Price has held an annual international student lab in Brazil, where the school also has a memorandum of understanding with State of Sao Paulo. With Colombia in a peaceful period after decades of armed conflict, Painter sees an opportunity for USC Price to expand its Latin American ties.
He envisions the Price Center for Social Innovation’s expertise being used to support the work carried out by the Social Innovation Science Park, and he plans to discuss with other faculty how USC Price students could work on issues facing Colombia through their capstone projects.
“There are really exciting opportunities to extend some of the work we’re doing at the Price Center for Social Innovation to Latin America,” Painter said. “We can come together where we have perhaps the stronger training and evaluation methodologies to support their work, and clearly they are much better connected to communities throughout Colombia to help carry out new social innovation approaches to address their challenges.”
Father Harold Castillo, president of UNIMINUTO, visited USC in July to further collaboration efforts between the universities. During the visit, he met with Painter and fellow USC Price professors Eric Heikkila and Roberto Suro, as well as Associate Dean for Student Affairs Carol Rush.
“UNIMINUTO wants to do big things with big universities such as USC, so students see it’s possible to do projects and research with universities in the states,” said Mauricio Izquierdo Aguirre, the director general of the office of international affairs at UNIMINUTO. “It was great to have Professor Painter out here to show him that we are doing the same things and share different perspectives. It’s important to us that big universities in the states can see us as partners, and we hope to develop some research and project cooperation.”