Simón Parisca is attempting to spark and sustain social innovation in Venezuela and, in the process, develop a new kind of leadership capacity for the long-term development of Venezuela.
The New Idea
Simón Parisca has founded an organization called Eureka that is bringing together demonstrably creative individuals in a private, nonprofit setting to launch much needed social changes in Venezuela. The idea, and mission, of the organization has three main components. The first is to develop a human and institutional capacity to conceive, design and implement projects that, while contributing to the realization of an idea, also generate resources and guarantee the self-sustainability of the organization. Second, it aims to provide the forum for a variety of actors, both public and private, national and international, academic and business, to collaborate around these projects in a collective search for opportunities that create social change. Last, Eureka is using its own development process as a learning tool, much like a research center, where new, innovative methods will begin to define the "necessary social technology to promote innovation" and will serve other organizations throughout the country and beyond. Through its work, Eureka is developing both leadership capacity as well as promoting new solutions to substitute conventional methods.
Currently in Venezuela adequate structures do not exist that effectively support people or institutions that have the capacity to generate needed solutions for the country, or even more important, contribute to the systematic spreading of such solutions.
As is increasingly true around the world, Venezuelan citizens are being called upon to more actively participate in addressing problems at the local community level to fill the void left by a state that has been forced to shrink its budget and cut programs, thereby withdrawing many institutional and human resources. Now, more than ever, citizens must find new and innovative ways to meet this challenge.
In the private and nonprofit sectors, there do exist some organizations that attempt to deal with issues of creativity, innovation or the application of appropriate technologies. However, they continue to approach the issues from a conventional perspective with traditionally structured programs and projects whose primary objective is the consumption of economic resources.
In the government sector, the National Council of Scientific Research and Technology has begun to recognize the importance of strengthening the country's creative capacity by revamping its National System of Innovation, which was created as a national network that links individuals and public and private institutions that offer new proposals and ideas to solve the country's problems. Although similar in mission to Simón's organization Eureka, it fails to design solutions and methodologies oriented toward the strengthening and support of successful cases and instead is trapped in the politics that Simón calls, "the financing of promises."
The primary strategy of Eureka revolves around the project The Inter-institutional Network for Creativity and Innovation. As its name implies, this project searches for new ways to facilitate interaction and cooperation among different actors, interested in using, developing or spreading systems, processes and innovative products capable of producing real benefits. The Network uses a three-pronged, comprehensive approach whereby each element complements and strengthens the others.
The first tactic is one of spreading and promotion where The Network has designed an action plan that promotes the work of individuals and institutions who are following new visions for social change. With the intention of showing the Venezuelan public real examples of people who are doing things differently and spreading the conviction that all citizens have a potential "creative spirit," The Network has implemented a sophisticated media strategy. Through a partnership with the Discovery Channel, it is telling stories of innovative people to an international audience. In a one hour weekly radio program, the theme of how to spark innovation is discussed. Added to this is a weekly page in a national newspaper dedicated to creativity and innovation. Last, it is producing a National Guide of Inventions, Discoveries and Innovations, a professional publication oriented to the general public.
The second element of Simón's strategy, and an integral part of the Innovation Network project, is the National Salon of Inventions, Discoveries and Innovations. The Salon brings together the most promising proposals and ideas that have been identified through the media campaign. At each convocation, an award is given to the most successful innovation. Past winners have stimulated changes in attitudes of organizations, people or companies and, as a result, produced innovative processes or products. Through the recognition of these best practices, The Network is also trying to demonstrate to all Venezuelans the potential benefits of pursuing innovation as a style of life.
The third tactic of the Network project has been aptly named the Innovation Incubator. This is the support, or consulting arm, of the Network. It is designed to provide the necessary legal, administrative or economic support needed to take those ideas that have been identified in the Salon or elsewhere, and make them a reality.
Simón understands innovation as a disposition, an attitude or a creative orientation to problem solving. He believes that, in many ways, traditional Western education models have stifled individuals' natural propensity for creativity and innovation. One of his overarching goals, through Eureka, is to help people and organizations rediscover their creative potential.
Several years ago Simón left his job as an engineer. He had enjoyed a successful career, having studied at some of the top schools in the United States, and having worked at some of the best companies in the United States and Venezuela. But, after more than twenty years in the private sector, he found he could not stay and still pursue his dream of being a catalyst for change in his native country where it was needed so much.
Simón is a man who radiates happiness and vitality. He has found new vigor after having dared to change the course of his professional life. His vitality comes from his coherence and consistency; coherence because he followed his intuition–his "inner voice;" consistency, because he does not surrender when confronting problems and challenges. Simón recognizes that he is in the right position at the right time, making the most of his vast experience to create change in Venezuela.