Approximately five million people have fled Venezuela due to political and economic turmoil—the largest regional displacement in the history of the Western Hemisphere. Many of the country’s citizens lack access to basic necessities such as food, clean water, and medicine.
The humanitarian crisis has prompted innovative problem solvers—global and local entrepreneurs, academics, civil society organizations, businesses, and others—to develop transformative approaches to improve lives in Venezuela and support regional diaspora communities struggling with integration.
The BetterTogether/JuntosEsMejor Challenge crowdsources, funds, and scales innovative solutions to benefit Venezuelans and their host communities across Latin America and the Caribbean. The Challenge funded, for example, a Venezuelan mechanical engineer who developed a water purification system that produces drinking water for those without reliable access. The system also generates distilled water that can be sold to companies.
Once the engineer’s company installs the equipment, a partner organization trains community members to maintain it. Communities gain a sustainable source of clean water, and the distilled water they sell provides revenue to cover operating costs, closing the circle with a “freemium” model.
In addition to adapting the latest technology from the private sector for underserved communities in rural areas of Venezuela, this innovation will empower the community through access and community ownership, improving the nutrition and health of all its members.
“It’s tech designed for remote communities,” said the engineer. “They don’t have to pay the whole way for the system. They’re learning entrepreneurship in the region, so they can make a living off of selling distilled water. It increases their resilience.”
In Colombia, two artists came together to start Voices for Venezuela, a media project that combats xenophobia and creates economic opportunities for immigrants and refugees. The project educates Venezuelan migrants about accessing critical services in Colombia and hosts dynamic content and public dialogue to prevent conflict and promote peaceful integration. Its programs uses pop culture to hold humorous cultural discussions between Colombians and Venezuelans to deter xenophobia, while discussing shared history, culture, and gastronomy.
Colombia hosts nearly two million displaced Venezuelans, including company founder Nery Santaella, who moved there three years ago.
“In a group of people that don’t know you are Venezuelan, there’s a subtle xenophobia of ‘everything is worse since Venezuelans are here,’” said Santaella. “We’re teaching that you shouldn’t get mad about it; instead, be in a place of empathy and be open to dialogue. If you close up and get offended right away, we’re not going to solve this.”
These two organizations and seven others will receive $1.8 million in awards to scale their solutions through the BetterTogether/JuntosEsMejor Challenge. The Challenge is a partnership of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) and is implemented by Resonance through the USAID Catalyst project.
“The Resonance USAID Catalyst project team is excited to support these innovators in growing and expanding their impact across the region in support of Venezuelan migrants and the communities hosting them,” said Catalyst’s Chief of Party, Stephen Rahaim. “We look forward to sharing more great stories from these and other innovators across the portfolio in the coming months.”
Read more about all nine winners and their innovative approaches on the JuntosEsMejor Challenge website.
Photo by Geetanjal Khanna on Unsplash