Solution overview

Our Solution

RETOS

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Tagline

Connecting thousands of local university projects with rural communities' challenges

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Pitch us on your solution

Our solution is an AI-powered web platform to facilitate, enhance, visualize, and predict connections between thousands of challenges posted by rural communities, and academic/practitioner counterparts in local universities.
The platform enhances the matchmaking process by looking at historic rates of success in previous matches, factors across stakeholders, and available resources among other criteria. By doing this, the platform helps foster and mobilize a highly local co-creation movement.

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What is the problem you are solving?

44% of the global population lives in rural areas. In Colombia alone, this number is roughly 20% (around 9 million people).

During our work in rural Colombia for the past 5 years, we identified that, although 45% of rural communities face aspects of poverty, their ideas, potential, and drive to transform their social and economic realities remain intact everywhere we have been. 

At the same time, we came to the realization that every year, students in universities spend an enormous amount of time on projects. This is particularly evident when it comes to graduate and undergraduate thesis. In 2017, 462.000 students graduated in Colombia. The average time invested in writing a thesis is roughly 300 hours. What this means is that more than 138 million student-hours are being archived in libraries, more often than not with no purpose at all. Why not taking some of these hours and connect them with rural communities' ideas, potential, and drive?

With our solution we are:

- Visualizing rural communities challenges.

- Disrupting the old dissertation/thesis mechanism in university.

- Supporting rural communities self-recognition and acknowledgement as active co-creators of their futures.

- Helping students and universities to create greater impact in the world. 

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Who are you serving?

We are serving rural communities and local university students.

Rural communities are mostly families with small productive systems. Their income comes mostly from selling products to big cities or having business in the tourism sector. Their life conditions depend and vary according to the distance between their home and the village downtown. In the case of Colombia, these communities are some of the most affected populations by armed conflict, and in some parts of the country, by the disconnection with opportunities for growth.

Currently, as part of our RETOS strategy, we have 15 rural organizations participating in our pilot platform. It has been a 4 years journey working in the field, understanding together the value of connecting their challenges with university students.   

With universities, our work is mainly with professors and administrators, in  understanding hot to catalyze students' need and desire to focus their professional paths in socio-environmental issues. 

Our solutions bridges together both worlds by bringing rural challenges to the surface, and connecting them with university students, all while making the process of matching stakeholders more accurate and efficient. 

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What is your solution?

Our solution is an AI-powered web platform to facilitate, enhance, visualize, and predict connections between thousands of challenges posted by rural communities, and academic/practitioner counterparts in local universities. 
The platform enhances the matchmaking process by looking at historic rates of success in previous matches, factors across stakeholders, and available resources among other criteria. The mechanics of the platform are divided in 5 phases:   

Phase 1: The proponent (e.g. a rural farmers coffee cooperative) posts a challenge in the platform. Being aware of the digital divide in the rural communities, we deliver year-round workshops and establish a network of local helpers to help communities enter their challenges in the platform.

Phase 2: Universities pay a fee to ensure a specific number of challenges per academic term according to the total number of students that are going to participate. Universities can browse challenges through the platform and interact with proponents if needed.

Phase 3: During the first two weeks of a given academic semester, the platform connects groups of students with challenges. As more challenges are added and solved, our platform gains the capability of predicting teams with the most related interests and capabilities to solve each challenge.

Phase 4: During the academic term, we support the process providing advice and guidance, while facilitating the most efficient co-creation activities depending on the type of challenge, and the team solving it. Also the platform visualizes tipping points of the co-creation process based on information from previous challenges in order to help the teams to advance. Lastly, we deliver in-person workshops for all our participants in order to address issues and build a sense of community .  

Phase 5: At the end of each academic term, we produce a report based on the data collected to communicate the process for all the teams, identifying  best practices and recommendations for future co-creation process. 

Although the platform is key in the service, its success lies on building trust across all stakeholders. That means having strong local relationships with communities, and a long term strategy with universities ensuring the addition of the service and the platform into academic programs.

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Select only the most relevant.

  • Support communities in designing and determining solutions around critical services
  • Ensure all citizens can overcome barriers to civic participation and inclusion
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Where is your solution team headquartered?

Bogotá, Colombia
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Our solution's stage of development:

Pilot

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More about your solution

Select one of the below:

New application of an existing technology

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Describe what makes your solution innovative.

The problem that we address regarding community-driven innovation challenge is the disconnection between local academia and rural communities in Colombia and Latam. Solutions that already exists: university projects with a research question related to rural o agricultural sector affairs; university projects established with the interest of bringing benefits for rural communities; professors that organize field trips or out-side class experiences to bring together students and rural communities; multi stakeholders programs that join with the academia during a period; local entrepreneurship that brings sporadic contact with the students.

Changes that creates a new dimension of performance:

Scalability: our platforms allow us to manage and deliver more challenges and thus more impact

Continuity and a long term scope: the other solutions tent to be projects that don’t last more than one or two years. Our platform is a service that each academic term deliver a co-creation experience between students and rural communities.

A mediation role: the 5 phases are designed in order to bring the best experience for all the stakeholders involved. The other solutions are normally defined by the academia thus their interest become first. This situation had generated lack of trust inside the communities that then to feel used by the academia.

Co-creation: we bring equality encouraging an active role in  the community participants and a new dimension knowledge sharing in the academia traditional worldview.   

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Describe the core technology that your solution utilizes.

Our solution utilizes predictive analytics, and machine learning in order to make possible to find highly relevant matches within our platform. The platform itself utilizes traditional database technology, but our compelling UX/UI design and cross-operability, makes it equally easy and intuitive for a rural farmer or a university student, to navigate and interface with it. 

But the core of what we are proposing is the computational architecture for our predictive model to be able to look across challenges posted on our platform, students aiming to solve them, and rural communities facing such challenges, and simulate and score potential matches based on a given criteria. Using these scores, we can provide tailored matches to stakeholders at large scale. 

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Please select the technologies currently used in your solution:

  • Artificial Intelligence
  • Behavioral Design
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Why do you expect your solution to address the problem?

Our pilot began in the second term of 2017. Since then we have had a participation of 4 universities, 280 students, 16 professors, 60 challenges from more than 25 proponents and 22,800 hours fostering co-creation. In this period, 87% of the participants rated the experience as valuable or very valuable, 11% rated it as (indifferent, uncertain) and 2% as not valuable. This process has allowed us to consolidate the 5 phases of the platform prototype. We lerned, now we have deeply understanding of the co-creation process. Thanks to pilot we have been able to validate that our platform is truly changing the interaction between academia and rural communities. We are now ready to scale geographically to increase our impact. Also, the pilot allowed us to identify the opportunity of increasing the value perception of the experience which is affected by the intersection of multiple variables such as: profiles, interests, expectations and level of commitment of students and proponents, time, type of challenge, among others ... For us the development of the platform is strategic to accelerate our growth to other places in Colombia and Latam. Also, it will help us to increase the indicator of value perception and the quality of the co-creation process results by allowing us to: 1) refine matches and connection between the parties. 2) generate a personalized guide for the teams based on predictive information 3) reduce costs and increase the efficiency of the service by automating some processes that are currently done in-person

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Select the key characteristics of the population your solution serves.

  • Rural Residents
  • Peri-Urban Residents
  • Urban Residents
  • Very Poor/Poor
  • Low-Income
  • Minorities/Previously Excluded Populations
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In which countries do you currently operate?

  • Colombia
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In which countries will you be operating within the next year?

  • Colombia
  • Guatemala
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How many people are you currently serving with your solution? How many will you be serving in one year? How about in five years?

We have developed the pilot in Bogotá-Cundinamarca region since the second term of 2017. During that period we have had a participation of 4 universities, 280 students, 16 professors, 60 challenges from more than 25 proponents and 22,800 hours fostering co-creation

About our projections, in this region there is a total of 131 universities, and 37 of them conform to our beach-head market representing a total of 2441 university programs. Our main strategy is having an average of 20 students for each university program. This gives us a universe of 48,000 students per semester. Being our target to work with the 10% of this universe, we are referring to a potential amount of 4,800 students. That's a market potential of 1,600 challenges per term, and the possibility of working with 1,600 proponents from rural communities. Our goal for the next five years is having an approximate number of 300 challenges per term. Until now, the largest number of challenges per term have been 30, that means that our goal in five years is to increase by 90% our impact capacity. Regarding geographical growth, we already have universities interested in the following cities of Colombia: Cartagena, Santa Marta, Cali, Pasto and Bucaramanga. The countries where we hope to begin the expansion in LATAM are Guatemala and Peru also because there are existing contacts.

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What are your goals within the next year and within the next five years?

Next year:
-Platform development: including testing, co-designing with pilot participants, launching, client networking and massive advertising campaign.
-Keep an average of 30 challenges per term  which projecting an approximate amount of 200 participants among students, professors, proponents, mentors.

Five years:
- 300 challenges per academic term located in Colombia main cities and two countries: Peru and Guatemala.
Platform positioned and recognized in Latam for connecting thousands of local university projects with rural communities' challenges

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What are the barriers that currently exist for you to accomplish your goals for the next year and for the next five years?

1) The main barrier we see at this moment is the funding for the platform development.

Others:

2) The adoption of the platform by our multiple universe of actors or the identification of strategic users. In the pilot almost all the five phases we did them in person and with technologies already appropriated by almost all the participants: whatsapp and email. The page www.retos.co we have used it mainly to visualize the challenges. We consider a barrier the adoption rate of the platform  because it will increase the technological component of the process.

  3) The market: the pilot has allowed us to understand our client: the university directives. Being our platform an innovative service, there are several risks in terms of the acceptance of the product, although we think that by increasing the technological component, the platform will be more attractive for universities.

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How are you planning to overcome these barriers?

1) Achieving funding and allies for the platform development.

2) Thanks to our two years pilot we have been able to understand very well the profiles and roles of the whole universe of participants. This will be considered the base for designing the platform having as a goal the improvement of the co-creation experience. We are also going to use, focus groups, and education/co-design methodologies to engage with the users in order to facilitate the appropriation of the platform.

3) Once the platform has been developed and tested, we will saturate the markets of Bogotá-Cundinamarca and expand to the other cities and countries. We will use a personalize brand strategy platform seeking also the integration of the platform into their existing information systems.

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About your team

Select an option below:

Nonprofit

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If you selected Other for the organization question, please explain here.

No

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How many people work on your solution team?

Our team is currently composed by:

  • 3 full-time staff 
  • 2 part-time staff
  • 5 contractors. 

We also have in our team a group of three advisors from universities abroad. 

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For how many years have you been working on your solution?

4 years: 2 years in ideation /2 years pilot

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Why are you and your team best-placed to deliver this solution?

The core members of our team have been actively working on solving this disconnection between academia and the real world for the past 4 years. This experience, the connections both on-the-ground, as well as in Colombia's education ecosystem, put our team in the best position possible to be able to solve this challenge. Over time, our team has worked hard in making our value proposition measurable, traceable and demonstrable. In doing so, we feel that we have already been able to break the distances between universities and rural communities. We have also validated the quality of our service by having some of the best universities in Colombia as recurring customers. 

In terms of our technical capacities, we are partnering with researchers and institutions at the forefront of AI development. We are confident that our collaboration will make our goal of bringing machine intelligence into our solution achievable. 

We are a passionate interdisciplinary team with a real commitment to our local reality in Colombia and LatAm. We believe It's our time to scale up. We have a clear vision of what we want based on a four years learning path.

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With what organizations are you currently partnering, if any? How are you working with them?

We are currently collaborating with organization at the local and international level. Locally, we are partnering with large universities such as Universidad de Los Andes, farmers cooperatives such as APRENAT, engineering initiatives such as Engineers Without Borders and other place-based collectives. These organizations provide us with access to knowledge around challenges communities are facing, connections to expand our knowledge around them, and infrastructure to deploy solutions in the field.

At an international level, we are mainly collaborating with two organizations. One is the MIT D-Lab who provides us with advice around models for successful partnership with rural communities. The second one is the MIT Media Lab, where researchers working wit us are helping us explore technical solutions for predictive models to enhance successful collaborations across agents in a network. 

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Your business model & funding

What is your business model?

Connecting thousands of local university projects with rural communities' challenges

Service:  an AI-powered web platform to facilitate, enhance, visualize, and predict connections between thousands of challenges posted by rural communities, and academic/practitioner counterparts in local universities.  

The mechanics of the platform are divided in 5 phases: 

1) The proponent (e.g. a rural farmers coffee cooperative) posts a challenge in the platform.

2)Universities pay a fee to ensure a specific number of challenges per term

3) During the first two weeks of a given academic semester, the platform connects groups of students with challenges

4) During the academic term, we support the process providing advice and guidance, while facilitating the most efficient co-creation activities depending on the type of challenge, and the team solving it

5) At the end of each academic term, we produce a report based on the data collected

Beneficiaries

  • Proponents from rural communities who want student support to advance their ideas or projects as well as contribute to their education.
  • University students mainly of engineering, business and design from public and private universities that want to find new horizons to their professional profile and interests
  • University professors who want to mobilize university social responsibility

Clients:

University programs that consider University Social Responsibility as a fundamental pillar within the formative process of its students.

Pilot Fee: USD 267/challenge

Platform Fee: USD 400/challenge


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What is your path to financial sustainability?

During the pilot, revenue streams covered the basic expenses (an average of 20 challenges / term). Being our goal to reach in five years an amount of 300 / term first we are looking for a grant that enables us the Al-platform development. With the platform we project to increase between 10-15% the pilot fee looking for a sustainable ratio between a higher total revenue, the decrease of some operative costs that are currently made in person and the maintenance costs of the platform. If the inclusion of the platform needs more capital, we will develop a new line of products or services based on data and information for a new range of clients.

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Partnership potential

Why are you applying to Solve?

We apply to SOLVE because we consider it a launching platform for teams with high impact aspirations as us. We seek with the award the platform development and we see in SOLVE team an ally for our scale up in Colombia and Latam. We are also exited about the possibility of contributing and learning from other solutions worldwide.

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What types of connections and partnerships would be most catalytic for your solution?

  • Technology
  • Distribution
  • Talent or board members
  • Media and speaking opportunities
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If you selected Other, please explain here.

No

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With what organizations would you like to partner, and how would you like to partner with them?

Given the stage at which we currently are, we are looking to partner with organizations in the education sector, primarily in higher education. Some of Solve's members are terrific matches for this such as the Universidad Tecnológico de Monterrey. However, we are conscious that our model also has implications for economic development, therefore, partners such as the Government of the City of Buenos Aires or the UNEP will also be interesting. 

Also, because our solution is of a digital nature, being able to partner with organizations such as the Atalassian Foundation International, AutoCognita, or Sesame Workshop will be really interesting to explore how their models can be intertwined with ours. 

Lastly, because a large piece of our solution is AI-based, Innospark Ventures will absolutely be a partner we will be interested in collaborating with. 

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If you would like to apply for the AI Innovations Prize, describe how you and your team will utilize the prize to advance your solution. If you are not already using AI in your solution, explain why it is necessary for your solution to be successful and how you plan to incorporate it.

For the past 5 years we have been using a mechanism for connecting rural challenges with students work at universities. This model relies on human knowledge, and the understanding of numerous dimensions and factors from all rural communities, students, and the challenges themselves. As we grow in the amount of stakeholders and challenges per year, we are starting to notice trends arising. Based on our analyses, it has become evident that using the metrics we have developed, in addition to new metrics, it is feasible to predict matches with potentially high rates for success between parties. Not only this automated solution brings an interesting conversation around the role of predictive analytics for fostering collaboration, but it also opens a new universe of possibilities for policy and business development as the data flowing through the platform grows. 

We will use this prize to develop the architecture to deploy a predictive model, running on top of our platform, to automate the process of taking data associated with each entity in the platform (e.g. a student, a challenge, a rural cooperative) and dynamically provide scored matches across entities based on success metrics (e.g. resources available, potential for continuity, etc). 

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Solution Team

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