Insights from a Colombian public sector innovator


By Ashley Lukasik

From the moment we met Javier Guillot it was clear he’s the kind of person who can’t tolerate watching life from the sidelines. As an innovation leader for Colombia’s National Planning Department, he immerses himself as readily in the rural communities impacted by policy and economic partnerships as he does influencing policy from inside the agency. Our first conversation over dinner in Bogotá included a riveting analysis of Facebook’s entry into rural Colombian communities. Here’s what Javier has to say about the state of affairs in Colombia today:

What is one of your favorite examples of sustainable development in Colombia?

Bancalimentos, a social bank promoting financial inclusion, nutrition and sustainability in rural communities. Trash (recyclables, organic waste) at collection sites can be traded for food and health products, credit and insurance, among others. The vision of Bancalimentos has the imprint of its energetic and inspiring founder, Olga Bocarejo, who scaled up and diversified the model, and earned key recognition by the likes of BCG’s social impact partner, Yunus.

What role do you think design or “innovation” should play in the next phase of the peace process with the FARC? Can the government learn from a design approach? 

The most important lesson government can learn from design is the value of open, iterative experimentation processes, in which evidence derived from genuine user interactions can be used to build insights and drive decision-making. 

The next phase of the peace accord involves implementing a set of statements that have been agreed to on paper. This involves enormous complexity and uncertainty. Specific programs derived from the accord and independent peace-building initiatives must reach end-users, dive into their context, and engage them as co-creators. Design methodology, empathy for “the other” and an innovative mindset are all critical to do this mindfully and appropriately.

Colombia has become a hotbed of activity for investors and global companies expanding their footprint. What makes Colombia unique or different for outside investors and those looking for talent?

Colombia is a very diverse country, with territories that vary widely by ethnicity, socioeconomics, culture and geography. This creates an opportunity to generate creative responses to very different local circumstances. But it also creates formidable challenges, as the specificity of local contexts cannot be overlooked or addressed with sweeping one-size-fits-all solutions.

With undergraduate and graduate degrees in Philosophy, and a Masters of Public Policy (MPP), Javier’s take on social change stands out from the pack. We look forward to learning more from Javier and the work that people like him are doing to use design and innovation as key pillars to the re-invention of many Colombian communities that were once marginalized from the rest of the country.