Motivated by an interest in the environment, a group of young Chileans created Fundación Mi Parque, a dynamic company that impresses with its social innovation.
Walking through Santiago on field studies when he was an architecture student, Martín Andrade, 27, learned a lot more than planning buildings. He discovered that improving quality of life in the capital’s most vulnerable areas implied more than simply proposing public policies for housing solutions. Something was missing in the larger scheme of things, and Andrade felt that the secret lay in adding new plazas and parks to the common areas linking these new homes, a basic component that hadn’t been given any real weight. The idea was to create spaces where children could play freely, while simultaneously promoting a more pleasant and positive neighborhood environment. The goal was to improve living standards through green spaces used by everyone. In October 2007, Andrade enlisted architect Julio Poblete (now the president of the company’s board) to create Fundación Mi Parque, an institution operating out of Santiago that today has active projects throughout Chile. “We were willing to work for free as along as we had the corporate support needed to sustain our efforts,” recalls Andrade, the foundation’s executive director. His idea, which began as a combination of enthusiasm, conviction and youthful energy, has bloomed into a successful program. The “urban renewal” practiced by this non-profit organization has two objectives: to create parks and plazas (financed by the foundation with the help of private contributions) in low-income areas and to actively involve the families who benefit from the program.
Mi Parque began by planting trees and making minor improvements to small plazas in Santiago, but the project expanded exponentially. The foundation now boasts a team of ten professionals plus a group of 800 volunteers able to plan and execute a project in two months. Originally, a single project could take more than a year to complete. The foundation accepts aid in many forms, from the full sponsorship or “adoption” of a plaza to donations financing a day of planting. Two years along, the strategy is bearing fruit. In economic terms, Mi Parque has received nearly US$50 million in support, planted nearly 4,000 trees and created more than 322,000 square feet of parks in different parts of Chile. In 2010 alone, corporate contributions and municipal support for green areas in Chile increased by 600%. No strangers to the ecofriendly spirit, they recently expanded their plan of action to include making outdoor furniture out of reused materials and installing children’s toys crafted from recycled tires in plazas and modular schools. “We also took the term ‘participation’ seriously, creating a methodology of community involvement that makes people feel that the public space is theirs. We are not obligated to make the plazas for them, we do it because we want to, and we do it under the condition that they will commit to caring for the space,” says Andrade. The families feel such a sense of ownership that they even name the trees. “Thanks to our project, children go outside to play in the plazas more often, neighborhood committees are stronger, and there is a feeling of optimism that things can be done well.” In late October 2010, Fundación Mi Parque received the Avonni award for innovation in social entrepreneurship (given by the Foro Innovación, Televisión Nacional de Chile and the newspaper El Mercurio) for this year’s 14 initiatives and their future impact.
What was your inspiration?
“The work done by Trees for Cities in England was great source of inspiration. They have a very attractive image and campaign strategy for attracting donations from companies and volunteers.” Is there anything you would have liked to know before starting the project? “Despite our lack of experience in developing this sort of project, we had a very good grasp of the reality of the situation of green spaces in Chile. So it wasn’t very hard to come up with a strategy that would get families involved. The key was working through the more problematic aspects from the beginning, so that we could eventually turn them into strengths.”