Latin American Innovation Clusters

In 2016, the Center and its partners in Latin America launched two innovation clusters in the region: the Aceleradora de Innovación para la Primera Infancia in Mexico and the iLab Primeira Infância in Brazil. Both clusters drive the development of innovative program strategies that address the unmet challenges of children and families facing adversity. These clusters have not only expanded the Frontiers of Innovation community beyond the U.S. and Canada for the first time and significantly advanced the full community’s innovation agenda.

Keep reading below for information on the origins and initial projects of the Latin American Clusters. Or, read about the current activities of the Brazilian Innovation Cluster.

Core Elements of Our Collaboration:

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Ana Colagrossi v1 12_14_16
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Members of the Mexico and Brazil innovation clusters describe their work and how it has changed.

The first year of co-creating these clusters with local partners was devoted to building local capacity in the science of early childhood development (ECD), identifying unmet challenges, exploring science-based program strategies with community leaders, and engaging in the Center’s innovation model. Over the following two years, the clusters’ seven project teams implemented and evaluated various iterations of their projects, leveraging the community of peers to inform strategic adaptations through rapid-cycle iteration.

Brazil: iLab Primeira Infância ("the iLab")

More about the Brazilian Innovation Cluster
Visit the iLab website

Initial Pilot Projects

Formação de Vínculo na Adversidade (Forming Bonds in Adversity)
Site: IPREDE (Fortaleza, Ceará)
A coaching program designed to enhance attachment and affection between young parents and their children through a combination of home visiting, video coaching, and personalized text messaging for parents and caregivers living in stressful environments in rural Brazil.

Fortalecendo Laços (Strengthening Ties)
Site: LAPREDES (Ribeirão Preto, SP)
A remote video coaching parenting program designed to strengthen positive mother-child interactions, particularly through play, and enhance mothers’ awareness of the profound impact of these interactions.

Programa BEM: Brincar Ensina a Mudar (Play Teaches Change)
Sites: Laços Fortes & Tempojunto (São Paulo, SP)
A play-focused online parenting program designed to empower mothers and female caregivers living in the slums of São Paulo to integrate play into their daily routines using resources available at their homes and communities.

Team members from Projeto Mosaico da Parentalidade and the iLab Leadership Team work together on developing innovative science-based solutions to their community’s unmet needs.
Team members from Projeto Mosaico da Parentalidade and the iLab Leadership Team work together on developing innovative science-based solutions to their community’s unmet needs.

Projeto Mosaico FÁCIL (FÁCIL Mosaic Project)
Site: IFAN (Aranaú, Ceará)
A home visiting program that coaches parents on responsive caregiving, playful learning, and domestic violence prevention to empower families to create a nurturing home environment. Key messages are reinforced through podcasts and personalized video vignettes.


Mexico: Aceleradora de Innovación para la Primera Infancia ("the Aceleradora")

More about the Mexican Innovation Cluster
Visit the Aceleradora website

Initial Pilot ProjectsAceleradora de Innovacion para la Primera Infancia logo

Bienestar en tu Embarazo (Wellness in Your Pregnancy)
Site: DEI Comunidad (Mexico City)
A series of workshops for young pregnant women facing adversity that seeks to reduce toxic stress during pregnancy through the formation of a strong prenatal bond with their babies and a supportive, nurturing caregiving partnership with their mothers.

Padres Muy Padres (Very Cool Dads)
Site: Hospital Infantil de México Federico Gómez (Mexico City)
A combination of coaching sessions and educational podcasts that collectively prepare low-income working fathers to take a more active role in childrearing during infancy.

Team members from the Aceleradora's project Tiempo Para Jugar learn how to apply our innovation model to their work.
Team members from the Aceleradora’s project Tiempo Para Jugar apply our innovation model to their work.

Tiempo Para Jugar (Time to Play)
Site: Un Kilo de Ayuda (Ganzdá, Mex.)
A play-based home visiting program in a largely rural community that aims to improve the quality of caregiver-child interactions by educating caregivers on the value of play and helping families identify opportunities to incorporate playful learning into everyday routines using local resources.


Local Partnerships Are Key

FOI’s Brazil and Mexico clusters are led by Núcleo Ciência Pela Infância (NCPI) in São Paulo, Brazil, and Universidad Regiomontana (U-ERRE) in Monterrey, Mexico, respectively.

Nucleo Ciencia Pela Infancia logoThis marked the first time the Center co-founded an innovation cluster with partner organizations, and the approach proved so vital that it has formed the blueprint for all such initiatives undertaken since. In Brazil, Fundação Maria Cecilia Souto Vidigal, a founding member of the NCPI consortium, was able to draw from more than a decade of experience working in the early childhood field to identify the individuals and organizations best equipped to take on a science-based innovation agenda. Through previous efforts, the Fundação had already developed an extensive network of knowledge, advocacy, and action, laying the groundwork for an innovation cluster to advance the Brazilian ECD landscape.

Universidad Regiomontana logoIn Mexico, U-ERRE had recognized the value in establishing a centralized ECD hub and considered an innovation agenda to be a critical component of that effort. In the months leading up to the cluster’s launch, the Center worked closely with the Aceleradora’s leadership team to survey the local ECD landscape and identify the individuals and organizations well suited to take on a science-based innovation agenda.

Leading organizations, researchers, program designers, and practitioners in each country’s ECD fields were subsequently invited to participate in a series of design workshops that introduced:

  1. The FOI innovation clusters model;
  2. Strategies for identifying and understanding the causal mechanisms beneath local communities’ unmet challenges; and
  3. The IDEAS Framework science-based innovation approach for developing solutions to these challenges.

“I love the idea of learning [from] what doesn’t work as well. It’s freedom because if it doesn’t work, and you learn about it and you learn from it, you can help not only your own project, but help someone else with that experience.”
—Patricia Marinho, Programa BEM


Bringing the ECD Field Together for an Innovation Agenda

As the Center and U-ERRE began building an innovation cluster in Mexico, our partners there also recognized an opportunity to strengthen an emerging national ECD sector. Thus, the groundwork for the Aceleradora was laid by first conducting a series of site visits with leading local organizations to gain a more complete understanding of the Mexican ECD landscape, and then leveraging subsequent insights to inform the cluster’s development strategy and design. These initial steps have paid substantial dividends—namely, a ripple effect across Mexico’s ECD landscape that has advanced a national ECD community and captured the attention of senior leaders in the field.

“Until last year, interactions among organizations in the ECD sector were limited. This has changed for the organizations that are part of the Aceleradora. The hands-on workshops have allowed organizations to learn from each other and to start finding ways in which they complement each other…. In addition, many of the Aceleradora participants are already changing their programs and their approach to developing interventions. Not only do they have a better understanding of their beneficiaries, but they are thinking of science-based approaches that are relevant for their needs and context. Today, all participantsleading organizations in the Mexican ECD sectorhave a better understanding of ECD science, including the benefits of play, and the importance of project design and evaluation.”
—Diego Adame, Mexico Initiatives Lead, The LEGO Foundation


Uncovering Unmet Challenges

FOI’s previous experience in the U.S. and Canada had demonstrated the importance of orienting projects around explicit unmet challenges in the communities in which they are implemented. This human-centered approach requires that cluster members understand the lived experiences of the populations they seek to work with as the basis for subsequent idea generation. Building on these insights, the Center and its partners collectively developed an ethnographic inquiry element to firmly ground the ideation process in the lives of local children and families. 

“We had an idea in mind and, after the field research, we changed it to focus on the father figure.”

—Ana Colagrossi, Formação de Vínculo na Adversidade

This ethnographic lens transformed the idea generation process and significantly influenced the thinking and approach of several organizations’ work beyond their involvement in the innovation cluster. Most notably, after discovering that most families in the rural town of Ganzdá were too busy with agricultural tasks and other social services to visit its new ECD center, the Aceleradora’s Tiempo Para Jugar project team shifted its focus to the home as the primary point of contact with families. This discovery also motivated Un Kilo de Ayuda (the project’s organizational base) to guide each of its program sites across the country through a similar ethnographic agenda to inform their strategy going forward.

“As soon as we did [the ethnographic inquiry], we found [it] very helpful to our intervention. The ethnographic research not only impacts this project or the village where we are going to work but our whole [organization]. We have been doing it in six different states and it’s working.”
—Odín Rodriguez, Tiempo Para Jugar 

The profound impact of this work on the clusters’ success motivated FOI to incorporate an ethnographic approach across the entire international initiative.


Innovation and Co-Creation at Every Level

Having the space to try out new ideas and solutions—and to learn from what does and doesn’t work well—is key to the IDEAS Framework innovation model. This mindset has been reflected in the relationships the Center and its partners have with the organizations that funded the iLab and Aceleradora’s initial cohorts. These donors partnered in a new way by being actively involved throughout the entire cluster launch process—from strategic input, to problem-solving, to pilot selection. At each point, these collaborations fostered an openness to strategic adaptation and to learning together side by side as part of the FOI community.

The following funding organizations were key thought partners with the Center during the clusters’ development:
Collage of sponsor logos, including Lego Foundation, Omidyar Network, and the Jose Luiz Egydio Setubal Family Fund

Local funders and thought partners who have worked directly with the innovation clusters at various points include:

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