Agirre Center
2020/01/02 18:30:00 GMT+1
The United Nations Development Program (UNDP) recently requested the collaboration of Agirre Lehendakaria Center (ALC) for the evaluation of its innovation strategy in its regional offices worldwide. As well as this work, which has already begun, ALC will design and coordinate three pilot projects of social innovation in Thailand, Mindanao and Pakistan in 2020 together with the UNDP.


The reason why the UNDP and other international institutions (International Labour Organization [ILO], the European Institute of Technology [EIT-Climate], the European Commission or  Fundación Bancaria la Caixa) have expressed an interest in the work of Agirre Lehendakaria Center directly linked to the need to create sustainable human development models. The problems we are facing are so complex and large-scale (climate change, inequality, ageing, etc) that solutions from a just one particular area of knowledge are not sufficient. A desperate search is being made for successful examples of socioeconomic transformation in situations of serious difficulty, and this new playing field is called ‘social innovation’. We might not fully realise it, but the Basque experience is considered one of the most interesting examples in the field of social innovation at world level.

The main difficulty lies in how to share this experience, and in ALC we are convinced that it is only possible through an in-depth analysis of the social and cultural dynamics that determine the success or failure of these processes. We have witnessed too many attempts to replicate the Basque case with emblematic buildings such as the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, and almost all of them have failed.

We believe that it is relatively simple to learn how certain decisions were taken and the initiatives carried out in a particular successful experience, although we will fail in transferring these to another context if we do not understand the why. We need to gain a better understanding of the reasons why a particular society took a series of strategic decisions in similar contexts, while other societies behave in a completely different way. This is what we in Agirre Lehendakaria Center call the “K factor” -the cultural factor- that creates a coherent system of values, beliefs, attitudes and strategic decisions.

Since our creation we have worked on comprehending the cultural dimension of our own transformation better. Using this information, we have gained a better understanding of how and why we decided to recover Euskera (the Basque language), made a commitment to the manufacturing sector when everyone recommended the opposite, or introducing a Minimum Income Act (a kind of minimum wage). We have not stood still, however; as well as understanding our own transformation better we have started to test models of innovation that incorporate the cultural dimension (the ‘K’ factor) as a driver. Our aim is to contribute to the continuous transformation of Basque society based on a system of shared values, but also to contribute to other similar processes and learn from them too.

The global need to construct sustainable models of human development in situations of extreme difficulty provides us with a new challenge and a great opportunity. We could try and stand out from the rest in this international debate, as a society that has, with all its limitations, been able to provide an innovative response in social and economic terms, or we could participate as ‘supporting actors’. The first option allows to be part of the group of societies that are leading this debate and to re-think the decisions we are taking at present (for example, the commitment to innovation, as the latest data of EUSTAT and EUROSTAT -published last 22 November- show that our investment in R&D in 2018 is equal to that of the previous year in percentage terms, 1.85% of our GDP; that we are distancing ourselves more and more from the European average; and that Euskadi has lost one position since 2013 after the great efforts made in 2008). The second option places us in the domain of self-complacency, so it is up to us to take the decision.