The Innovation in Action Challenge (InnovAction) will identify, support, and recognize innovative solutions and new business models that contribute to an inclusive and equitable economic recovery from COVID-19 in Latin America and the Caribbean.

InnovAction is a regional innovation competition and support program aimed at empowering young social and economic entrepreneurs—especially those from Afro-descendent, Indigenous, LGBTI, people with disabilities, and other marginalized communities—to respond to the emerging needs of grassroots communities in Latin America and the Caribbean as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. InnovAction is organized by the Young Americas Business Trust (“YABT”) in coordination and with sponsorship from the Inter-American Foundation (“IAF”), and assistance from national partners.

Latin America and the Caribbean are facing an unprecedented economic crisis from the COVID-19 pandemic. Experts predict it will take months, if not years, for a full economic recovery. The International Monetary Fund’s (IMF) Economic Outlook for Latin America and the Caribbean in the Times of COVID (June 2020) now projects that the region will face its worst recession on record, contracting economically by 9.4% in this year alone. This has repercussions for social equality, gender equity, education, jobs, and small business development. Most importantly, it is delaying the region’s progress towards meeting the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030.

Young people are particularly at risk in this crisis. Not only do they typically face higher unemployment rates than adults, according to the IMF, they are also less likely to be hired to work remotely and tend to earn less during the pandemic, suggesting that the crisis could exacerbate inequality. With thousands of young people starting their careers in depressed labor markets, younger generations’ income could be reduced for decades to come.

In light of this reality, InnovAction will identify and award innovative solutions and new business models that contribute to an equitable recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic. Additionally, through the virtual training platform, Business Opportunity Online Training Camp (BOOT Camp), coordinated by YABT, young entrepreneurs can connect with industry experts to develop strategies for designing and implementing their business solutions. In this way, the program serves as a business development support platform providing skills-building, mentorship, and visibility opportunities, helping young entrepreneurs to establish, operate and potentially scale micro and small enterprises.

InnovAction also connects young entrepreneurs and policy makers. The Finals of the Talent and Innovation Competition of the Americas (“TIC Americas”) at the Organization of American States (“OAS”) General Assembly has proven to be a major opportunity to showcase young entrepreneurs’ actions to attract partners and resources for their businesses. Due to the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, the InnovAction Finals will be developed online this year. OAS Member States representatives, private sector, other international organizations and partner institutions are invited to attend so that they strategically convert the lessons learned from the program into sources of new technologies and processes to improve the delivery and effectiveness of services.

The term InnovAction was coined in 2001, by YABT founder Roy Thomasson and by Dr. Jaime Amsel, a widely recognized innovation and organizational development specialist from Israel. They identified that, even though there was extensive theoretical documentation and material for teaching innovation techniques, there was a lack of practical, hands-on curricula or material to ensure innovation occurs. They developed a practical training curriculum that YABT has used for over a decade in Business Labs workshops[1].

InnovAction draws on YABT’s expertise from a decade of organizing the Talent and Innovation Competition of the Americas (TIC Americas) program. TIC Americas is a business accelerator platform to foster young entrepreneurs’ business ideas and start-ups, providing guidance, training, mentoring, seed capital, investment, international visibility, and access to an extensive international network.

Additional sponsorship for InnovAction is provided by the OAS and the Summits of the Americas Secretariat (jointly referred to as the “Sponsors”). InnovAction supports the Sponsors’ mandates to create programs and policies focused on youth development and the participation of young people in the Inter-American Agenda. In addition, it contributes to the efforts of governments and international organizations to ensure that recovery plans take youth-led solutions into consideration.