Universities have an important role to play in society and in the communities where they are located. University students are an untapped resource for the community especially as many are eager to learn and serve in more real world scenarios. This is consistent in the US, Asia, Africa and, after the first phase of the EPIC-LAC project, we see the same to be true in Latin America and the Caribbean.
On August 22-24, and September 23 & 30, 2022, The Educational Partnerships for Innovation in Communities – Network (EPIC-N), in partnership with the Inter-American Institute for Global Change Research (IAI), the United Nations Environment Programme Global Adaptation Network (GAN), and ICLEI, organized the first free and virtual EPIC-LAC Workshops for participants from Latin America and Caribbean countries. This first phase of expansion of the program to LAC involved months of regional scoping and focus group meetings across the subregions of 1) Andean/Amazon 2) Southern Cone 3) Brazil 4) Central America, Caribbean and Mexico.
The EPIC Model offers a means for harnessing university-based knowledge and applying it in practice on behalf of local cities and communities. Presently, 70+ universities in the USA, Asia, Latin America and Africa have programs that are implementing the EPIC model, and have collectively completed nearly 2000 community-identified projects in more than 350 cities.
EPIC-N works to unite the human capital of universities with local governments, and communities, to improve the quality of life and social wealth for all involved. The EPIC Model has a proven track record providing a framework for win-win community-university partnerships –– by first asking communities what they need and want and then matching those needs to existing faculty courses and programs of study.
The EPIC-LAC workshops brought together more than 60 attendees from a wide range of local government and university representatives from 11 countries, such as Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Ecuador, Jamaica, Mexico, Netherlands, Paraguay, Perú and Uruguay to learn and co-design effective ways to plan, scale and implement EPIC Model programs across Latin America & the Caribbean.
The overall goals of the workshop were to:
During the first EPIC-LAC workshop, EPIC-LAC coordinators, trainers, and EPIC-N leaders addressed several questions that arose from the attendees. The questions focused on how to strengthen collaboration with local partners and build effective communication channels among universities, local governments and communities. There is no single way to build relationships, it depends on the community and the context. The implementation of the model is extremely flexible and adaptable to the university and community contexts. One relevant question focused on the process of selecting the projects to which the model could be applied. Jane Rogan, the leader of the Sustaining Hoosier Communities (SHC) at the Indiana University Center for Rural Engagement and EPIC trainer, expressed that the “alliances with the communities follow the model and therefore the projects that derived from this relationship are also going to be EPIC-projects”. People involved in the network should be open about how the model works and how individual and collective responsibilities are defined to work and adapt the model to different contexts of partnerships. Setting up the project is the last step because the main thing is to build strong relationships. Along the same line, Branden Born, an associate professor of Urban Design and Planning, co-director of the Livable City Year program, and EPIC trainer, expressed that building relationships is key, because it is from there that the projects arise. Finally, Marshall Curry, EPIC-N program Manager, highlighted that the network does not intervene in the selection of the projects, EPIC-N allows the project to function autonomously in making decisions and creating those alliances.
During the EPIC-Brazil workshop, Bryce Bray, the EPIC-Brazil coordinator, recognizing that a lack of funding is the main barrier for establishing university-city partnerships in the country, gave a brief introduction to innovative finance mechanisms such as pay-for-results models, stormwater credits, and water funds that could be used to underpin eventual EPIC programs in the country.
The workshop also included a detailed presentation by Eleonora Sad de Assis and Julio de Marco, coordinators of EPIC-Compasso, the network’s first program in Brazil. This presentation discussed EPIC-Compasso’s history, current work, adapting the EPIC Model to the context of Brazil and engaging community actors. Additionally, several other spectacular presentations on the EPIC Model were given throughout the workshop, including one from Kristofer Soberano-Patron’s work with the city of Tijuana, Mexico, and Gavin Luter of the UniverCity Program in Madison, Wisconsin, USA.
After the workshop, Bray stated, “It was very exciting and inspiring to see participants from around Brazil come together for EPIC’s first workshop in the country. The participants shared ideas about potential EPIC programs in their communities and had insightful exchanges with coordinators from the first EPIC program in Belo Horizonte, MG, Brazil. The experience gives me high hopes for an in-person workshop in the near future.”
For more information or to start an EPIC-LAC program, please contact the Program Coordinator for this region: Andrea Chavez (firstname.lastname@example.org).