Argentina: “Innovation exists everywhere”

June 18, 2017

BUENOS AIRES, ARGENTINA — When people around the world face hardships, they seek creative solutions to their current challenges. Innovation exists everywhere.

When I first began writing my article on how local low-cost prosthesis workshops are speeding up access and delivery, I knew that this was a story of innovation. However, I soon learned that this was not a traditional innovation story.

I initially started working on an article about a small company that builds hand prostheses with a 3D printer, to donate them to people in need. On the surface, it seemed like a perfect story for GPJ because it showed a local group doing something significant in the community. But as I continued my reporting, I bumped into two problems: my interviewees didn’t seem interested in talking to me, and, even after a month of my insisting on some time with them, they appeared on a local TV show, making my story now unoriginal.

But I was still obsessed with the subject of prostheses, their cost and whether people in Argentina could access them easily or not. I realized that my initial story being scooped was a blessing in disguise. This hand prostheses project did not have national reach, and it didn’t address the lack of access many people in Argentina currently face.

Through more research, I stumbled upon a stronger, solutions-based story.

Daniel Suárez, a passionate orthopedist from the Instituto Nacional de Tecnología Industrial, an Argentine federal agency in charge of industrial technology development, had managed to create workshops where prostheses were far cheaper than regular prostheses. And he was opening them all over the country.

It’s a moving story. He travels the country providing training and spends three days in each place taking molds and making prostheses. People wait in line with great enthusiasm. They are often people of modest means as well as reduced mobility. Suárez told me that some people enter the workshop on a wheelchair and leave walking.

“They think it’s magic,” he says. “Outside, their family members clap.”

Only after knowing his story did my understanding of what innovation means change, and for the better. I always thought innovation was linked with what was novel, such as cutting-edge technology that is applied to a particular problem. My initial story idea of the 3D printer fit that idea perfectly.

Meanwhile, the vacuum pump and pizza oven at Suárez’s workshops are not new technology. But reducing costs and maximizing access to prostheses, shortening waiting times, is an innovation in this country where access is lacking.

Innovation is not just creating complex technology. Innovation should also be seen as finding creative ways to return to the basics, having a different approach, and finding out that even with common tools and few resources, the lives of many people can be transformed.

Many stories we read around the world focus on what is cutting edge and new. But I hope my story reminds readers across the world that stories of those who have the desire to help others, equipped with the creativity to do it within their means, are also worth the read.

 

Pablo Medina Uribe, GPJ, translated this blog from Spanish.