Open innovation: in search of new solutions

Nicolás Acosta founded his company, Dondoctor, with the vision of using technology to solve health problems. When he presented his product to the government of the city of Bogotá, they asked him if he could help fix another problem: the teen pregnancy rate was on the rise and their prevention strategies had limited results. In 2015, when he had that meeting, approximately one in five Bogotá women under the age of 19 were pregnant or had already had children, according to official data.

“The authorities told us that our project sounded cool, but what they truly needed was to solve the issue of teenage pregnancy,” says Acosta. “They told us that when they go to the classrooms, they have a low impact, because they reach 80 teens at most and whatever they say to them goes in one ear and out the other."

In response to this challenge, they hosted conversations with several groups of teenagers to talk openly about sexuality. They discovered that many of them had access to sex education classes and knew people they could talk to, but they still had a lot of doubts, either because they were embarrassed to ask certain questions or because they didn’t trust the responses they were given.

“At 15 or 16 years-old many are already  sexually active and know a lot about it. They’ve already learned much of the basic information we consider important for them to know; the kind of questions they have are of other nature,” says Acosta.

To solve these doubts quickly, confidentially and massively, they created Sexperto, an online platform where young people can ask any questions and experts in the field answer them. To ensure high quality responses, they teamed up with one of the most important health institutes in Colombia, Fundación Santa Fe de Bogotá, which supports with content creation.

Since its launch, Sexperto has received, on average, four questions from each of its 189,000 users, 92.4% of whom are teenagers or young adults, mostly from Colombia and primarily from Bogotá.

“The powerful thing about Sexperto is that, first, it is the young people who tell us the information they want to know and not we who impose it. Second, the platform builds a network of questions that have been asked in the past. In fact, if you look at the data, there are seven questions that make up 56% of the queries,” says Acosta.   

This model of easily available and trustworthy information has been effective in changing teen behavior. As reported by the city of Bogotá, Sexperto has been instrumental in its efforts to prevent youth pregnancy: in the last three years, the pregnancy rate of women between 15 and 19 years has dropped 31%.

With the vision of expanding the impact of his initiative, Acosta applied for the MIT Solve Award, an international competition that launches challenges in specific development areas such as health, education or recycling, and directs economic, logistic and strategic resources to scale the impact of the selected initiatives.

The process is highly competitive and, for each of the challenges, thousands of organizations and companies from around the world apply. It looks for initiatives that are already operating and that have clear evidence of their impact, since the objective is to support them so that their project reaches more people in other countries. In 2018, Sexperto was selected, along with eight other initiatives, within the “Health Frontiers” challenge.

MIT Solve helped Sexperto to build alliances with organizations such as the IDB, which, in turn, put them in contact with other strategic actors who can help expand their initiative to more countries. “You can write to the people of Solve at any time and tell them I have this problem, and they send a message to all the allies and invariably someone raises their hand to help you. They then form like a social impact club to help you make your initiative successful,” says Acosta.

This year, the IDB teamed up with MIT Solve to launch a new challenge called "Rethink Plastics." The goal is to find solutions to reduce or eliminate single-use plastic and plastic waste. The challenge offers cash prizes totaling US$60,000, which includes a first prize of US$30,000. In addition, the winning solutions could be considered for a pilot project financed by the IDB Group for a maximum amount of US$250,000, subject to due diligence and corresponding internal approvals.

The challenge is now open

The “Rethink Plastics” challenge is part of a broader IDB strategy to foster open innovation. In a context where technological and economic changes are increasingly accelerating, it seeks to bring to the fore new solutions that can help the countries of the region grow and develop more efficiently. “We want to think big, so that no matter where the solutions are, we can bring them faster to the IDB and to Latin America and the Caribbean,” says Helga Flores Trejo, principal specialist in the Knowledge, Innovation and Communication division of the IDB.

For Flores Trejo, the IDB's open innovation strategy represents a fundamental change in the institution's relationship with the entrepreneurs who want to work with us. “In the past, entrepreneurs such as Sexperto had to come knocking on our door to collaborate with us. Now, what we are doing is reversing the situation, telling entrepreneurs that our doors are wide open and that we are looking for them,” she says.

If you have a project that has demonstrable results to reduce the use of plastic, apply for the “Rethink Plastics” challenge. If you win, you will receive a monetary prize and our support and that of our partners to boost your idea. 

Rethink Plastics


Improving lives