About the Innovation Lab

The Innovation Lab is a contest organized by the Legal Empowerment Network -with the support of the Tinker Foundation-, which aims to support and strengthen Latin American organizations working alongside communities and marginalized groups to help them know, use and shape the law.

After receiving more than 90 applications from 16 Latin American countries, in August 2020 a panel of judges selected the 6 participant organizations for the Innovation Lab: Associação de Defesa Etnoambiental Kanindé (Brazil), Colectiva Amorales (El Salvador), Fundación Markani (Argentina), Fundecom (Nicaragua), Grupo de Acciones Públicas de la Universidad del Rosario (Colombia), Unión Verapacense de Organizaciones Campesinas (Guatemala).

The Legal Empowerment Network provided selected organizations with 5000 USD, as well as technical support, capacity-building and monitoring. Organizations participated in learning exchange calls, interviews and capacity-building sessions around topics selected by them as prioritary, such as fundraising.

The Innovation Lab projects where implemented between September 2020 and April 2021, during a critical period in the region caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on historically marginalized communities, natural disasters such as huracanes ETA and IOTA, and the political and social context of many countries in the region were authoritarianism, nativism and rights regression are a daily reality.

In the wake of this situation, participating organizations had to overcome great challenges, both because of the situation and needs of the communities they work with, and at an internal and personal level. In order to do this, they innovated and looked for alternative ways to support the communities that they work with. Below, we share a brief summary of the main results of the Innovation Lab projects, a result of those efforts. For more information about the Innovation Lab, click here.

In Colombia, the Grupo de Acciones Públicas (GAP) of Universidad del Rosario created the Youth Network for Environmental Democracy in Colombia’s Regions (Red de jóvenes por la democracia ambiental en las regiones de Colombia, RAÍCES).

They selected 10 young activists (4 women and 6 men) of 5 regions to participate in the pilot online course “I protect the environment in my region”, out of more than 100 applications.

The project has achieved to bring legal mechanisms, constitutional concepts and the general functioning of the State closer to the young participants, guaranteeing a transformative legal empowerment process.

At the same time, the project also impacted in the group of 15 tutors that participated in the project (all students of the Legal Clinic at GAP) who accompanied the course participants and established a mutual learning connection.

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The course included cross-cutting themes such as environmental democracy, the Escazú Agreement, human rights protection mechanisms, and strategies to use the law such as strategic litigation, among other.

Among the participants, 2 cases were selected to receive accompaniment by the GAP: the “Río San Juan” case in the department of Chocó, and the case “No le saque la piedra a la montaña” in the department of Cundinamarca.


Training participants. 

In Guatemala, the Unión Verapacense de Organizaciones Campesinas (UVOC) created the Network of Legal, Community and Ancestral Promoters for the defense of life, human rights and ancestral territories (Red de Promotores Jurídicos, Comunitarios y Ancestrales en defensa de la vida, los derechos humanos y los territorios ancestrales), and implemented the first training process of the Network, with 20 youth participants.

The project has contributed to position the situation of defenders at the national level. A tangible result is the establishment of a High Level Roundtable with the participation of the Vice-Presidency of the Republic, to address technically, legally and ancestrally the issues of criminalization, defense of the territory, and human rights defenders, with the participation of OHCHR, CALDH, PDH.

In these 8 months, the UVOC has also accompanied the families of threatened, disappeared or assassinated indigenous leaders, such as the enforced disappearance of indigenous leader Carlos Enrique Coy, and the assassination of Abelardo Quej Ixim, both cases still unresolved.

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In this first training process, they addressed themes such as the Constitution and fundamental rights, the collective subject and collective rights, and the legal framework for the rights of indigenous peoples in Guatemala.

Both the design of the methodology and the implementation of the sessions was conducted according to the Maya worldview and the respect and acknowledgement of ancestral knowledge.

The Ombudsman for Guatemala (Procurador de Derechos Humanos de Guatemala) and the Constitutional Vice-President of the Republic of Guatemala participated in the launch of the training process.

As next steps, UVOC is working to institutionalize the Network and continue with the trainings in order to achieve a generational change in leadership.

Stella Maris, president of Fundación Markani, shares the experience and results of the project in an open forum organized by the Government of Salta.

In Argentina, Fundación Markani implemented a legal literacy project on gender-based violence and intercultural mediation for originary kolla and peasant women from the Yunga Salteña.

The project achieved to train and certify 52 participants (both students, and community leaders) as social community legal promoters, through 12 training programmes using community radio.

In order to do this, the organization engaged the different community councils and authorities, as well as munnicipal and provincial authorities for the referral and attention of cases of women in situations of violence.

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Specific results are the creation of the gender area within the municipality of Isla de Cañas -a historical moment for the women from a community with almost non existent access to justice-, and the implementation of a community management roundtable that contributed to legitimize the role of legal promoters by the community and other actors.

© Gabriel Uchida
© Gabriel Uchida

In Brazil, Associação de Defesa Etnoambiental Kanindé strengthened its legal core, and provided advice, accompaniment and legal training to multiple indigenous associations and organizations, reaching more than 1600 people from indigenous communities in the state of Rondonia.

At the same time, the organization accompanied the case of the young indigenous defender Ari Uru Eu Wau Wau, assassinated on April 18 2020, and the persecution of indigenous defender Almir Suruí (coordinator of Associación Metareilá), among others.

In 8 months, the project has achieved to equip indigenous organizations so that they can continue their fight for a healthy environment and the respect of their rights, not only in the political sphere, but also in the legal and juridical sphere.

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The accompaniment focused on receiving and filing of complaints for violations of human rights, accompaniment before institutional, police and juridical instances, monitoring cases of threats and assassinations of indigenous defenders, advocacy and building alliances with international organizations, the media and/or relevant institutions for the defense of the rights of indigenous peoples, monitoring environmental actions, strengthening the capacities of indigenous associations through training and technical-legal support, among other.

Participants in a capacity-building workshop for legal promoters before the COVID-19 pandemic.

In Nicaragua, Fundecom trained and supported 60 community defenders in the defence and promotion of the human rights of women and girls in situations of violence. Moreover, it is estimated that 3000 people received information through the materials created by the organization.

In the COVID-19 context, the organization implemented virtual capacity-building sessions about topics such as the Constitution, legislation for the protection of girls and women, legal protocols for the attention of victims of violence, alternative access to justice routs, how to support other women in situations of violence.

In order to do that, they distributed equipment and phone credit among defenders, and they trained them in the use of relevant digital platforms. In addition, Fundecom established a phone service for psychological attention for women in situations of violence, and an online service to promote alternative access to justice routes from the community; so that women, with the needed support but without the need of lawyers, can access justice.

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Other organizations around the country working on gender-based violence were interested by Fundecom’s legal empowerment approach. As a result, the organization: a) presented their legal empowerment methodologies from a practical perspective at a forum with 45 organizations of the Women’s Network against Violence (Red de Mujeres contra la Violencia); b) held meetings about legal empowerment with 40 community defenders belonging to 4 organizations from the Women’s Network against Violence, who are calling for expanded coverage of training for community defenders; c) established a consortium with other 4 organizations – led by Fundecom- to execute a legal empowerment project.

“We got to know the formula for women to empower themselves and empower other women: Emotional support + legal empowerment = Human rights self-management for women and girls” – Participant in the forum organized by the Women’s Network against Violence.

Logo of the campaign “Talking about Laws”.

In El Salvador, Colectiva Amorales started the social media campaign “Talking about Laws”, to provide information and advice to women in situations of violence, and raise awareness among the population about situations of violence and abuse against women and girls. In particular, the rights, guarantees and mechanisms regarding the Special Comprehensive Law for a Live Free of Violence for Women (Ley Especial Integral para una Vida Libre de Violencia para las Mujeres, LEIV).

Through the project’s Instagram and Facebook accounts, Colectiva Amorales has achieved to reach more than 400 people, and an average of 1000 people have reproduced the content of the online conversation spaces.

Moreover, the number of users sharing content for the campaign, and accessing the organization’s legal advice services have incremented. In the 8 months that the project lasted, 15 women received direct accompaniment through the legal advice services.

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The campaign “Talking about Laws” was structure around 4 main elements: a) Addressing concepts, situations, types of violence and protection legal mechanisms with a simple language and from the everyday reality, with graphics and a comic; b) Sharing relevant, curious and tabu data about violence against women through the section “Did you know that?” (¿Sabías Qué?); c) Sharing national cases of violence against women through the section Cuenta Casos; d) and finally, accompanying and giving advice to women though social media and through online conversation spaces with legal and mental health specialists.

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The greatest impact has been to turn the GAP not only into a clinic in which students are passing through, but also into a space where they can make their projects aligned with the GAP come true.

Paola Marcela Iregui Parra

Paola Marcela Iregui Parra

Supervisor Grupo de Acciones Públicas – GAP, Universidad del Rosario (Colombia)

[The Innovation Lab] has been an internal growth process. We are building ourselves by doing this project and we are also helping others in the way that we want to do it, starting with the everyday life, but without forgetting the technical-legal knowledge.



Colectiva Amorales (El Salvador)

[The Innovation Lab] has helped us to “demonstrate” that legal empowerment is vital to bring justice closer to women, from the communities, and for them to recognize themselves as rights holders.


FUNDECOM (Nicaragua)

As regards to impact, there hasn’t been any other moment in the country’s history in which the training of youth in legal topics has been a priority.


Unión Verapacense de Organizaciones Campesinas (Guatemala)

The experience has been positive in manny ways. […] We were invited to an open in-person forum with public servants to share the experience and results of the project, and we were also invited to participate in an inter-ministerial dialogue roundtable to contribute to the public policy planning for 2021.

Stella Maris Molina

Stella Maris Molina

President of Fundación Markani (Argentina)

The selection for the Innovation Lab was extremely important for our organization, since it was one of the first projects to focus in the litigation area. We now have professional legal support to go to the Judiciary in our own name.


Associação de Defesa Etnoambiental Kanindé (Brasil)