Latest from Latin America: Changing the world with “suspended” coffee

The piece below on an Argentian entrepreneur was translated and edited from the original Spanish version on the blog of our Spanish site, Idealistas

Around Easter, this image of a man sipping coffee (paired with a short story by Italian Tonino Guerra) spread like wildfire through social networks across the globe. Thousands shared the photo and ‘liked’ it on Facebook. Sol Verdier, a mother and graphic designer, decided to go further.

When she saw the picture and read the story behind the photo, she thought, “I can do something more.”  So she founded the Argentine initiative “Un Café Pendiente” (or, “Suspended Coffee”), a movement encouraging coffee shop regulars to buy an extra coffee to be “on hold” for a customer who can’t afford to buy a cup.

By simply placing recognizable stickers on the outside of participating shops—and encouraging homeless shelters, churches, and other communities to spread the word—Sol can help those in need connect with customers willing to help.

Sol Verdier, founder of the Argentina initiative, Un Café Pendiente

Sol Verdier, founder of the Argentina initiative, Un Café Pendiente

While she’s not the first to be inspired by the story and start up her own version (check out the others popping up around the world), Sol is the first to bring the idea to Argentina.

After two months, and almost 30,000 supporters on her Facebook page, Sol tells us the story of how she went from intention to action:

What was it that led to the idea of creating Un Café Pendiente? Where did you see a problem, a lack?

Un Café Pendiente was born in Naples, Italy, when a Neapolitan man, Tonino Guerra, paid for two cups of coffee instead of one, one for him and one for an impoverished man. It began as a tradition and soon became a project in cities across Europe.

So I began. I drafted a project, set up a website so anyone anywhere in the world can download all the info on how to start a replicable movement in their community, and started a Facebook page to start spreading the idea.

A few days later, after I convinced some friends that own coffee companies to join, “likes” slowly began to appear.

What moved you to take action?

As a child, I went on missions to Chaco several times and participated in various solidarity movements. Today, with a job and a child, it’s more complicated. I saw this project as an opportunity to help everyone.

How do you feel devoting your time to a cause like this?

Happy and exhausted! I love being part of this initiative and, frankly, I’m surprised the impact it had in such a short time. I’m hoping to get a group of people organized to better distribute tasks and continue my work so I can be a mother again!

To learn more about Sol’s project and find out how to start your own suspended coffee program, visit or the international network,

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It’s a bike! It’s a car! No—It’s Peatónito, Mexico City’s masked defender of pedestrians

With Cinco de Mayo coming up this weekend, we’re shining a spotlight on one social innovator from Mexico City mixing both brawn and brains to make change. 

Peatónito halts traffic at a crosswalk in downtown Mexico City (Photo credit: Peatónito)

Peatónito halts traffic at a crosswalk in downtown Mexico City (Photo credit: Peatónito)

In sweat pants, a long black cape, and a traditional luchador (or Mexican wrestler) mask, 26-year-old Jorge Cañez easily stands out in the congested hubbub of downtown Mexico City. And that’s exactly what he wants.

Jorge, or “Peatónito”—the name of his masked alter ego, has taken it upon himself to bring pedestrian safety back to the streets of a city known internationally for it’s high pedestrian fatality rates. Stationed at high-traffic intersections across town, Jorge acts as an intrepid traffic cop, signaling cars to stop at crosswalks and valiantly guiding pedestrians to the sidewalk.

“People ignore the importance of pedestrian safety in this city, and it’s deadly,” says Jorge, who says that Mexico City sees at least one pedestrian death daily. “I’m trying to make a change by making it fun.”

Peatónito (a derivative of the Spanish word for pedestrian, peatón) has been an active character in the streets of Mexico City since last June. After winning over city transportation officials and community members alike, Jorge’s persona has trigged a transformation within the city’s inner workings.

“I think I’ve helped incorporate the speech of the pedestrian with the department of transportation,” he says, adding that while the city has recently show great interest in bicycle infrastructure, they’ve all but ignored the needs of pedestrians. “Now they actually have an real agenda and are creating public policies to improve pedestrian facilities.”

However, getting to this point took a heap of commitment and drive from Jorge’s end.

A political science graduate and past consultant for Mexico’s Institute of Transportation and Development, Jorge originally advocated for pedestrian rights with a group of local activists, stealthily painting impromptu crosswalks and placing cemented benches in pedestrian-heavy areas downtown. While these acts were essentially illegal, the police who caught Jorge and his team in the act would usually see the good in their intentions.

Peatónito helps an older couple cross the street. (Photo credit: Peatónito)

Peatónito helps an older couple cross the street. (Photo credit: Peatónito)

“Every time it’s the same: We explain to the police what we’re doing, and there’s never a problem,” says Jorge. “They know it’s helping.”

But Jorge still wasn’t convinced that this level of advocacy was enough to make a substantial shift in driver’s (and official’s) ways. So, he took a page from the book of one of his own heroes: Antanas Mockus, the past mayor of Bogotá, Colombia.

“Bogotá used to be one of the more dangerous cities in the world, especially for a pedestrian,” says Jorge. “But Mockus fired the corrupt transit police and hired 400 mimes to police traffic. He made it fun, and things began to change.”

Now, people are turning to Jorge to learn from his work and promote his actions, including local political parties. But the caped crusader remains committed to his original cause.

“Sometimes I get calls from [political] parties asking me to join them,” says Jorge. “But I don’t have a party. I don’t have any side alliance. I am simply an ally to all pedestrians.”

Interested in pedestrian activism or want to learn more about bringing a similar movement to where you live? Send Jorge an email at or check out Peatónito on Facebook.

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Latest from Latin America: Teaching technology to youth in Colombia


Founder Andrea Cornejo.

Medellín, a Colombian city once known solely for its powerful drug cartel, isn’t letting its past interfere with a bright future. Last month, Medellín was named the world’s most innovative city by the nonprofit Urban Land Institute, launching its name into the global sphere.

The piece below on a Medellín entrepreneur was translated and edited from the original Spanish version on the blog of our Spanish site, Idealistas

Andrea Cornejo has a question: What role can technology play in reducing the levels of poverty and inequality in Latin America? Can we improve the economy of the region if more kids understand and are able to interact with technology to provide answers to the problems of their communities?

Her guess is yes—and she plans to demonstrate this through Coderise, a project that empowers young students from developing countries by teaching them to create web applications. After its pilot project, the first round will be held in Medellín in October this year.

But this is just one of the many initiatives launched by Andrea. This natural entrepreneur is certain that her mission in life is to reduce poverty. Today it’s called Coderise, but yesterday it was called Viña Vieja Project or Social Emprende, a website that seeks to aggregate social enterprises in Latin America.

She’s learned that in social innovation, failure does not exist. Here’s more about Andrea and her latest initiative:

What was it that led to the idea of creating Coderise? Where did you see a problem?
When you look at the most successful programmers out there, you realize that success does not depend on if you were born into a good family, but your curiosity and access to a computer.

When we talk about technology, any child could be the next person to change the world. You just need to have the tools of knowledge and inspiration to do so.

For example, in Coderise we are not only teaching students programming skills, but we are also teaching them how to learn. When students complete Coderise, they don’t leave as programmers because that was never the goal. The objective is to integrate the technology into the community and put the tools to create in their hands—so that they have the same opportunity as any other child in the world to make an impact.

What inspired you to take action?
In order to answer the question: “What is the potential of programming technologies in the economic development of our region?” you have to do more than read and write essays.

We have to find these young people and connect them with programming education and inspirational figures leading the technological revolution. And we have to start today.

This is why one day almost a year ago, we launched Coderise.

How do you feel working and devoting your time to a cause like this?
Coderise is breaking boundaries and trying something that has not been tried before. It is worth every effort.

I’m certain that soon Coderise can demonstrate how software development is a field where developing regions, such as Latin America, can catch up with advanced regions and may also reduce socio-economic inequality.

It’s been three months since our first pilot program ran. We can already see that many young people are determined to continue learning after the program and that many are already profiting financially.

Coderise will officially launch in October. For now, Andrea and her team are working on a fundraising campaign to guarantee the program will be completely free for participating kids.

To contribute or learn more about the initiative, visit

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