Chile and the Santiago Center were not exempt from the havoc that the Covid-19 pandemic wreaked upon the world. Indeed, 2020 was a very challenging year for the Center – perhaps the most challenging since its inception in 2011.
Faced with the dilemma of how to engage stakeholders with whom it usually interacted in live events, in March the Santiago Center expeditiously adjusted, pivoted and went virtual. Working from home offices, the team took its programming online, resorting to webinars, the recordings of which can be found in the video section of the Santiago Center website.
Besides the worldwide epidemic, at the local level Chile was still reeling at the beginning of the year from nationwide social protest that first erupted in October 2019. Looking to address issues such as social inequality, the overall cost of living, disappointing retirement system returns, politicians seen as out of touch with reality, and justice perceived as unfairly favoring the country’s elite, there was a national agreement to hold a countrywide referendum on whether to rewrite the Constitution. The plebiscite was first scheduled for April and then pushed back to October 25, when an unprecedented 78% of voters chose to rewrite the national charter.
Despite the obstacles on both the national and global stage, the Santiago Center steered through the difficulties and continued on its mission to promote Columbia’s multidisciplinary approach in addressing local, regional and worldwide issues.
To start the year, the Center had a successful first quarter, which included several visits from campus and a first of its kind two-week course in Chile on investigative journalism, organized jointly with the Columbia Journalism School and Universidad Diego Portales (UDP).
Then, following the Center’s pivot response to the pandemic, in March-December it organized a number of online events, featuring Columbia faculty, researchers and experts, and engaging with partner institutions. This formed part of the more than 400 global webinars organized by the network of nine Global Centers.
However, as the year went on, the phenomenon of “webinar fatigue” compelled the Center to become more creative in terms of topics and speakers in order to make a difference. It planned and developed varied special projects, including contests and alumni research to promote dissemination and awareness of Covid-19 and its calamitous effects; and it organized virtual internships for a total of 40 Columbia students in the US Summer and Fall terms. As part of a network-wide campaign to accommodate Columbia students abroad, it conditioned its offices for those students who were unable to travel to New York to use an appropriate space to participate in their courses via online platforms.
At the same time, the Santiago Center expanded its horizons to address a larger group of shareholders, as was the case in the Center-sponsored photo contest for residents of Renca, a lower-income borough in Santiago, to artistically express what life was like under the epidemic.
In order to better address its public, the Center revamped and modernized its webpage and included new sections. The social media strategy was reformulated, focusing on LinkedIn as a tool to improve access to stakeholders and the alumni base, while employing Twitter, Instagram and Facebook to promote programs and initiatives. In order to continue receiving outstanding advice, ongoing leadership and counsel regarding the Center’s activities, it renewed its Advisory Board.
During the year, new partnerships were created and those already in place were consolidated. The Santiago Center will continue strengthening alumni interaction via the Alumni Club of Chile and the Business Alumni Club of Chile, while also reaching out to alumni in Peru, Colombia and Argentina, and fortifying the relationship with student organizations on campus such as the Latin American Student Association (LASA), the Latin American Business Association (LABA) and Latin GSAPP.
The Center’s “business model” has been successful to date, but it is adapting to address the real challenges that Chile is facing, while also meeting expectations from the network and the University. Based on the successful experience with Renca, it is looking to further engage with those beyond its traditional stakeholders - academia, NGOs, government and international organizations - particularly when it comes to the constitutional process and its progress over the next couple of years. With this in mind, it formed a partnership with Columbia’s Institute of Latin American Studies (ILAS) to add thought-provoking content and programming to this important issue, tapping into Columbia’s expertise and bringing global insight to this national issue.
With Chile still grappling with national issues while facing a global crisis, the Center looks to promote civic culture, employing University resources and expertise to cultivate civic education in youth and the general public. Operating in association with colleagues in New York and with the international network of nine Global Centers, the Santiago Center proceeds to work on better engaging its audience, continually adjusting to a new normal and focusing on cooperation and shared solutions to create content and experiences around critical, timely concerns in bringing Columbia to the world and the world to Columbia.