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Felipe Berrios

Entrepreneur and Jesuit priest. Experienced in leveraging human and financial resources from public and corporate sectors. Frequent speaker on national television on economic, social and cultural topics.

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TECHO International
Areas of Impact
Latin America

TECHO International

Social Entrepreneur of the Year, Chile, 2005

The Innovation
Low-income housing projects have sprung up all over the world. What is different about Un Techo para Chile (A Roof for Chile) is that it encompasses far more than housing. Housing is an entry point for community creation and widespread social change among Chile’s slum dwellers and for the thousands of Chileans who have been inspired to join to ensure that infrastructures for health, education, job training and employment opportunities are also put in place. Un Techo para Chile is managed by 100 recent graduates and young professionals from the best universities in the country who compete for the privilege of dedicating two years of their lives at below market salaries to run the organization’s many programmes. Un Techo para Chile has successfully eroded the barriers preventing national solidarity by generating a commitment by Chile’s youth to the future of their country. In the process, their parents and the public and business sectors have joined the effort. To date, the model has been adapted in 13 other Latin American countries under the name Un Techo para mi País (A Roof for my Country).

While development economists often dub Chile an “economic miracle”, thousands of Chileans continue to live in crowded slums in deplorable conditions. It was precisely at the moment when Chile's economic growth was at an all time high—prior to the Asian financial crisis—that Felipe Berríos launched his effort to demonstrate that many continued to live in absolute poverty. As Un Techo’s model became successful and Berríos became a reluctant national icon in Latin America.

Using housing as a springboard for community creation and social change, Berríos succeeded in mobilizing university students across the country to work alongside slum dwellers. After initially building decent housing and infrastructure facilities, they subsequently supported the community's efforts to enlist local and federal governments to create an environment where all dwellers have access to quality education, healthcare and micro-credit as well as opportunities for building skills in preparation for gainful employment. Since 1997 more than 165.000 volunteers have passed through this institution, building 40,000 houses and transforming slum areas into communities that provide dignity for the inhabitants. The graduates and young professionals who run the organization learn how to manage a social enterprise in a professional and efficient manner, applying principles of strategic planning, organizational effectiveness, transparency, monitoring and evaluation.

Un Techo para Chile is characterized by sustainability of action. It has created a movement of young people that, in turn, catalyze Chileans from all economic and social backgrounds to unite and ensure that Chile is a country for all, not just for a privileged few. Until mid-2005,

Un Techo para Chile had no legal status. It simply did not exist as an organizational entity, but as a loose network of students, citizens and former slum dwellers. The reasons were strategic. First, Berríos believes that any organizational structure generates bureaucracy and inertia and sacrifices flexibility. Second, he wanted to avoid having to set up a board that would assume control of administration, thus diminishing the responsibility of the recent graduates who run the initiative. Finally, Berríos wanted to protect Un Techo para Chile from legal action by outraged wealthy landowners of unoccupied adjacent properties that have tried to sue. If it was not legally constituted, there was no entity to sue. Recently, Un Techo para Chile entered into negotiations with the Chilean government to build communities in areas that are closer to urban centers on available government land. This means that the organization has had to become legally constituted. Berríos has selected members to its board who respect the nature of the organization. Up to the date, 210 definitive housing projects have already been inaugurated, and there are more than seven projects in construction.

The Entrepreneur
Felipe Berríos is an entrepreneur who happens to be a Jesuit priest. He exemplifies the definition of an entrepreneur as “one who pursues opportunities without regard for the resources currently at hand.” He has been able to leverage human and financial resources from the public and corporate sectors, and has galvanized the media and the Chilean population to achieve social transformation, not only by providing the poor with housing but in creating a sense of mutual respect and responsible citizenship across the country. Thanks to Berríos’ uncanny marketing savvy, Un Techo para Chile is as well known as a brand to Chileans as some of the most popular products in the country. Berríos is not afraid of open debate and is often seen on national television being interviewed on any number of economic, social and cultural topics. On many occasions, he has taken on the government when it failed to pursue anti-poverty policies, as well as the Catholic Church, which is dominant in Chile. Because of his ability to “name and shame” in a loving and humorous manner, he has gained the respect of the populace, from the former slum dweller to the President of the country.


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