Community-Driven Innovation



Connecting university students to solve rural communities’ challenges

Team Lead

Diana Duarte Gómez

Solution Pitch

The Problem

A graduate student pours an average of 300 hours into writing their thesis. However as soon as they graduate, their data collection, analysis, and recommendations are archived, never put to practical use. Meanwhile, poor rural communities confront challenges that student groups often have the resources and analytical capabilities to address—but the connection between the two is missing.

The Solution

Retos identified a real need for support from practitioners who would be willing to invest time in the field, researching and assessing solutions to challenges in rural areas. The team thus created a web platform that connects academic and rural communities in Colombia to cooperate on practical solutions to rural challenges. 

In addition to the web platform, Retos runs educational workshops to help rural Colombians formulate and post their local challenges. Universities then register academic teams, to which a learning algorithm assigns a particular challenge. Retos also facilitates communication between participants, offers project guidance, and assesses projects to inform future partnerships.

Market Opportunity

While there are some solutions connecting university students with open innovation challenges in the private and public sectors, none of them directly connect students with communities. Out of a potential market of 3,000 higher education institutions throughout Latin America, Retos aims to expand to 120 universities in the region that specifically seek to invest in innovation services. Retos expects to generate $250 per challenge, for a total revenue of $1.5 million per term.

Partnership Goals

Retos currently seeks:

  • Business model and strategy consultation to expand its reach to other universities across Latin America;
  • Collaboration with city governments, UNEP, and other organizations to impact local economic development;
  • AI expertise to optimize its platform to address challenges in marginalized communities; and
  • Mentorship on intellectual property.

Organization Highlights

Some of Retos’ notable achievements include:

  • Selection as a finalist for the Bogota Chamber of Commerce’s Shared Value Award;
  • Selection as a finalist for the Accelerate 2030 Contest powered by UNDP and Impact Hub;
  • Receiving funding from the Avina Foundations “Labcis” seed fund; and
  • Co-Founder Diana Duarte’s talk at TEDXUniversidad Sergio Arboleda, one of the universities that currently partners with Retos. 

Existing Partnerships

Retos currently partners with a range of organizations, such as:

  • Universidad de Los Andes, which provides access to knowledge around the challenges communities are facing;
  • Farmers cooperatives such as APRENAT, which provide connections to expand knowledge of community challenges;
  • Engineers Without Borders, which supports infrastructure to deploy solutions in the field;
  • MIT D-Lab, which advises models for successful partnership with rural communities; and
  • MIT Media Lab, where researchers explore technical solutions for predictive models to enhance successful collaborations.


The Retos pilot has reached 4 universities, 280 students, 16 professors, and 60 challenges, fostering 22,800 hours of co-creation.

Solver Team

Organization Type:

Bogota, Colombia

Company Stage:

Working in:



Solution Team:

Economic Prosperity

Connecting Students to Rural Communities

Solver Retos received the $50,000 AI Innovations Prize from Members Patrick J. McGovern Foundation and Schmidt Futures in 2019 to connect university students to solve rural communities’ challenges.

Economic Prosperity

Connecting Students to Rural Communities

Solver Retos received the $30,000 UN Women She Innovates Prize for Gender-Responsive Innovation from Members UN Women and Ernst & Young in 2019 to connect university students to solve rural communities’ challenges.

Economic Prosperity

Connecting Students to Rural Communities

Solver Retos, which connects university students to solve rural communities’ challenges, received a $10,000 grant from Solve in 2019 for being selected as a Community-Driven Innovation Solver.

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