Training and Consulting Blog

2017 Online Courses are OPEN for Registration

All Spring 2017 online Sustainable Community Development Certificate courses are open for registration. The deadline to register for the first session is January 9, 2017.

January 13 – February 17, 2017

March 3 – April 7, 2017

April 21 – May 26, 2017

 


SOCIAL ENTREPRENEURSHIP AND ENTERPRISE DEVELOPMENT

Next Offered Deadline to Register Registration Status Offered By
January 13 – February 17, 2017 January 9, 2017 Open

Course Description

One of the biggest challenges we face in today’s global economy is the alleviation and ultimate elimination, of poverty. Unemployment, lack of economic opportunities and the inability to provide for one’s needs and those of one’s family, lead to destructive consequences at the individual level and can lead to crime and armed conflict at the social level. While the latest development theory recognizes the importance of entrepreneurship and micro-enterprise generation in combating poverty, providing employment and increasing income, in order to address poverty at the grass-roots level, we need to explore the intersection of traditional business concepts with social venturing. This course aims to provide an understanding of social entrepreneurship that will help us put theory into practice in a meaningful way.

This course will examine entrepreneurship and enterprise generation as a key foundation of the development of both economic and social capital, as well as individual and community empowerment. Its main emphasis will be the exploration of entrepreneurship with an imperative to drive social change and build sustainable ventures. Its focus will be on designing enterprises for the base of the economic pyramid in the context of disadvantaged communities. We will participate in the unfolding dialogue about what constitutes a “social entrepreneur”, develop an understanding of the power of “disruptive innovation”, and study success stories from around the world, thereby gaining valuable insights into how to develop our own enterprises.

This course will require critical thinking, be highly interactive, and students will share their experiences, ideas, insights and challenges. Participants will be able to apply the learning from this course to their own start-ups and field projects.

Instructor:

Vinod Parekh

Social Entrepreneur, Proprietor of Human Development Services, Consultant Trainer and Mentor of several companies, visiting and online faculty at Colorado State University, Independent Director Man Diesel and Turbo India, World traveler.

I began my career in Sales and Marketing and then went on to be with BBC UK and trained as a Broadcaster before I discovered my passion for people development. I continue to be a student of Personal, Organisational and Community Transformation. Education: Organisational Development (OD) Chicago USA, Psychology Major: University of Nagpur, India. Marketing Management at NTC, Calcutta, India. Early Career: Radio and Television Broadcasting, BBC, London, Glasgow, Director Community Development Projects of the Institute of Cultural Affairs International, Chicago, USA an affiliate of the UN.

Current Responsibilities:
• Director-Human Development Services & Human Development Consultants and Trainers-A management consultancy- leadership training and development enterprise which specializes in conducting management alignment, team building, personal and organizational effectiveness enhancement programs for public, private , academic and voluntary sectors.
• Chairman-Unnati Enterprises – A Socio-Economic Enterprise dedicated to empowering rurban communities particularly youth;
• Mentor -Teaching Learning Community of Small & Medium Scale entrepreneurs;
• Visiting Faculty at: Maharashtra Police Academy, India International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD), Colorado State University ,USA; Several Management Colleges and Institutes including Bharati Vidyapeet Institute for Management studies and Research, Moonje Mgt Institute, Mahatma Gandhi Management Institutes (MBA program) of the University of Pune, India Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai and Tuljapur;
•Independent Director- MAN Diesel Turbo

Previous Positions:
• Marketing Director-Communication Services, Hyderabad, India.
• Consultant / Trainer- Institute of Cultural Affairs-International, Chicago USA.
• Director Community and Village Development Projects, Maharashtra-India
• Project Director-Community Development Programme, Lusaka, Zambia.

Areas of Expertise:
•Designing and facilitating needs based training and development programmes aimed towards personal, organizational/community transformation using the Technology of Participative Management (ToP)
•Bridging intercultural gaps.

Passion: Traveling, interacting with people.

My MISSION – To equip individuals, communities and organizations (for and not for profit) with practical mindset change techniques and soft skills tools towards enhancing their overall effectiveness. My VISION – Personal and organizational/community transformation.


APPROACHES TO COMMUNITY DEVELOPMENT

Next Offered Deadline to Register Registration Status Offered By
January 13 – February 17, 2017 January 9, 2017 Open
April 21 – May 26, 2017 April 18, 2017 Open

Course Description

Explore both the structure and practice of community development around the world.  Engage in a critical analysis of different approaches to community development, their historical development and underlying assumptions.  Gain an understanding of the structural and practical issues that promote or detract from the goal of community empowerment.

Instructor:

David Bartecchi, M.A.

Dave received his M.A. in Cultural Anthropology from Colorado State University and has worked with Village Earth since 1998.  He is now the executive director of Village Earth.  Since 2000 he has been working with grassroots groups on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation to recover lands for community-based bison restoration. He has also worked with the indigenous groups in Peru and Ecuador and trained and consulted on community-based development projects in in Azerbaijan, Armenia, India as well as with Native American tribes in California and Oklahoma.  He has been an instrumental part of several research projects with CSU’s Department of Anthropology including a 6 year longitudinal study of the informal economy on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota funded by the National Science Foundation, a survey of farmers and ranchers participating in the National Conservation Reserve Program conducted by CSU’s Natural Resource Ecology Lab and funded by the USDA, and community-based censuses on the Rosebud and Pine Ridge Reservations in South Dakota. Dave teaches online courses in Approaches to Community Development, Community Mobilization, and Community-based Mapping.


COMMUNITY-BASED FOOD SYSTEMS

Next Offered Deadline to Register Registration Status Offered By
January 13 – February 17, 2017 January 9, 2017 Open

The cultivation, preparation, distribution, and consumption of food are practices that shape how we organize ourselves socially, economically and politically. Control over food is central to the sustainability and self-determination of communities. In this seminar, you will learn about different approaches to building community-based food systems and movements for food justice around the world. Together, we will evaluate various strategies for protecting community food resources and rebuilding local food economies, as well as the factors that threaten these efforts. With special consideration for marginalized communities in the global North and South, students will develop a conceptual toolkit and set of resources to help them assess the limitations and possibilities of their own community’s food system.

Instructors:

This course is facilitated by the International Agroecology Action Network (IAEAN) a consultancy group composed of ultra-motivated scientists willing to work hard to change the world. Although we are all agroecologists, we combine our diverse backgrounds and skills in order to dynamically implement sustainable and effective projects. Our pool of available consultants offer a wide range of skills and competences. We seek to improve society through our actions and research and we believe that both grassroots and top-down approaches are necessary to drive systemic change. Our members are currently involved in international organizations, private companies, development associations and in academic spheres.

2016 Holiday Fundraising Campaign to Support Village Earth’s Global Affiliates

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 Global Affiliate NameGeographic FocusAbout 
Facebook-Vert-LogoVillage Earth Area of Most NeedGlobalLet Village Earth decide how best to allocate your donation.
AmahoroAmahoro ProjectBurundiAmahoro project is a collaboration betweeen Colorado State University and Ngozi University in Burundi (UNG) to establish UNG as a ongoing site and dissemination center for research in sustainable peace and development.
CRDTCambodia Rural Development Team Northeast CambodiaWorks to sustainably improve food security, incomes, and living standards of subsistence rural communities in support of environmental conservation throughout Cambodia.
Earth TipiEarth TipiPine Ridge Reservation, SDWorks to sustainably improve food security, incomes, and living standards of subsistence rural communities in support of environmental conservation throughout Cambodia.
Eco_VEco-Friendly VolunteersSri LankaECO-V is a voluntary organization engaged in environmental conservation in Sri Lanka. ECO-V has a network of 400 volunteers throughout Sri Lanka who contribute to research and community work to support conservation of the environment.
EYCEmpowering Youth CambodiaPnom Penh, CambodiaEYC is a organization working to improve the lives of young people and their families. Our vision is to see youth empowered with skills & confidence to be leaders who actively develop themselves, their families and community.
FOFCODForum for Community Change and DevelopmentSouth SudanFOFCOD envisions a new generation of productive and self-reliant south Sudanese who can ably participate in community development programs to meet their needs and those of other disadvantaged groups.
GOLDGrowing Liberia Democracy (GOLD)LiberiaGOLD promotes poverty reduction as well as democratic & high quality governance by empowering local communities to effectively engage their law makers as to make policy decisions favorable for Liberians and to be fully transparent.
ICA_NEPAlInstitute of Cultural Affairs (Nepal)NepalICA’s mission is to promote social innovation through participation and community building. We do this throughout the country through training, facilitation & development activities.  
Human-and-Hope-Association-500x500Human and Hope AssociationSiem Reap, CambodiaHuman and Hope Association works to empower Cambodians to create sustainable futures for themselves through projects focused on education, vocational training and community support.
JalambaJalamba Nursery School ProjectThe GambiaThe goal of the of the Association is to empower youths, children and vulnerable families through education. The project has government support as a new school  which will serve ages of one through six. 
JenzeraJenzeraColombiaSupports community processes so that people can freely decide on their social, political and economic lives by defending their territories, empowering their own governments and developing a self-managed economies.
KnifeChiefKnife Chief Buffalo NationPine Ridge Reservation, SDThe Knife Chief Buffalo Nation, a grassroots project on Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, South Dakota, works to reclaim 1800 acres of ancestral lands for restoring buffalo, and Lakota culture and lifeways.
LBCCLakota Buffalo Caretakers CooperativePine Ridge Reservation, SDThe Lakota Buffalo Caretakers Cooperative (LBCC) is a 100% Native American owned and operated cooperative association on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. Its membership is made up of small family buffalo caretakers who respect the buffalo and the land. Members of the LBCC are committed to the restoration of the northern plains ecology, self-sufficiency and strengthening the sovereignty and self-determination of the Oglala Lakota Nation and all indigenous peoples.
LLRPLakota Lands Recovery ProjectSouth Dakota ReservationsThe LLRP works to reclaim and consolidate tribal lands and access the resources needed for the Lakota people to live on, protect, and utilize it — promoting self-determination and sovereignty.
MalocaMalocaAmazon BasinWorks with Indigenous Peoples living in the Amazon Basin. It works directly with Indigenous leaders to raise awareness about the needs of their communities and find means to establish self-sustaining strategies to address their needs.
TasunkeWakanTasunke WakanPine Ridge Reservation, SDOur primary goal is to develop and implement Lakol Wicohan (Lakota life ways and laws, which includes language, values, beliefs, ceremonies and laws of the Lakota people) within the Oyate (Community).
TRCDATitukuke RCDAPetuake, ZambiaTRCDA is devoted to to uplifting livelihoods, reducing illiteracy, poverty and HIV/AIDS Health problems among the communities in Petauke, Zambia

Better Decision-making Through Community Mapping in Mongolia | October 26, 12pm. CSU Morgan Library

mapping-in-process

Village Earth and the Center for Collaborative Conservation are hosting a very special presentation on community-based mapping and GIS by  Enkhtungalag Chuluunbaatar from the Ger Communty Mapping Center based-in Ulaanbaatar Mongolia. This presentation will take place from 11:30am to 1pm, October 26th at the Morgan Library Event Hall on the campus of Colorado State University in Fort Collins, Colorado.

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Enkhtungalag Chuluunbaatar

Abstract: Ulaanbaatar, capital city of Mongolia is home to almost half of the country’s population, in which more than 60% live in the ger area. Centralized administrative power, rapid urbanization, economic and political instability calls for a stronger civil society with a vision for long-term, sustainable, and inclusive development. Ger Community Mapping Center sees community mapping as one of the tools to inform and empower local communities and the general public to promote participatory decision-making. Community mapping draws on the implicit knowledge within local communities on everyday issues with long-term consequences.

This presentation will take place from 11:30am to 1pm, October 26th at the Morgan Library on the campus of Colorado State University in Fort Collins, Colorado.

Co-sponsored by Village Earth and

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Tourism “business as usual” is Broken: Reflections on the Global Tourism Industry

ethical issues with tourism

By Cynthia Ord, Tourism and Development Online Course Instructor

Tues Nov 8 is an important date for Americans – the federal election will determine our new president. Meanwhile, across the pond in London, it’s also a big day for the global tourism community. Nov 8 will mark the 10th annual World Responsible Tourism Day, celebrated as part of World Travel Market (WTM), one of the biggest annual trade shows of the industry.

At face value, the WTM trade show looks a lot like “business as usual”. In a huge conference center, reps from big-name travel brands network with public tourism boards and deep-pocketed destination marketing organizations (DMOs, in travel-speak). Execs strike deals. Thought leaders deliver keynotes. PR agents pitch puff pieces to the travel media elite. Costumed “Mayans” from the Guatemala booth and “Carnival” dancers from the Brazil booth parade around the corporate suits in a charade of authenticity.

But tourism “business as usual” is broken.

Only a fraction of tourism dollars reach the destinations themselves. The quality of service jobs created for locals is low. Overcrowding degrades the travel experience. Tension flares up between hosts and visitors. Biodiversity suffers. Climate change alters destinations. These are just few of the challenges we face as the runaway global travel industry speeds up to 2 billion annual tourists spending $2 trillion yearly by 2030.¹

Take a deeper look at the WTM and, fortunately, you’ll also find a group that faces these challenges head-on. They organize the Responsible Tourism Day events. I’ll be spending Nov 8 at the WTM learning and celebrating on that bright side of the trade show. Here are a few highlights from the World Responsible Tourism Day schedule that I’m looking forward to:

Responsible Tourism Awards
Out of 13 finalists, five awards will be granted for the following categories:
Best accommodation for responsible employment
Best contribution to wildlife conservation
Best innovation by a tour operator
Best for poverty reduction and inclusion
Best responsible tourism campaign
An overall winner will also be announced.

I’ve spent countless consulting hours this past year researching all the different responsible tourism awards schemes out there, and the WTM award is arguably the most illustrious and competitive. This is one election whose candidates I can really get excited about. Sure to be a glamorous affair!

Keynote Speaker Doug Lansky
Doug Lansky, travel writer, tourism industry advisor, and author of the thought-provoking new visual book TRAVEL: The Guide, takes us on a journey to find the Holy Grail of tourism: sustainable, profitable, and authentic travel.

Captivity, Wildlife and Tourism
Over the last year increasing concern has been expressed about the use of wildlife in tourism with campaigns focused on elephants, lions and orcas. Three panelists will consider these campaigns and reflect on how successful they have been.

This topic is near to my heart, as I spent several months in Thailand this past year examining the thorny issue of elephants in tourism. I compiled a guidebook on the subject called Elephants in Asia, Ethically: Humane Experiences with Asia’s Sacred Animal. Several of my collaborators on the book will be presenting at this discussion panel.

Other panel discussions on the Responsible Tourism agenda include:

  • Responsibility and resilience: how can tourism be more resilient?
  • Human rights in tourism
  • Responsible “better” volunteering
  • Disintermediation and destination management
  • Communicating responsible tourism: advocacy and marketing
  • Enhancing the tourist experience in Africa
  • Climate change and tourism

These are the issues that face local communities in the destinations that, as travelers, we often either love to death or fail to consider. It will be a busy few days for me at the WTM, and I’ll be thrilled to pass on my new knowledge and insights as instructor of the course Tourism and Development. Now enrolling through November 1.

Applying the APT Approach to Wicked Problems in International Community Development.

Community Development

What are wicked problems? Can sustainable community development be considered a wicked problem? If so, what value does this this lens provide us, what changes in policy and practice does it imply and what is preventing international non-governmental organizations from addressing wicked problems?

In a perspective essay in the forthcoming October 2016 edition of the journal Landscape and Urban Planning, noted scholars in the field of planning and complex problems Brian Head and Wei-Ning Xiang, building on earlier works (Xiang & Wei-Ning, 2013 & B. W. Head & Alford, 2013), argue for the expanded use of Adaptive, Participatory and Transdisciplinary (APT) approaches when dealing with “wicked problems” (Brian W. Head & Wei-Ning, 2016). In this brief blog post, I will attempt to reflect what this might mean for development NGOs.

 

International Community Development as a Dilemma for Traditional Project Management

Anyone who works in international community development understands the unique challenge of planning in such a complex and unpredictable socio-political context. Ika and Damiam (2014) offer some reason why international development projects are so complex from a project management perspective (Ika & Damian, 2014).

  • International development projects cover almost every sector of project management application
  • International development projects are public sector projects
  • International development projects are international projects
  • International development projects share managerial/organisational challenges with conventional projects
  • International development projects are different and more complex: unique goals and way of organising
  • International development projects are different and more complex to manage: unique context and institutional challenges
  • Different types of projects emerge with time and with an increasing complexity
  • Overall, international development projects are an extreme case of conventional projects

 

Image from Ika and Damian 2014

Above Image from (Ika & Damian, 2014)

 

International Community Development as a Wicked Problem

The term “wicked problems” was first uttered in 1967 by W.F. Churchman at a seminar he had organized to investigate whether lessons learned from the space program could be utilized to solve the various social problems tearing at fabric of American society at the time (Skaburskis & Andrejs, 2008). When presented with a list of differences between social and scientific/technical problems by Horst Rittel, Churchman responded, “Hmm, those sound like “wicked problems” – kicking-off an entire field of study. Rittel, later refined and summarized the list in a now famous 1973 article in Policy Science by Rittel and Webber called “Dilemmas in a general theory of planning” (Rittel & Webber, 1973).

Rittel and Webber’s 10 characteristics of wicked problems (quoted in B. W. Head & Alford, 2013)

  1. There is no definitive formulation of a wicked problem.
  2. Wicked problems have no “stopping rule” (i.e., no definitive solution).
  3. Solutions to wicked problems are not true or false, but good or bad.
  4. There is no immediate and no ultimate test of a solution to a wicked problem.
  5. Every (attempted) solution to a wicked problem is a “one-shot operation”; the results cannot be readily undone, and there is no opportunity to learn by trial and error.
  6. Wicked problems do not have an enumerable (or an exhaustively describable) set of potential solutions, nor is there a well-described set of permissible operations that may be incorporated into the plan.
  7. Every wicked problem is essentially unique.
  8. Every wicked problem can be considered to be a symptom of another problem.
  9. The existence of a discrepancy representing a wicked problem can be explained in numerous ways.
  10. The planner has no “right to be wrong” (i.e., there is no public tolerance of experiments that fail).

Ok, anyone working in community development should relate pretty quickly to the lists by both Ika and Hodgson as well as Rittel and Webber, so how does the lens of “wicked problems” help? Well, according to Head 2008, traditionally, social planners have “coped” with complex social and ecological problems by “cherry picking” problems “[dealing] with manageable elements today, while recognizing that there will be other aspects to tackle tomorrow. However, because of their amorphous and interdisciplinary nature, wicked problems require an entirely different approach.

According to Xiang (2013, p.2), [b]y examining a wicked problem as a whole through a panoramic social lens rather than a scientific microscope, and working with it through an open and heuristic process of collective learning, exploration, and experimentation, the APT approach [Adaptive, Participatory, and Transdisciplinary] promises to be efficacious in fostering collaborative behaviour, reducing conflicts, building trust among all stakeholders and communities involved, and ultimately producing better and more satisfying results.

To be fair, the NGO community hasn’t been entirely in the dark when it comes to debates about the shortcomings of traditional project management models. In fact, as Ika and Damian (2014) point out, “The poor results of projects from the 1950s through the 1980s have led to disillusionment with the traditional approach and widespread calls to change or even reject outright the traditional [project management] approach in [international development] and adopt instead what have been described as ‘process’ projects.” The champions of process projects, most notably David Korten (1980), describe them as long-term projects that become more impactful over time through a process of trial and error (Korten, 1980).

According to Korten “the learning process approach calls for organizations that have little in common with the implementing organization geared to reliable adherence to detailed plans and conditions presented favored in the blueprint approach. Its requirement is for organizations with a well developed capacity for responsive and anticipatory adaptation – organizations that: (a) embrace error; (b) plan with the people; and (c) link knowledge building with action.”

Now, Korten was writing about this in the 1980s so surely NGO’s and other actors in community development have adopted these practices? Sadly, INGDOs are still largely failing to address the wicked problems of community development. There is a longstanding and growing argument that INGDOs are not doing enough to address the world’s social and ecological problems and remain too close to donors and governments to fully utilize their competitive advantage of being neither governments nor private sectors (Banks, Nicola, David, & Michael, 2015).

What is really needed is for INGDOs to engage with communities for the long-term and work as partners to help tease apart and address the complex relationships of power, policies and perceptions in an adaptive, participatory, and transdisciplinary (APT) way. However, despite widespread agreement on the importance of this this kind of partnership, very few INGDOs actually do it because of their failure to take a critical stance on issues of power (Ika and Hodgson, 2014), bias towards a single sector (Romeo, 2003), a particular technological solution (Samper & Jimena, 2012), faddism (Mansuri & Rao, 2004), failure to spend adequate time and resources needed to mobilize and engage the community and focus on implementing the priorities of funders vs. that of communities (Power, Grant, Matthew, & Susan, 2003).

 

Recommendations for INGDOs

  • Being able to implement an APT approach requires high-levels of programmatic freedom which is often compromised by our relationships, in particular funding sources but also political relationships. If we want to truly address wicked problems we need to develop funding and partnership models that allow for the kind of freedom independence they require
  • The traditional “project” or “contract” approach, focused on addressing just one or two sectors for a 3-5 years is too narrowly focused and short-term to address wicked problems. An APT approach requires that INGDOs become skilled in facilitating broad-based participatory planning that engages stakeholders in not only identifying and prioritizing project but more importantly, engaging stakeholders in a thorough analysis of issues in a holistic, transdisciplinary manner. 
  • The role of participatory monitoring and evaluation must be elevated beyond just being accountable to donors to an active process of clarifying and redefining people’s understanding of the issues and behaviors bound-up in wicked problems. In essence, monitoring and evaluation should be viewed as a tool for the social construction of reality. 
  • NGDOs and community workers must promote a culture of self-critical awareness which promotes bottom-up learning among individuals and within institutions.

For more about this topic, read the related blog post: Breaking-out of the Piecemeal Project Approach: The Importance of Holistic Community Planning

If you are interested in the ideas and concepts discussed in this post, you’ll enjoy the following courses in our online certificate program at Colorado State University. Development and the Politics of Empowerment, Approaches to Community Development, Participatory Monitoring and Evaluation, Community Mobilization, Community-Based Organizing,

References Cited:

Banks, N., Nicola, B., David, H., & Michael, E. (2015). NGOs, States, and Donors Revisited: Still Too Close for Comfort? World Development, 66, 707–718.

Head, B. W., & Alford, J. (2013). Wicked Problems: Implications for Public Policy and Management. Administration & Society, 47(6), 711–739.

Head, B. W., & Wei-Ning, X. (2016). Why is an APT approach to wicked problems important? Landscape and Urban Planning, 154, 4–7.

Ika, L. A., & Damian, H. (2014). Learning from international development projects: Blending Critical Project Studies and Critical Development Studies. International Journal of Project Management, 32(7), 1182–1196.

Korten, D. C. (1980). Community Organization and Rural Development: A Learning Process Approach. Public Administration Review, 40(5), 480.

Mansuri, G., & Rao, V. (2004). Community-based (and Driven) Development: A Critical Review.

Power, G., Grant, P., Matthew, M., & Susan, M. (2003). 7. Operationalising bottom–up learning in international NGOs: barriers and alternatives. In Critical Reflections (pp. 86–103).

Rittel, H. W. J., & Webber, M. M. (1973). Dilemmas in a general theory of planning. Policy Sciences, 4(2), 155–169.

Romeo, L. G. (2003). The role of external assistance in supporting decentralisation reform. Public Administration and Development: A Journal of the Royal Institute of Public Administration, 23(1), 89–96.

Samper, J., & Jimena, S. (2012). Cross Sector Partnerships for Development in Colombia. The Annual Review of Social Partnerships, 2012(7), 10–10.

Skaburskis, A., & Andrejs, S. (2008). The Origin of “Wicked Problems.” Planning Theory & Practice, 9(2), 277–280.

Xiang, W.-N., & Wei-Ning, X. (2013). Working with wicked problems in socio-ecological systems: Awareness, acceptance, and adaptation. Landscape and Urban Planning, 110, 1–4.

Breaking-out of the Piecemeal Project Approach: The Importance of Holistic Community Planning

Community Development Training

In a recent blog post I argued that if international community development is a “wicked problem” than we should follow the advice of Head and Wei-Ning (2016) and stop “cherry picking” problems and instead adopt an APT (Adaptive, Participatory, and Transdisciplinary) approach. However, the authors give very little insight into what this might actually look like or how it might be applied to a particular disciplinary context like that shared by International Development NGDOs, which has integrated a surprisingly standardized toolbox of procedural norms.

In particular, while NGOs have developed countless tools for collecting information from communities on a wide range of topics such as infrastructure, social networks, gender roles, health, education, natural resources, etc., there is often little rationale for the use of one particular tool over another and the information it’s collecting, aside from generating a pool of information from which ideas for project emerge. As the training manual for one large INGDO states, “assessments, mapping, community profiles, and similar participatory processes can generate a large pool of issues that the community would like to address through projects.” From this pool, stakeholders are generally asked to prioritize or rank issues and identify projects that can be worked-on with support from the NGDO. Single-sector NGDOs will often narrow this participation even further by agreeing to support only those projects within its specialization.

What I find most problematic is that while there is often a strong emphasis among NGDOs on stakeholder participation in providing information and ranking, there is very little emphasis on engaging communities in bigger-picture analysis of the issues – especially at a macro-political level. Why is this a problem? To begin, past experience have likely taught them that NGDOs have a bias for defined technical projects which automatically narrows people’s thinking to “things” like a new well, health clinic, or latrines vs. the often more important but less tangible outcomes like enhanced collaboration with neighboring communities, educating farmers about local land-tenure laws and how they might be impacted by proposed international trade agreements, or addressing the complex gender-based status issues associated with outmigration of young men, as just a few examples.

The second issue with this piecemeal, problem-based planning approach is that there is literally no end to problems. We can always identify, prioritize and create projects to address problems but is doing so moving the community qualitatively towards a better situation? Or, by focusing on “problems’ are we just “putting-out fires” where as soon as one goes out another appears? Furthermore, ranking exercises just tell us how troublesome or annoying a problem is and not necessarily its contribution or role in the larger wicked problem. The same critique could be made about asset-based approaches. Just because something “works” doesn’t mean its amplification, replication, or adaptation is moving the community towards a better, more just situation.

Lastly, the traditional process of planning is overly focused on outcomes and doesn’t emphasize enough the importance of the process itself. Part of the defining characteristic of wicked problems is the role that varying perceptions of that problem have on its potential resolution. Take for example climate change – clearly a wicked problem, and in the United States we have a large population of people who, for various reasons and motivations, do not believe it’s caused by human activity. We also have varying levels of understanding on its severity. Based on the science one would think climate change would be the number one geopolitical priority, that we would be mobilizing like we did to get a man on the moon in the 1960s. One could argue that there needs to be much deeper dialogue taking-place to more closely align our perceptions and behaviors with the science. Community planning is the perfect opportunity to begin this dialogue. It’s an opportunity for people to deeply analyze the issues and facts together and create a shared understanding of the issues and how they can be resolved.

 

How can we apply APT principles to community development planning?

The first step is to not make the mistake of underestimating the complexity of local issues. A good rule of thumb is that they are likely as complex, if not more complex, than the issues in your own home community. Accept that because of cultural, language and privilege you will likely never fully grasp their complexity. It’s important to also recognize that, despite your limitations, you can play a valuable role as a facilitator. First, your ignorance gives you license to ask dumb questions giving you the ability to constantly be learning. Second, the fact that you are not embedded in local social networks gives you the unique perspective to “see the forest for the trees” and understand the range of ways people are thinking about an issue. Not being embedded in social networks can also mean you can more easily navigate them, serving as a broker to help connect individuals and groups that might not do it on their own.

 

The Importance of Holistic Participatory Planning

The planning process I’ve gained the most appreciation for and will be referencing here was developed by the Institute for Cultural Affairs (ICA) and is called the “Technology of Participation.” ICA developed this planning process with the social construction of reality in-mind.  The process, allows for wide-scale participation and follows four stages – visioning, contradictions, strategic directions, and action planning.

 

Community Visioning

How do we overcome the piecemeal, problem-based approach to community planning? A community vision is a shared understanding of the kind of world we want for ourselves, our children, grandchildren and beyond. It should reflect our highest shared values (equity, respect, community, culture, etc) vs. the selfish interest of individuals. In planning circles, a vision is typically 5-20 years in the future but I’ve heard of visions being as far into the future as 100 years. The purpose of a vision is not to serve as a benchmark to assess our progress against. Rather, a vision is something that is always out in the future, just beyond our reach and constantly evolving.

Ideally, a vision should be holistic and encompass any areas the community feels are important. For example, infrastructure, access to land and resources, housing but also less tangible things like the way people treat one another, their status relative to other ethnic groups, cultural revitalization, and language.

A vision overcomes the piecemeal approach by setting a standard by which contradictions, strategies, and actions are measured against, focusing your energy on the things that will help move your community towards its vision.

 

Contradictions

If we all agree that we want to live in a world like the one described by our vision than why aren’t we already there? This is how I understand and describe the contradictions phase of the planning process. This is often where the deepest-level analysis takes place because the participants are asked to view the vision holistically and they are asked to look at the contradictions holistically. This is where you start to get very nuanced discussions about, for example, how the out-migration of young men is causing a whole host of social problem, shifting of gender roles, and health issues and how it is not just about earning more money but how it’s also bound-up in what they’ve learned it means to be a “man”. Such nuanced discussions build awareness and consensus about the issues so by the time you get to the next stage, strategic directions, people are more likely to come to consensus. The goal of this phase is to help clarify and build consensus on the contradictions.

 

Strategic Directions

For the strategic directions phase we ask the participants “What can we do in the next year to begin to overcome the contradictions and move towards our vision. Because they/we now have developed a shared understanding and language to talk about the issues/contradictions, they/we can also develop more nuanced, transdisciplinary strategies to begin to overcome them. But it’s important to remind participants that this is a two-part question – coming up with actions that overcome the contradictions BUT ALSO move us towards our vision. This is where our higher-level values come into play. If we identify preserving our language or forest is a priority than we’re going to rule-out out actions that might endanger our language or forest.

 

Action Planning

The goal of this phase is similar to traditional NGDO action planning models, namely to agree upon who is responsible for what, develop implementation timelines, identify available and needed resources, etc. The difference however, is that people will be much more motivated to follow-through with implementation because they have a deep and nuanced understanding for why they’re doing it and what they hope to achieve.

 

Monitoring and Evaluation

Monitoring and evaluation plays a critical role in APT strategies for its contribution to the creation of social reality – namely by helping to answer questions and test assumptions raised during planning and implementation. For example, it was the participants assumption that they could transform young men’s perceptions of what it means to be a man through a series of community plays. To test this they developed a pre and post play questionnaire to assess members of the audience’s perceptions on manhood and whether it was impacted by the play.

 

Conclusion

By transitioning from a piecemeal to a more holistic APT approach to community planning, I argue that NGDOs can play a more impactful role in tackling the wicked problems we face as a global community. Planning approaches like the ICA’s Technology of Participation is one tool to assist this transition. Regardless of the tools we use, as a community, we need move beyond participation as just another donor requirement and instead see it and utilize it as a powerful tool for analysis and transformation.
Topics discussed in this post are also discussed in the following courses in Village Earth/Colorado State University’s online certificate program in sustainable community development: Participatory Monitoring and Evaluation, Community Mobilization, Development and the Politics of Empowerment, Community Participation and Dispute Resolution

Upcoming Courses in the Online Certificate Program in Sustainable Community Development

There’s one session left in 2016 for the Village Earth/Colorado State University online certificate program in Sustainable Community Development. Three courses are available (below) and will take place online November 4th – December 9th, 2016. The deadline to register is November 1st, 2016. 

Participatory Monitoring and Evaluation

Next OfferedDeadline to RegisterRegistration StatusOffered By 
March 3 - April 7, 2017February 28, 2017Open

Course Description

Discover participatory methods in monitoring and evaluation for community development, where multiple stakeholders are involved in the process of planning, collecting, interpreting, communicating, and using information. Gain skills in using regular monitoring and evaluation processes, which will lead to continuous improvements.

Upon completion of this course participants will be able to:

  • Plan a monitoring and evaluation project
  • Develop evaluation questions that address stakeholders needs
  • Select the most appropriate data collection method for a given situation
  • Effectively communicate monitoring and evaluation data
  • Use the monitoring information for effective feedback and improvement

This course counts towards the following specialized tracks: Natural Resources Management, Economic Development, Political Empowerment, Food Security, and Participatory Facilitation, Community Planning and Development.

Instructor: Pilar Robledo

Participatory Monitoring and Evaluation

Pilar is currently Director of Programming and Training for US Peace Corps in Kiev, Ukraine. She’s also serves as Education Cluster Co-lead at UNICEF Pakistan. Previously she’s worked for UNHCR, Save the Children, International Rescue Committee, and IREX. She holds an MPA in Public Administration from University of Colorado, Denver and a BA in Anthropology and Latin American Studies from CU Boulder.

 

 


Community-Based Organizing

Next OfferedDeadline to RegisterRegistration StatusOffered By 
November 4 - December 9, 2016November 1, 2016Open

Course Description
The importance of an approach to community-development that increases the rights of poor and marginalized people within governing structures has never been more apparent. Situations of severe oppression and marginalization demand organizing-techniques that go beyond a traditional “hand-out” style approach to development. Taking a practical hands-on perspective, this course will explore the theories, tools, styles and challenges of community-based organizing. It will discuss practical strategies for developing community leadership and working with marginalized communities. Together, we will discover the impact that ordinary individuals can have on the world.

Upon completion of this course participants will be able to:

  • Apply basic organizing techniques, such as popular education and direct action
  • Understand the role of privilege, race, gender and class in struggles for change
  • Understand the history and basic principles of community organizing
  • Design methods to help support and organize the community in which they are working

This course counts towards the following specialized tracks: Political Empowerment and Community Planning and Development

Instructor: Raul Paz Pastrana

Raul has been an organizer for over eight years and has given many workshops around the country and Latin America. These workshops have focused on diverse topics such as theater of the oppressed, popular education, participatory filmmaking, strategic organizing and base building.

He has worked as the Organizing Director for Centro Humanitario para los Trabajadores, a non-profit that works to empower immigrant workers in the Denver, Colorado area.  He currently works as a Director/Producer and Cinematographer at Andar Films in New York, NY.


Tourism and Development

Next OfferedDeadline to RegisterRegistration StatusOffered By 
November 4 - December 9, 2016November 1, 2016Open

Globally, tourism initiatives receive considerable public funding and private investment as a means of economically developing low-income communities. NGOs are taking on a growing role in local tourism initiatives, as well as voluntourism, in hopes of injecting capital into the communities where they work. Amongst proponents, tourism is seen as a mechanism for local communities to capitalize on assets such as the natural environment and cultural heritage. Yet critiques often note that tourism can be destructive, elite and at times oppressive. In light of this critical lens, we will explore both successful and problematic tourism initiatives. We will critically examine the nature of tourism, its impacts on communities and considerations that must be taken into account in order for a tourism project to have the desired impact of development without destroying.

Upon completion of this course participants will be able to:

  • Identify best practices for successful tourism initiatives
  • Work with a community to evaluate how tourism may impact their lives
  • Network with private, public and non-profit institutions in the field of tourism and development
  • Understand common challenges and issues with eco-tourism and voluntourism

Counts Towards the Following Specialized Tracks:  Economic Development and Community Planning and Development

Instructor: Cynthia Ord, M.S.

Cynthia Ord holds a Masters of Tourism and Environmental Economics degree from the University of the Balearic Islands in Palma de Mallorca, Spain and a B.A. in Spanish and Philosophy from Colorado State University. Her M.S. program focused on the socio-cultural, environmental and economic impacts of global tourism. Ord’s research focused on non-commercial volunteer tourism networks. She currently lives in Addis Ababa and works in tech solutions for tour operators in Ethiopia. In the past, she’s worked on e-market access and business development for small and medium sized tourism enterprises in the Global South, with a specialty in Latin America. In her spare time, she is a travel blogger.

Introduction to Humanitarian Assistance for Community Workers and Funders

According to Good Humanitarian Donorship, Humanitarian Assistance is broadly defined to mean the action designed to save lives, alleviate suffering and protect human dignity during and in the aftermath of man-made crises and natural disasters, as well as to prevent and strengthen preparedness for the occurrence of such situations.

Humanitarian assistance in the international arena vastly differs from domestic emergency response within the United States.  As a field unto itself, humanitarian assistance also differs greatly from shorter-term disaster response in scope, objectives, and duration.  In addition, the field encompasses codifying norms, international standards, and critical concepts that exist to maintain humanitarian principles, ensure quality intervention, and create sustainable improvement.

After the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, over 400 medical teams arrived to assist communities in need. Only a tiny fraction of teams were able to identify or plan intervention strategies and programs utilizing international humanitarian architecture or standards. This lack of knowledge translated into failures in communication, coordination, and usage of resources with direct implications for populations affected.

This problem is neither new nor has it been adequately addressed over time. Several studies, ranging from 2001 to present have reported that a dearth of nongovernmental organizations responding to disasters offers any teaching or orientation prior to departure. Authors and practitioners have put forward a critical call to action for improved accountability, well-defined core competencies, and greater quality control.  With appropriate and tailored training, practitioners will have exponentially improved efficiency, impact, and sustainability. In turn, these professionals better share expertise with local and national staff who remain, as always, the first-responders in their communities as they build themselves toward resilience and self-reliance.

In addition, the underlying circumstances necessitating pre-departure education of humanitarian workers have been intensifying. For example, the complexities of urban disasters require multi-sector coordination, community stakeholder engagement, and division of scarce resources more than ever. There are increasing risks and threats to humanitarian aid workers and less room for inexperience, waste, and error. Compassion in and of itself is not enough, however, compassion coupled with knowledge, guided by experience, and directed into effective action leads to substantive effective change.

If you would like more information and want to better inform your humanitarian efforts, consider enrolling today in our Introduction to Humanitarian Assistance Course.

Sustainable Community Development Online Course Schedule Through the End of 2016

Online Training in Community Development

“For 26 years, I had worked with an international NGO assigned in several countries but I must admit that despite these years of doing development work, it is only now that I have a deeper understanding of what community-based development should be.”  — Course Participant

The following courses are open for registration between now and November 1st 2016. These courses are offered as part of our online certificate program in Sustainable Community Development in partnership with Colorado State University.

Click on the courses below to register by September 13. Spring 2017 courses will be posted by September 15, 2016.

September 16 – October 21, 2016

November 4 – December 9, 2016

Students can enroll in just one course or complete all four courses to receive a Certificate in Sustainable Community Development.  We also offer specialized tracks for those who would like their certificate program to focus in on a particular subject area within the field of sustainable community development.

Using Local Networks in Humanitarian Disasters: A Guide for Aid and Relief Workers

This article was originally published in the Oxford Public Health Journal August 2016 edition by our colleagues over at emBOLDen Alliances.  If you are interested in learning more about using local networks in humanitarian disasters please join us for two courses taught by emBOLDen Alliances in our Sustainable Community Development Certificate with a specialization in Humanitarian Assistance.

Now enrolling for Introduction to Humanitarian Assistance and Humanitarian Assistance Toolbox.

 

On 25 April 2015, a 7.8 magnitude earthquake with an epicenter in the Gorkha District of Nepal caused severe destruction in 14 of the country’s 75 districts. Two weeks later, on 12 May, another quake of 7.3 magnitude hit with a more eastern epicenter, and worsened the humanitarian situation. According to the United Nations Dispatch, the earthquake and subsequent aftershocks affected approximately 5.6 million people, killed 8,891 people and displaced approximately 2.8 million.

Within days of the earthquake, relief flooded into the country and an estimated 100 international search and rescue and medical teams immediately dispatched to provide emergency relief and to help prepare for recovery. As the earthquakes affected predominantly remote mountain villages, rescue and humanitarian operations took place in extremely challenging terrain. Local knowledge and networks were critical in minimizing further death and damage and maximizing delivery of life-saving resources.

This is the story of several exemplary Nepalese who acted immediately to help their fellow citizens. Their response assisted countless individuals and invaluably directed international aid efforts.

The Earthquake
group photo.p2p4

The day of the 7.8 magnitude earthquake in Nepal, Ang Tshering Lama, owner of Ang’s Himalayan Adventures, was about to launch off on a river trip on the Trisuli River about three and a half hours from Kathmandu, when everything around him began to shake, rocks started to fall from the cliffs above, and brown clouds of dirt filled the air. The earthquake continued for a seemingly long time with continuous aftershocks. He immediately packed up his crew and clients and rushed back to Kathmandu. On the drive back, Ang and his rafting crew had to clear through landslides as the massive destruction caused by the earthquake became clearer. “It was dark at night, there was no electricity, it was just with the lights of the car, but I could see [the destruction].”

Recovery in Kathmandu

Ang arrived in Kathmandu at 1:30AM, and after ensuring that his mother, who had been alone in his apartment, was okay, he quickly realized that although none of his neighbors were hurt, no one had eaten. Ang had been expecting a big earthquake to come at some point and had kept a store of emergency food. He fed 15-25 people that night with Wai Wai (Nepalese noodles) that he cooked on his camping stove. As a mountaineering guide, he had extra tents and parachutes to use as shelter for those who had lost their homes or were too frightened to sleep inside due to the many aftershocks. He felt scared at times, but he tried to stay calm. “ I couldn’t stand seeing the plight, I knew I needed to help.”

To the Mountains

In the days after the earthquake, money for relief efforts began trickling in to Ang. Previous clients and Nepali friends living abroad started to send money to him and said: “Go. Your people need your help.” Then more and more people started sending money, and in Ang’s words, “then, we went big.”

Sherap Sherpa, owner of Wild Tracks, also knew that he had to get to the mountains to help his fellow villagers. Sherap lives in Kathmandu, but he is from a small village of 26 households 148km north from Kathmandu, near the Tibetan border. He tried calling his family for five days after the earthquake. When he was finally able to get through, he learned that everyone in his small village was fine, but many peoplep2p4n had lost their homes and were in need of medication and daily essentials. Sherap started by going to the local market in Kathmandu where he bought 20 tarpaulins, rice, cooking oil, and plastic containers for water. However, he had no idea how to transport the supplies as the roads were buried, and it was impossible to even hike to the village. Then he received a call from a friend who flies for Dragon Air who said that his friend who worked for Search and Rescue Technical Rescue (SRTR) in China was flying into Kathmandu to help. Could Sherap meet them at the airport?

Meanwhile, Ang’s response effort was also quickly escalating. He started to work closely with his good friend from Nepal Kayak Club and within a week after the earthquake hit, he had started to make trips out to Sindhupalchok District with other outdoor trekking guides to bring food and supplies. “We had this whole team of kayakers, rafting guides, mountaineers, so we blended in. If we had to climb a mountain, we did it.” Through his connections with the mountaineering world, he connected with Person 2 Person 4 Nepal, a national grassroots movement and with emBOLDen Alliances, a non-profit based out of Colorado, to transport duffle bags filled with temporary shelter and supplies up to remote villages in the mountains. They called themselves the “Grassroots Gorillas”.

Then Ang received a call from Ming Serpa, a Nepali American Nurse associated with a Nepali-American Nursing Association who said that her organization wanted to send four nurses from the United States. With those nurses as well as local Nepali nurses, Ang and his team of mountaineers and river guides, traveled to 15-20 villages in Sindhupalchok, where they provided medical care, distributed food and supplies and trained villagers on proper hygiene. This work required traveling to very remote villages, negotiating challenging terrain, and executing helicopter evacuations of wounded patients. But, for Ang and the Nepalese medical team, they took these obstacles in stride with focus and determination.

Meanwhile, Sherap was headed for the districts of Nuwakot, Sindhupalchok and Rasuwa with SRTR. Through SRTR, Sherap met another international relief organization that he assisted with medication and supply deliveries. While assisting this organization and coordinating with several other international organizations, Sherap was also able to deliver the first round of aid to his own village and its two neighboring villages using helicopter and road transportation.

Sherap also helped to build temporary learning centers in Syabru Bensi of Rasuwa District in-coordination with Head Master Madhav Lamichhane of Shri Shyame Wangphel Secondary School. With help from another international organization, he brought tents to setup a temporary hostel for 40 resident kids in the same school, setup clean drinking water facility for the kids, and provide solar rechargeable lamps. Without Sherap to guide these international resources appropriately, the school children may have suffered waiting or may never have been reached.

Local Networks

Both Ang and Sherap work in the tourist guiding industry and have a deep understanding of the complexities of Nepali culture and language. Their knowledge and skill helped them to respond to the April earthquake with flexibility and speed. “For westerners, it’s hard, because they have to do a lot of logistics, they have to do the research first, and that takes time you know. Whereas I go on word of mouth from people whom I know and trust: ‘This many people are killed, this many are injured and this is all gone’. Then we say: ‘Okay we are coming,’ and this is how we do it. We don’t have to have a team go and do all of that scrutiny first…you know, write it down, evaluate the situation, etc. We knew that everything was gone, everyone’s homes are gone,” explained Ang. He continued: “In Nepal, it is not like America, it’s through word of mouth. ‘Do you need our help? Okay, we are coming’.”

Jiban Ghimire who also worked very hard with Ang on the Person 2 Person 4 Nepal effort, agreed: “I would say [that a] bigger organization has bigger issues [which] means red tape. But we had smooth supply [chain] without any disturbance. To be honest, I was very fortunate as [a] Nepali to support my people on behalf of our team whom we worked together without borders & boundary twenty four-seven.”

Because of their work hostelin the tourism industry, all of these men had contacts in and direct knowledge of the affected areas. For Sherap, he would call hotel owners that he knew from motorcycle tours and ask them what they ne
eded, how badly people were affected, and if there was an accessible road for them to get there. He would then post that information on Facebook to let others know. Within the next three to four days, he would get supplies from friends in India, who were also a part of his same motorcycle club, Friends of Royal Enfield (FORE), and he would be off to the villages in need with the supplies and with Nepali members of his club.

Understanding of the culture and language of Nepal also played a huge role in their nimble response. According to the 2011 Nepalese Census, 123 languages are spoken in Nepal. Sherap speaks 9 of these, helping him to communicate quickly with those in need. Additionally, knowledge of the complex caste system in Nepal helped Sherap and his friends identify priority towns, know with whom to speak within communities, and identify those who may be voiceless. For example, when Ang learned from his local connections that a delivery of rice had been given to a household that already had significant stockpiles, he had the rice recalled and given to a household that had none. Most agencies may have just walked away, checking the household off their distribution list off, but here, local insight directed this limited resource most appropriately.

Continuing On

Both men are still working on projects in affected areas. Sherap and his motorcycle club are working to rebuild a health center in Dubachour. The previous health center was devastated in the earthquake, and after speaking with the locals, it was clear that they wanted a primary care center. They already had the land and an agreement signed with the Ministry of Health, however due to the current political crisis and boarder blockade from India, his team cannot get supplies across the boarder to build the center. Sherap also plans to work with an international relief effort to bring in engineers from Macau and rebuild 27 homes in Thalo village of Sindupalchok.

Ang too is hindered by the current political crisis. He is working in Sindhupalchok to rebuild a school and has all of the materials ready, but due to the fuel blockade, he cannot yet transport the materials.

Both men were motivated by a great need to help their fellow countrymen: “I couldn’t stand seeing people suffering, I tell you…I am not religious, [but] for me, religion is helping people [laughs]. At the end of the day, it gives me good sleep,” says Ang. For Sherap, he feels that if we don’t help, no one else will. He feels the government is practically hopeless in Nepal. “We have to help, because these our people, they belong to our country…if we don’t help them, who will?”

Lessons Learned

IMG_1437

Local knowledge, generosity, local language and culture, and deep-seated compassion are priceless in any situation, and particularly during disasters. Ang, Sherap, and Jiban were able to spring into action the moment the earthquake hit using their connections and knowledge to understand where the most affected areas were and what was needed. They mobilized resources from clients and partners around the world to effectively and efficiently deliver aid to those most in need.

As a final word of caution for the next disaster, Jiban states: “We have to have basic supplies ready to move first [during an emergency]. You guys should collect money rather sending unusable stuffs. I found [that overall from everything I saw come in], 35% of relief goods coming from USA could not be used. [It seemed that] some people were just clearing out their garage.”

 

 

Acknowledgements

P4N and emBOLDen Alliances’ Nepal response.Emily Lawrence, Ang Tshering Lama, Sherap Sherpa, Jiban Ghimire, Liesl Clark, Julie Hull, Jake Norton, Bill, Rohs, Matt Murray, Patti Bonnet, Neena Jain, and ALL of the scores of individuals who contributed.

Photo credits: Person2Person4Nepal, emBOLDen Alliances, Sherap Sherpa

17 International Development Terms And Their Use Trends Over The Last 70 Years

International Development Terminology

While doing research for an upcoming course, I found myself captivated by a tool developed by Google to analyze search trends called, you guessed it “Google Trends“. The way it works is that you enter a keyword like “community development” and it will generate a chart displaying search volume over time. The problem with Google Trends however is that the it only goes back 2004 and this doesn’t do you much good if you want to better understand the use of terms used in the field of international community development, the modern conception of which has its origins just after the end of WWII. I was aware of Google’s ambitious project to scan all the books in the world, a project which has currently scanned about 25 million titles or 19% of the known books! So I was curious if they had developed a “trends” for Google Books.  Low-and-behold they have and it’s called the “Google Books Ngram Viewer” and let me say – it is amazing – allowing you to search the use of phrases in books printed between 1500 and 2008! So I decided to search for some common terms in international development.

Now, a brief disclaimer. This is by no means is this a scientific analysis. For one, it’s still very incomplete (only 19% of known books) and there’s really no way of knowing Google’s selection criteria or where the gaps exist. Second, there’s no real way to filter only for books related to international development, so if a term is used in another subject area than those results will appear as well. I tried to get around this by using terms that (to the best of my knowledge) are only or mostly used in international development related fields.

So, onto the results.

I was first curious about when authors started writing about poverty in other countries. The reason I was curious is because some prominent development authors like Arturo Escobar, Jeffry Sachs, and Majid Rahnema argue that the “problem” of global poverty was not a concern for western countries until after WWII. After this time, the thinking started to shift to an understanding that the prosperity and stability of the rich countries was linked to the overall prosperity and stability of the world.  This along with a general fear of Soviet/communist expansion and poor countries was fertile ground for communist thinking to take root. The data from Ngram viewer supports this assertion where prior to 1940 there was virtually no reference to “poor countries” and even less use of terms like “global poverty”, “world poverty”, “poverty around the world”, etc. But as you can see in the chart below, the use of this term skyrocketed around 1950, just as Escobar, Sachs and Rahnema argue.

The concern for “poor countries” would appear to wane in between 1990 and 2000 but a more likely explanation is that the terminology shifted. Shortly after the “discovery” of global poverty around the 1950s came new classifications for countries that would become the objects of this new discourse. These classifications were born out of wider discourses about the underlying pathology behind “poverty” as well as a ready-made cure which for the west could be summarized as “more capitalism”.

Through the Ngram viewer we can see the rise of the the two dominant and competing theories in the development discourse; modernization theory and dependency theory. The focus of Modernization is on particular countries and assessing which stage they’re in. Modernization is where the terminology of First World, Second World, and Third World comes from. First World being the free-market industrialized countries, the Third World being the so-called non-industrialized or developing countries, and the Second World are the lesser Industrialized Communist Countries. The strategy for modernization is to help countries progress to the stages of growth. The primary measure of this growth was GDP (Gross Domestic Product – the value of all goods and services generated within a particular country).

By the 1960’s another theory of Development started to gain traction, not necessarily among U.S. and European Policy makers but rather, among an emerging group of Third World scholars. It was called Dependency Theory and had its roots in nationalist thinking in India from the turn of the century. It gained traction as the promise of Modernization seemed less and less achievable, and as many in the Third World began to realize that this so-called “aid” from the rich countries came with a price. In many cases, the price was the loss of control over their economies and political systems.

Dependency Theory challenged the very premise of Modernization Theory arguing that the poverty in the south was NOT because their cultures were primitive and inherently non-scientific, or that their economic systems were backward but rather, these scholars argued that if you want to understand poverty in the south, you have to analyze their colonial and neo-colonial relationships with core countries. They argued that these relationships not only explain the great poverty in the south, but also the great wealth in the north. They argued that the rich countries got rich in the first place by exploiting the wealth and labor of poor countries … and that the new “development policies” and foreign investment were just a new form of colonization or “neo-colonialism.”

 

Much of development thinking after WWII was influenced by the broader thinking of the time which was dominated by scientific positivism and the promise of social engineering. In development this translated in the field into policies and practices drafted by so-called “experts” working in the newly air-conditioned offices far from the field. Localizing projects was formulaic based on data collected and analyzed by outside experts. There was very little room for local input in the planning of development projects. The dominant approach used to localize development projects was RRA or Rapid Rural Appraisal. However, the 1960’s and 1970’s brought-about broad-based and political upheavals – the war in Vietnam, the decay of “socially engineered” urban slums, the Civil Rights Movement, etc all contributed to a general questioning of long-held western superiority generally referred to as the rise of postmodernism. This general shift influenced developing thinking by forcing a reexamination of policies and practices. By the 1980’s and 1990’s the concept of participatory development became dominant approach – if not in practice, at least rhetorically. RRA was supplanted by PRA (Particpatory Rural and Action), where communities are involved in the data collection process which is being supplanted by (Participatory Learning and Action), where communities are doing their own data collection AND analysis.

This general trend towards greater local control over planning and action is also reflected in literature with the rise in the use of terms such as community-based development and community driven development.

In 1962, Rachel Carson wrote the book “Silent Spring,” which focused on pollution and pesticides in the United States and eventually lead to the banning of DDT.  Then, two pivotal events happened in 1973: the first pictures were sent back from the Apollo missions depicting the earth as a tiny blue dot floating in space, a single planet lacking geo-political boundaries, and the Oil Crisis, which planted the seeds for the modern environmental movement.

For the first time, many people started to think about the finite nature and abuses of the earth’s resources. Neither Modernization nor Dependency theorists really took the environmental issue seriously. In fact, in 1972, the United Nations Conference on the Human Environment held in Stockholm was the first real international conference that addressed these issues.  It did not, however, address the gross inequalities in consumption and pollution between industrialized and non-industrialized countries.  In April 1987, the Brundtland Commission, as it came to be known, published its groundbreaking report, “Our Common Future,” which introduced the concept of sustainable development into the public discourse. It defined sustainable development in terms of both protecting resources and ensuring equality in distribution.

“Sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”

“A world in which poverty and inequity are endemic will always be prone to ecological and other crises. … Sustainable development requires that societies meet human needs both by increasing productive potential and by ensuring equitable opportunities for all.”

According to the United Nations: “The wide-ranging recommendations made by the Commission led directly to the holding of the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development, which placed the issue squarely on the public agenda in a way it had never been before.  Meeting in Rio de Janeiro, in 1992, the “Earth Summit”, as it came to be known, adopted its “Agenda 21”, a blueprint for the protection of our planet and its sustainable development.

Today, there are nearly 370 million people classified as Indigenous Peoples. While there’s no universally accepted definition, indigenous people are generally defined as ethnic groups that have historical ties to groups that existed in a territory prior to colonization or formation of a nation state. They also have generally preserved a degree of cultural and political separation from the mainstream culture and political system of the nation state within the border of which the indigenous group is located. They exist today, and historically, as the poorest and most vulnerable sector of the global society.

In terms of development, indigenous peoples have traditionally been viewed as obstacles, or “in-the-way” of progress. They didn’t fit into Socialist or Capitalist notions of development, do not traditionally pay taxes because of their reliance on production for consumption vs. consumption for cash. Because of this, the primary project for Capitalist and Socialist States has been the destruction and/or assimilation of indigenous peoples.

While they have historically resisted colonization, the modern Indigenous Rights Movement has its origins in the 1970s, growing in parallel with the democracy movements around the globe. But also, later in the 1970s and 1980s, indigenous peoples became co-opted by the environmental movement, used as a symbol for the Noble Savage who doesn’t litter or who protects the Amazon rainforest. This partnership between environmentalists and indigenous people was often at odds, since Western environmentalists originally saw protection of the environment as separating humans from it, which is a practice that often further marginalizes indigenous peoples from the resources upon which they have historically relied.

Today the Indigenous Rights Movement has served as a model for a decentralized movement which has influenced the anti-globalization movement and more recently, the Arab Spring. It has been theorized as injecting new ideas into a global system that can’t be saved by Capitalism or Communism. Indigenous people have lived close to the earth and have developed unique social and economic systems that have endured since time-immemorial  Quite possibly they hold the answer, or at least part of it, for how human can live more sustainably and equitably.

What does viewing the use of common development terms teach us about international development? It’s hard to say, one thing for sure is that it provides us another window to understand its development and evolution. It makes clear that the West’s concern with global poverty exploded after WWII. It also reveals how connected it is with the broader shifts in thinking of a particular era vs. evolving gradually based on lessons learned in the field. Hopefully it also puts into perspective that discourses, such as the one surrounding international development are born, change and even disappear – where is the discourse on international development headed? If you’re interested where Village Earth feels we’re headed, click here.

If you’re interested in the ideas and concepts discussed in this article please check out our Online Certificate in Sustainable Community Development at Colorado State University, in particular the course Approaches to Community Development.

A Different Way of Thinking About Development, Praxis and Humanization

Sustainable Development Training

Sustainable Development Training

Around the world, wealth is measured in many ways. There is  a diversity of  definitions of what it means to be well-off, for example, the country of Bhutan has a measurement of Gross National  Happiness as opposed to the usual Gross Domestic Product as a measurement of how well a country is doing.  Development always entails looking at other worlds in terms of what they lack, and obstructs the wealth of indigenous alternatives. Instead of the never-ending concept of “development”, many of the indigenous movements of Latin America have adopted an Aymara concept called suma qamaña–living well, not better.

So then what is development when we at Village Earth use the phrase?  We see development as a process of humanization, a part of the decolonization process outlined by great thinkers like Fanon, Escobar, and Freire. It is not a paternalistic ‘we feel sorry for you’. And through a Community Praxis Model we practice “reflection and action upon the world in order to transform it”. Oftentimes, do-gooders are the elite in themselves defining development and it’s their dialogue.  So how do we encourage and promote the dialogue of local indigenous conceptions of development? Through community-based solutions and social movements.

If you would like to learn more about these concepts, please join us for upcoming courses such as Community Mobilization, Participatory Monitoring and Evaluation, and Participatory Water Resource Management. Now enrolling through July 26, 2016.

Village Earth’s Philosophy and Guiding Principles for Sustainable Community Development

Sustainable Community Development Training

Today, humanity faces numerous challenges that threaten our peaceful coexistence on this planet. As competition over the earth’s remaining resources increases, more and more people are pushed to the margins of survival while power and wealth is increasingly concentrated. Despite the over 2.3 trillion dollars spent on aid over the last five decades, the situation has only worsened for the majority of the world’s population as the gulf between the rich and the poor has consistently widened.

Traditionally, the dominant development institutions have defined the problem as “poverty” which they sought to fix through a system of international aid directed at the so-called “third-world” but managed and funded by the rich countries. However, this system has done very little to solve the problems faced by the majority of the world’s poor. Instead, it has largely served as a vehicle to advance the political and economic interests of donor countries. For recipient countries, it has often meant the loss of control over their natural and human resources, fueling an inherently unjust and unsustainable system where 20% percent of the global population consumes over 80% percent of the world’s resources. According to the United Nations, “Under a business-as-usual scenario, 2 planets would be required by 2030 to support the world’s population.” It is abundantly clear that a new model of development is needed.

Village Earth was founded on the belief that poverty is not the problem, rather, it is merely a symptom of the larger problem of individuals and communities becoming disconnected from the resources that contribute to human well-being. We believe that the real challenge that we face as a global community is how everyone can have access to the resources needed to live well without compromising the ability of others and future generations from doing the same. Defining the problem in this way refocuses it away from the so-called “third-world” and recognizes the international connections between the consumption of resources, inequality and poverty. To overcome this challenge, Village Earth believes that as a global community we must place greater emphasis on sustainable development and the sharing of power and resources with marginalized populations. But also, we believe these two strategies must be interconnected to be truly effective and that we cannot rely on those who benefit from current system to lead the way forward. Rather, marginalized communities must be empowered to lead the way.

Inspired by the concept that all humanity lives in a single global community or village, the Village Earth approach was designed as more holistic, just and equitable model of development that recognizes the right of ALL people to be active participants in that global community. The Approach works by “assisting disadvantaged individuals and groups gain greater control than they presently have over local and national decision-making and resources, and of their ability and right to define collective goals, make decisions and learn from experience” (Edwards & Hulme). In the spirit of Ghandi’s philosophy of swaraj, Village Earth is focused on enhancing the control and management that marginalized communities have over their resources. Doing so not only contributes to their well-being but also increases their capacity for self-determination. This is especially relevant for indigenous communities whose culture is often intimately intertwined with their environment and who define progress, oftentimes, very different from Western market-oriented societies.

The Village Earth approach is a bottom-up approach to community empowerment. Rather than carrying out projects directly, Village Earth serves a support structure that enables local grassroots organizations to realize their own strategies and solutions. Traditionally, INGO’s decided what projects they are going to do based on their funding and/or their expertise in a single sector. As a result, the supposed beneficiaries had very little say in the overall goals, reducing their participation to making minor modifications to predetermined strategies and objectives. The usual response by communities is one of passive compliance or “sure you can install that well, latrine, irrigation ditch, etc. but we’re not going to put much effort into helping because we have other, more pressing priorities.” When single-sector organizations do attempt to facilitate general community analysis and planning prior to initiating projects, communities often feel steered in the direction of the organizations priorities or expertise.

The Village Earth approach overcomes this dilemma by supporting local intermediate organization whose sole function is to facilitate community dialogue and planning in an open and non-directive way, honoring the intelligence and creativity of the community members. Once the community or group has developed its own strategies and solutions, the support organization helps to connect them with the resources and expertise that help make it happen. In this way, the community gets the resources it needs, when it needs it. This approach also creates greater efficiency for outside resource institutions and single-sector organizations by creating community-driven demand for their resources vs. those resources being pushed upon disinterested communities.

If you’re interested in learning more about the Village Earth approach we encourage you to participate in our online certificate program in Sustainable Community Development offered in partnership with Colorado State University.

Concept Mapping as a Tool for Assessing Community Readiness & Mobilization

Several years ago Village Earth was invited to facilitate a participatory strategic planning with a community in South America. The organization that invited us, while not community-based, had developed a partnership with the community but needed some assistance to develop a comprehensive community plan. It was agreed that they would mobilize the community for the planning event and make all preparations so when we arrived we could jump right into the planning process. When facilitating a planning like this we generally like to start with a participatory community-mapping exercise so we can learn about how they define community, geographical layout, resources and social groupings. During this process, it became apparent that the attendees of this event only represented one major family within the community and we all (attendees included) recognized that developing a strategic plan for the community would not be possible unless we had representatives from all the various families within that community. Unfortunately, we had to put-off our goal to create a community plan and instead we decided to focus our time on building relationships within the community that could be leveraged when we returned a few months later to facilitate a planning where representatives from the entire community attended.

The example above illustrates a rather common problem for community workers, in our case, it was trusting that the community had already been sufficiently mobilized prior to our planning event and we failed by not sufficiently assessing the community’s readiness prior to facilitating the event. This is not only wasteful in terms of people’s time and money, it can also exacerbate pre-existing tensions within a community by reinforcing existing power dynamics (if say we continued with the planning process with just one powerful sector of the community) and make it harder to forge relationships with other sectors of the community. By even proceeding with one day of planning we had heightened suspicions and skepticism about our motives within the community – something we had to spend the rest of our time working to repair.

As a result of this experience (and others) I have become much more cautious when partnering with third-party organizations and with communities and have developed some very unobtrusive methods to assess community readiness. When I say readiness I’m generally referring to the willingness and ability of people and groups within a community to engage in practices of collective action. For example, for the various social/family groups within a community or neighborhood to come together, talk about issues and develop a plan, for farmers to come together and address a water shortage problem, or for artisans to come together and assess the viability of forming a cooperative.

There are numerous issues that can compromise the readiness of a communities. These include but are not limited to:

  • The level of factionalization. Are people generally willing to work together or is the community divided into factions that keep to themselves or worse yet – are constantly battling over power and resources?
  • The distribution of power. Are resources, power and decision-making within a community generally shared or is it monopolized by a few individuals, groups or families?
  • The level of inclusiveness. Do the different sectors of the community (genders, age groups, ethnic groups, castes, income levels, etc) communicate and share power and resources or is it dominated by one or a few sectors?
  • Openness of macro-level structures. Are the macro-level structures like local, regional, national governments threatened by community-level mobilization efforts? Do people feel safe organizing for collective action?
  • People’s sense of individual and collective efficacy. Do people generally feel that they can contribute to an effort and that they can accomplish anything by working together?
  • The level of concern people share around an issue or cluster of issues. Are people within a community concerned about an issue or issues enough to contribute their time, money and resources towards address it?

Readiness and community mobilization

Unfortunately, there’s no rubric to follow that will tell you when a community is ready and when it’s not. Determining this should really be part of a discussion that takes place among the various stakeholders you’re working with (e.g. community members, other NGOs, funders, etc). The goal of assessing readiness is to get an idea of what it will take to mobilize that community for collective action and whether you have the time and resources to take-on that effort. Community mobilization is the process and approach you take to manage the various tensions described above in order to move forward to address community identified issues. For example, you may find that women in a particular culture are more likely to participate if they have their own planning event rather than in one combined with men. Or possibly, you need to host separate planning events for each neighborhood and nominate representatives from each neighborhood to work together.

Another goal of assessing readiness is to understand how how best to frame your entrée into the community. For example, are you there as a neutral organization or on behalf of another organization, government agency, an individual, family etc.? Even though your relationship to a third-party may not obstruct your willingness or ability to work with all sectors of the community, you may find people in the community have a false impression that you are working on behalf of or strictly for their interests. And by all means, if you do have allegiances to particular entities or limits on your autonomy, you should be open and clear about that. On the other hand, your affiliation with a well-respected third-party might in fact enhance our ability to build trust and form relationships.

Assessing community readiness with concepts maps 

Concept mapping (also known as mind-mapping) is nonlinear and dynamic process for organizing and linking a vast array ideas, concepts and things. They’re ideal for recording and revealing relationships between things in a constructivist manner – where meaning emerges from real life experiences, observations, dialogue and reflection. Computer-based concept mapping software such as the free cloud-based “Mindmup” and the free open source “Freemind” are extremely powerful because they make it possible to easily move things around, build and rearrange connections between things as they emerge.

Concept_Map

Very basic concept map created using Mindmup

 

Assessing community readiness through concept mapping can be something done by an individual or a team, relatively unobtrusively and without raising expectations or controversy within a community. It’s ideally done through participant observation along with informal semi-structured interviews with people from as many different sectors of the community as possible. The goal is to engage in natural conversations with people about the community, how people relate to one another, how the community is organized, its borders relative to neighboring communities, its resources, issues that people are facing, their dreams for the future, etc. This process is different from a survey because it’s open and can take on any form or direction that people want it to. It does however require that the person asking questions can free himself or herself from preconceived notions about the community and avoid asking leading questions. Interviews can take place in a snowball manner where, for example, someone mentions that she heard the farmers were worried about the availability of water. You would then ask that person “do you know someone who would know more about that who I could talk to” and then talk to them to learn more about that issue. During interviews it may be helpful to keep notes but sometimes this can destroy the natural flow of the conversation and make people nervous. This is why it may be a good idea to take notes in private immediately after you had a conversation or observed something of interest in the community – just to make it easier to recall later. Concept mapping enters into this process at the end of each day or after each encounter where you can sit-down, record and organize ideas. A team can work together on concept mapping by sharing and adding their notes to a shared concept map and then building consensus around how different aspects of the map are related. It’s important to keep in mind that a concept map is a tool to help you and your team to organize its thoughts and not something that is meant to be published or shared. You should always keep people’s confidentiality and safety in mind whenever taking notes or recording information in a concept map lest if fall into the wrong hands.

Features of a community readiness concept map

Some items that you might include in your concept map used to assess community readiness might include a list of important community leaders, a list of formal and informal community organizations, a list of issues brought up by people. You can then connect leaders and organizations to issues. You could different social groups and what issues each group struggles with. You can even tease apart the issues and link them to other issues that people mention like lack of water availability experienced by farmers linked to over-exploitation of watershed vegetation for fuel-wood. The concept map should link people, issues, organizations, concepts etc. in a way that makes sense to local people. You’ll know you’re map is complete when start to hear the same things over over again and you no longer feel the need to add/remove or rearrange things on the map. Even better, you’ll know you’re map is complete when you can confidently talk about the issues, people and organizations with a local without them constantly correcting you. More importantly, by the end of the concept mapping process, you should have a clearer idea of how to proceed with the community or possibly, if you should proceed at all. This sort of pragmatic thinking can be used to guide who you talk to and what questions you ask.

To learn more about topics discussed in this article check out the following courses in Village Earth’s online certificate program in Sustainable Community Development: Community Mobilization & Participatory Monitoring and Evaluation.

Traditional Communities Hold Keys to Building Resilience to Climate Change

Traditional communities hold keys to building resilience to climate change

2015 was the 3rd hottest year on record, and 2016 promises to keep up with this hot trend. On April 22nd, 175 parties (175 countries and the European Union) signed the Paris Agreement. IPCC’s Fifth Assessment Report (2013) notes that the “warming of the climate system is unequivocal, and since the 1950s, many of the observed changes are unprecedented over decades to millennia. The atmosphere and ocean have warmed, the amounts of snow and ice have diminished, sea level has risen, and the concentrations of greenhouse gases have increased”.

Climate change is real. Climate change will certainly impact our everyday life, if it already isn’t doing it. While in big cities and developed countries we have the tools, mechanisms and funds to combat climate change effects to some extent, less developed countries and remote communities are hit harder. How will they cope with climate change impacts? How can they become more resilient?

Many traditional communities around the globe still have a powerful tool that is being recognized, to some extent, as a main ingredient in creating climate change resilience: traditional knowledge. It is a key part of the solution to addressing climate change impacts and traditional and indigenous communities are now recognized as key partners in seeking solutions to a global problem. Including traditional knowledge in projects that focus on building climate change resilience means also building sustainability of our environment and communities.

Traditional communities have always planned their lives according to changes in weather patterns and their environment. Fishing, fruit picking, hunting of certain animals, planting – all are well timed according to the local climate and weather. Because of this, traditional communities were among the first to notice changes in weather patterns. They were also the first affected by these changes.

Because of their flexibility, some communities are already increasing their resilience by changing their planting or hunting schedules, looking for technologies (accessing underground water where water became scarce), diversifying their crops, changing supply storage methods or even moving to a different area.

Two important notions in studying resilience are vulnerability and adaptive capacity.

Vulnerability is the degree to which a system is susceptible to, or unable to cope with, adverse effects of climate change, including climate variability and extremes. Vulnerability is a function of the character, magnitude, and rate of climate change and variation to which a system is exposed, its sensitivity and its adaptive capacity (IPCC).

Adaptive capacity is the ability of a system to adjust to climate change (including climate variability and extremes) to moderate potential damages, to take advantage of opportunities, or to cope with the consequences (IPCC)

These communities and their environment are vulnerable to climate change impacts. The Building Climate Change Resilient Communities course looks at how to determine the adaptive capacity of a community and their environment to cope with climate change impacts. It is very important to understand that all things are connected: climate change resilience means also building sustainability of our environment and communities.

 

Learning to Create Resilient Communities

All of Village Earth’s Sustainable Community Development Certificate courses ultimately focus on building resilient communities.  We often hear of climate change resilience, and we have a whole class that focuses on Building Climate Change Resilient Communities, but what does it mean beyond the all-encompassing threat of climate change?

Resilience can be generally defined as the capacity for a community to absorb stresses and maintain function in the face of external stresses imposed upon it and adapt, reorganize, and evolve into more desirable configurations that improve the sustainability of the system, leaving it better prepared for future impacts.  Through our various courses we address ways that we as community members and outside allies/external activators can help communities become more resilient.  For example, community mapping can be an important tool to both visualize external stresses and evolve their way of thinking spatially.  Dispute Resolution is another important tool to mitigate conflicts and learn to adapt through conflict resolution methods.  And learning about different approaches to community development gives us a theoretical understanding of how things came to be as well as practical tools we can use in our work.

To learn more, check out our Sustainable Community Development Certificate courses now enrolling through June 7.

The Economic Logic of Resource-Scarce Communities: A Guide for Western Community Workers

Social Safety Net

For western community workers (whether they be expatriates from a western country, locals raised in relatively affluent western educated families or settlers on colonized lands) the economic logic of resource-scarce communities can seem confusing, irrational and even counter to their own best interests.

If this profile fits you, you’ve probably asked yourself:

  • Why do people seem so unwilling to save a little bit of money or contribute to the operation and maintenance of a well, pump or irrigation scheme?
  • Why do people seem hesitant to improve their situation?
  • And of course; Why does the community seem be causing problems for this person or family now that they are achieving some success?

In this post I will attempt to provide some answers to these questions and in the process, explain some of the logic of resource-scarce communities. To do this I will draw on concepts from the field of substantivist economics and economic anthropology but I will also do my best to ground these concepts in examples from my own experience working in resource-scarce and indigenous communities around the world. My hope is that readers will take away with them a more nuanced understanding of and respect for culturally embedded economic systems.

To begin this discussion I would like to define what I mean by “resource scarce-communities”. When I use this term I am generally referring to communities that do not have access to the resources and institutions available in the wealthier advanced capitalist states say in North America and Europe. I am purposely trying to avoid using terms that directly or indirectly cast judgement by using a word such as “poor” or “developing” because I don’t want to imply that moving in the direction of an advanced capitalist economy is by any means the “correct” path and certainly not the sustainable path. In many ways these communities demonstrate some of the most efficient and sustainable use of resources anywhere on the globe (a phenomena related to what will be discussed in this article). Furthermore, while often cash-poor, that does not necessarily mean they are poor in natural resources just that instead of producing for the market a larger percentage of production is for direct consumption or exchange. Furthermore, compared to their economically “richer” neighbors, these communities often demonstrate much greater social equality and may even rank higher in many standards of human well being. However, I should also point out that many communities that fit this category are not doing well, struggling against one form or another of social or economic exclusion. In fact, it has been argued that such communities, rather than being anomalies in an increasingly global capitalist system, are in fact promoted by capitalists because they offer the “lowest possible wage” (Wallerstein 1995) and the exploitation of “producers who work without wages” (Werholf 1984). 

Social Safety Nets

 

Social Safety Nets

To begin understanding the economic logic of resource scarce communities we need to first understand how people in resource-scarce communities manage risk. Everyone, regardless of where they live is exposed to varying levels of risk whether it be a broken leg, an automobile accident, sickness, losing a job, failure of a crop, fire, flood or any countless ways our livelihood can be adversely affected. In wealthier countries, there exist various institutions (public, private and nonprofit) that help us reduce risk including health and life insurance, national welfare and food-stamp programs, unemployment insurance, home insurance, flood insurance, fire insurance, savings accounts, pawn shops, even credit cards and your AAA membership can be seen as tools to manage risk. Nonprofit institutions such as food pantries, soup kitchens, and shelters, housing and job training and placement programs also help us reduce risk by ensuring that people have the necessities for survival and can even help us get back on our feet. Along with institutional safety nets, there are also informal channels where the community steps-in and helps people  in times of need by giving or lending money, food, clothes, shelter from friends and family or possibly by giving us a job or referral.

Combined these institutional and communal responses make up the social safety net. As you might expect, social safety nets vary from country to country and community to community. As described above, they can be grouped into two broad categories; institutional safety nets and communal safety nets, defined below.

Institutional safety nets are social programs run by local and national government bureaucracies including social welfare (guaranteed income), food distribution, subsidized housing, health insurance, etc. But it also includes non-governmental actors such as church programs or non-governmental organizations, local food banks and shelters.

Communal safety nets are informal or culturally mediated responses to a crisis that occurs within communities, families, and between individuals and friends. Communal safety net responses might include giving or lending money/ food/ shelter/ land/ livestock/ childcare/ etc.

Both of these types of safety nets exist more or less simultaneously. As one might expect, the less developed a country’s institutional safety net, the more its citizens must rely on their communal safety net. In fact, according to the World Bank less than ⅓ of the world’s poor have access to some sort of institutional safety net. And on the other end of the spectrum, the more developed a country’s institutional safety net, the less its citizens must rely on communal responses and so they have a tendency to atrophy over time (read Robert Putnam’s “Bowling Alone” for a good discussion on this trend). And because of this, we in western countries have little appreciation for or understanding of communal safety nets.

 

Leveling Mechanisms

Leveling mechanisms are socio-cultural institutions and norms (a standard or pattern of social behavior that is typical or expected of a group) that function to distribute scarce resources among members of a community. Just like social safety nets, these mechanisms exist in both western industrialized economies as well as mixed and subsistence-level communities. Again, the primary difference is that in advanced capitalist economies, these mechanisms tend to be more integrated into the institutions of the state where in subsistence-level communities they tend to be more ritualized or normative. An example of a leveling mechanisms can be cultural or ritualized obligations such as the potlatch, a gift giving feast common among tribes in the Northwest North America or among the Shipibo people in Peru’s Amazon basin who would traditionally host feasts for the entire community whenever a large Paiche fish was caught.

In the India sub-continent there is a long tradition of community work days known as Shramadana. Organizations like the Sarvodaya Shramadana movement in Sri Lanka have incorporated this as a sort of philosophical foundation of their work.

 

 

On the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota Lakota families and communities will host elaborate pow-wows, memorials and other gatherings where they give away hundreds and even thousands of dollars worth of new blankets, home and kitchen wares, etc. to anyone in attendance. The entire family is expected to help out either with time and/or money. Plus, they not only feed everyone at these public events, it’s also perfectly acceptable for attendees to bring tupperware to take food home to family members who couldn’t attend. Anthropologists refer to this as generalized reciprocity – which is a general community norm of giving without the expectation of direct return.

A "giveaway" is a type of Generalized Reciprocity

A giveaway on the Pine Ridge Reservation. The items in the picture are distributed to anyone who attends.

 

Leveling mechanisms can also be more normative, where there are a community expectations that those with more wealth are expected to share, this could be by hosting a feast or party, or paying for work done on the community well, or sharing extra food with their neighbor, or buying commodities from others in the community (even if they don’t necessarily need them).

 

A person I have worked with for many years on the Pine Ridge Reservation rarely turns down beadwork or other items when people approach him on the street. Once I asked him why he bought it when I knew he had plenty already and he said “I’m doing well right now and he probably needs the cash right now more than I do.” he probably also knows that if he ever gets in a tight spot and needed cash he could turn around and sell those items to someone else.

 

Leveling mechanisms are especially important in mixed economies where a greater percentage of exchanges are non-market (non-cash based). In such communities there is often a scarcity of cash yet there are certain vital commodities and services that require cash like gasoline, bus tickets, medicines, fertilizers & pesticides, motorcycle parts, radios, Coca-Cola, TVs, etc. The fact is, modern amenities are largely cash-based and the increasing desire for these things creates a greater demand for cash. When cash is scarce in a community, leveling mechanisms and norms can help spread out the available cash preventing it from being hoarded by any one person or business.

Alternative currencies are a powerful tool in cash-scarce communities that make it possible for people to convert their surplus labor into a relatively durable and exchangeable commodity. In the example above, my friend knew the person selling the beadwork needed the cash more than he did so he exchanged it for the beadwork – not for his own selfish need but for the benefit of the other person. In this case, the beadwork served as a form of alternative currency on the Reservation. Commodities like this can then be exchange for cash from the people who possess a surplus of it. On Pine Ridge, everyone knows the value of these alternative currencies and virtually everyone participates in this important informal economy because they too one day may be in a similar predicament and need to rely on others. By helping others out when you can you strengthen your status and reputation in the community. Another way to think about status and reputation is as a form of “social capital” which is a form of wealth that is interchangeable with economic capital. For example, by helping people in the community, it is possible to bank-away social capital to be expended at a later time, either in a time of crisis, lack of cash, or to buy influence in the community.

 

Managing Free Riders

Here’s where things get particularly interesting. For both safety nets and leveling mechanisms to function there has to be a way to mitigate the problem of free riders. Free riders are actors who derive benefits from a common property resource, in this case the safety net and the leveling mechanisms are the common property resources, without giving their fair share in return. With institutional safety nets, the problem is ensuring that everyone pays a fair share of the taxes and does not draw on benefits unless they truly meet the pre-defined criteria and enforcement is usually handled by the State social workers or tax collection agencies. For communal safety nets, the problem is ensuring that each person helps others when in need and draws benefits more or less to the same extent as other members of the community.

 

A few years back while working on a community project in Peru’s Amazon basin, we were invited to be part of a minga (a community work day) where a large part of the community came-out to help rebuild the thatched home for one of the community members. The otherwise labor intensive project took no time at all and at at zero cash expense with 10-20 men doing the labor and the women cooking and making chicha to keep the group happy and hydrated. We figured out later that our wise host used the event as an opportunity for the community to get to know us and dispel some of the rumors swirling around the community about the strange gringos in the community.

Community "minga" - Amazon Basin Peru

Community “minga” – Amazon Basin Peru

●     But how does a community enforce this normative expectation so the problem of free riders doesn’t compromise people’s faith in the community and their own willingness to help others?

●     What would happen if someone didn’t participate in the minga?

Well, I’m certain missing one minga wouldn’t dramatically affect your status and reputation in the community but missing multiple ones without an excuse might. And when it came time for you to rebuild your house, you might find it pretty difficult to get anyone to help.

 

As you might imagine these normative incentives and pressures can be a powerful mechanism of social control within resource-scarce communities. This is also how these mechanisms protect against the over-exploitation of natural resources. While there is a lot to be gained by maintaining a positive balance of social capital, there are also numerous ways these systems can restrict behavior – behaviors that a western community worker might feel are positive or necessary. For example, micro-entrepreneurs might find it difficult to save sufficient capital to start or grow a business because they’re torn between saving cash or maintaining their good standing in the community. Those who do find some success without sharing the wealth can expect a negative lash-back from the community in form of dirty looks, slanderous rumors, a strained ability to engage in social or economic transactions, unwillingness of community to allow you access to communally managed resources like land, water, hunting rights, etc. or in the worst case even outright attacks on your person and property.

 

 

When I started working on the Pine Ridge Reservation as a graduate student in Anthropology, one of the first assignments my academic advisor gave me was to review and code transcripts of interviews with recipients of a newly established microfinance program. One of the most common observations I made was the frequency with which people would describe the challenge of dealing with the expectations that friends and family had for money, products, or discounts after they started to get their business off the ground. This created a lot of pressure for people because they feared getting labeled as “stingy” or more serious forms of ostracism. This is not surprising since one of the foundations Lakota culture is generosity or in the Lakota language Wacantognaka – one of the four sacred virtues. Many of those same participants stated how they felt Lakota culture was incompatible with capitalism. Possibly it is greed with which Lakota culture is incompatible? If you think about it, In western culture, there are very few normative limits on the accumulation of wealth and the expectation for sharing wealth rarely extends beyond the immediate family. For the Lakota, the expectation to share wealth extends to the entire community but especially to one’s extended family known as the Tiospaye and most certainly to your Tiwahe (immediate family).

 

The video clips below captured by Village Earth show residents of the Reservation describing these normative pressures.

 

 

Principles for Understanding the Economics of Resource-Poor Communities

So, with all this in mind, let’s return to our opening questions.

Why do people seem hesitant towards improving their situation relative to others?

If you’ve been frustrated by what you can only interpret as a “lack of motivation or drive for success” then maybe you should consider more carefully the pressures that “success” creates for people in communities with high normative expectations for sharing and steep penalties for “free riders”. This might seem harsh or even “backwards” until you consider the extreme risk that people are exposed to in these communities. Their family and community might be their only assurance that they will not one-day fall into dire poverty and will be cared for into old age. Your project may be here for a few years but they will have to contend with their community for the rest of their lives. Placing too much emphasis on improving the situation for individuals or isolated families may be too narrowly focused and contain an inherent western bias. Notwithstanding, we should engage in a dialogue with communities to explore what degree the community safety net is a response to the failures, absence of, or exclusion from institutional safety nets and whether our energy would be better focused on making these institutions more comprehensive and/or inclusive.

Why does the community seem be causing problems for this person or family now that they are achieving some success?

A metaphor that is commonly used to describe this situation common in resource-scarce communities is “the bucket of crabs” which refers to when crabs are in a bucket and one tries to climb out the others immediately climb on its back trying to get out as well making them all fall back into the bucket. However, I would argue that this metaphor is only focused on the negative side of this. I would argue what is happening here is that this negative community response, while seemingly irrational and spiteful, is actually a very rational communal response to mitigate the problem of free riders and to ensure that limited resources are spread out. We have the same mechanisms in the west they just seem more rational because they are built into our judicial and tax system and not by community members taking things into their own hands. Discussing this openly in communities may help everyone understand the social and economic utility of these pressures and allow them to possibly create more constructive responses. Part of that discussion should explore the relationship between these responses and macro-level institutions. For example, the imposition of western state-level structures (e.g. laws, land tenure systems, political organization, etc) on indigenous cultures around the world did not simply replace what was there before, but instead, they created overlapping systems, one enforced by the institutions of the State and one enforced by cultural institutions and norms. As you might expect, this overlapping of cultural and western institutions can create a lot of tensions. For example, a person wanting to use some land to raise livestock or build a house, according to cultural norms that person might be required to ask permission from an elder. However, say another person who wants to use that same land might undermine that decision by gaining approval from the State. The responses to such cultural transgressions can be swift and brutal and can tear apart the seams of a community. An open discussion about these tensions should be approached with care but if successful, could be the start of a journey towards reconciliation and the forging of solutions.

Why do people seem so unwilling to save a little bit of money or contribute to the operation and maintenance of a well/pump/ or irrigation scheme?

As we discussed above, in resource poor communities it is common for there to be a scarcity of cash. In such situations, it makes little sense to hoard cash away when there exist other options such as saving an alternative currency that can be exchanged at a later time for cash OR simply relying on the community’s existing social safety net which is likely experienced in raising cash in a short period of time for things that have a high priority. If the community is unwilling to raise funds for the repair of a pump or tractor, it probably means they have more pressing needs for that cash. A clear reason why community workers must prevent themselves from imposing their own analysis and priorities on communities.

What steps can we take to design programs and policies that support and build upon these vital community systems?

  1. Seek to understand how the social safety net and leveling mechanisms work in the community you are working in. Ask questions like:
    1. What would happen if someone broke their leg or if someone’s crop failed – how would they make ends meet?
    2. What the responsibilities do people have to care for their immediate family, extended family, band/tribe/clan, neighborhood, community?
    3. What happens if people don’t meet that responsibility?
    4. How are the elderly cared for?
    5. How do you know if someone is “poor” in this community?
    6. How do you know if someone is “wealthy” in this community?
    7. What happens when people are wealthy but they don’t help-out others?
  2. Seek to understand how your programs might positively or negatively affect a person’s standing in the community (social capital)?
    1. How can we design this program so that other people/families/communities don’t become jealous or resentful.
    2. If you are successful at starting this business/farm/etc, how do you think people in your family or community will react?
    3. How can we ensure that other people don’t become jealous or resentful of your participation in this project?
  3. If this pump/tractor/latrine needed a new part that cost $50, $200, or $500 how would you get that money?
    1. If you don’t think you need to save that money, are there other things we can make or collect that can be exchanged for cash in an emergency?
  4. Build dialogue around the historical interaction between the local safety net and state structures.
    1. When does conflict emerge and how might this be mitigated?
    2. What institutional safety-nets do you have access to and how might you be better served by them?
    3. What actions can we take to make these institutions more comprehensive and inclusive?
  5. Above all, instead of working against these important and deeply embedded cultural systems, find ways to make them an integral part of your strategy and programs.

 

For more on this topic check out the following online courses part of our Online Certificate Program in Sustainable Community Development: Community MobilizationMicro-finance & the Role of WomenSocial Entrepreneurship and Enterprise DevelopmentTechnology and Community Development, and Community Participation and Dispute Resolution.

5 Ways Mapping Can Help Empower Your Community and The Tools You Need to Do It.

If you’re a community leader, organizer or researcher it’s likely you’ve heard about the growing role that mapping is playing in community development, advocacy and research. It’s also likely that, while intrigued by the concept of community mapping, you don’t yet understand how mapping could be used in your particular issue or community context. But it’s likely that an even bigger barrier to community mapping is the belief that you need formal training in Geography or GIS to utilize mapping in your community initiatives. My goal in this post to begin demystify community mapping by showing you some of ways it can be used and some of the tools that can be used to do it.

5 ways community mapping can be used to help empower your community. 

  1. Defending territorial rights– It’s a common situation where communities/individuals have certain rights within a particular territory but have difficulty defending those rights or restrictions because they can’t prove if a violation is occurring within that particular territory. For example, indigenous Shipibo communities In Peru’s Amazon basin have territories that were assigned to them in the 1970s. Within those territories they have certain rights to regulate oil a gas extraction, logging, settlement development, etc. However, it’s one thing to point to a boundary on a map and another thing entirely to identify where that boundary exists on the ground. With simple low cost, consumer-grade GPS (or GPS smartphone apps) or even a compass, they can determine if a violation of their territory has occurred and have the evidence needed to alert local government officials. Other examples of territory defense include: indigenous mapping and counter-mapping.
    Peru Community Mapping Workshop

    Territory mapping workshop facilitated by Village Earth with Shipibo Communities in Peru.

  2. Revealing Socio-economic Disparities – Visualizing socio-economic disparities with maps can be a powerful tool for influencing the public, policy-makers, and donors. Socio-economic data such as the availability of low-income housing, areas under heavy gentrification pressure, crime and policing, domestic violence, exposures to pollution, traffic or transportation patterns, etc. can all be mapped and by doing so can reveal disparities experienced withing and between communities. In fact, any data that has associated geographic markers (coordinates, addresses, neighborhoods, census tracts, cities, counties, etc) can be used to populate associated geographies on a map – using various fee GIS software such as Quantum GIS and/or free online mapping tools such as Google Maps or QGIS Cloud.
    Map created by Village Earth using freely available data from the USDA to map the relationship between food insecurity and agriculture production.

    Map created by Village Earth using freely available data from the USDA to map the relationship between food insecurity and agriculture production.

  3. Individual / Community Planning – You no longer need to be a government agency to utilize mapping tools for community planning. In fact, empowering undeserved communities to do their own planning and mapping can be a powerful hedge against impositions from the top-down. On Native American Reservations across the United States, many Native American landowners possess land allotted to them during the General Allotment Act of 1887 but because of various exclusionary policies by the Federal Government, have not been able to utilize them for agriculture, housing, etc. Despite the fact that many Native landowners would like to live on and utilize their allotted lands there are numerous hurdles to doing so. One of the largest hurdles is the lack of information available about their land holdings. In an attempt to remedy this situation, Village Earth developed a map book and later an online mapping resource. The purpose of these tools is to take freely available (but difficult to find and compile) information and make it easily available to Native landowners. This information can be used to locate their original allotments scattered around the Reservation which is the first step required to consolidate them.
    AllotmentMapBig

    Online mapping tools like Village Earth’s “Pine Ridge Land Information System” can be set-up easily for low-cost and with little technical knowledge.

     

  4. Monitoring Lands – The proliferation of high-resolution satellite and aerial imagery through websites sites like Google Earth has made it possible for anyone with a computer (or smart phone) with an internet connection to monitor vast and remote tracts of land for such things as illegal logging, overgrazing, settlement expansion, deforestation, ocean health, expansion of urban slums – the possibilities are endless. Plus, few people realize that you can access nearly 30 years of historical images allowing for historical comparisons for this like forest loss, agriculture development, rates of urbanization etc. and you don’t need to be a GIS expert to access it.
    Village Earth developed a tutorial for how Native American Tribes can monitor their Reservation lands for overgrazing.

    Village Earth developed a tutorial for how Native American Tribes can monitor their Reservation lands for overgrazing. http://www.villageearth.org/pages/training/monitoring-tribal-lands-with-landsat

     

  5. Discovering and/or Revealing Spatial Relationships  – The proliferation of high-resolution satellite and aerial imagery has also made it possible to map previously unmapped geographies from your desktop computer or smart phone. For example the freely available Google Maps or Quantum GIS make it possible to map in high resolution “polygons” (e.g. the boundary of a forest or farm), “lines” (e.g. roads, rivers, trails) and “points” (e.g. housing units, well locations, latrines, car crashes, police incidences). These things can be mapped as a layer directly on top of an aerial in Google Maps or Quantum GIS or on site using a smart phone. Once these things are mapped, QGIS or even MS Excel can analyze this data against other data sets. For example, you could perform the following queries; What is the average distance of wells from households?, What is the average number of grocery stores per mile on Native American Reservations vs. non native communities?, or What is the average number incidences of police use of force in majority black communities vs. majority white communities.

Map developed by Village Earth using Quantum GIS combining freely available USDA food security data and agriculture census data.

 

To get started with community mapping it’s a good idea to clarify the question you are trying to answer OR the message you are trying to convey.

Types of questions that can be answered through mapping:

  • How much territory are we losing each year?
  • How do we know if our lands are being degraded?
  • Does where you live determine the quality of policing, food, water, transportation you have access to?

Types of messages that can be conveyed through mapping:

  • This is how much forest we’ve lost over the last 5-10-20 years
  • These are our ancestral lands that have been stolen
  • This is how much tiger habitat has been lost to deforestation
  • This is the decrease in areas of low-income housing over the last 10 years.

If you would like to learn more about community mapping including the different applications, tools, ethics, and methods check out Village Earth’s online Community-Based Mapping training which is part of our online Certificate Program in Sustainable Community Development.

Hard and Soft Appropriate Technologies and the Technology Generation Process

Community well project - Amazon Basin, Peru

Community well project – Amazon Basin, Peru

Appropriate Technology (AT) is a way of thinking about the choices and the applications of technology to solve a problem or to create something, such as a structure, a machine, an instrument or a system.

Appropriate technology “involves a search for technologies that have beneficial effects on income distribution, human development, environmental quality, and the distribution of political power—as well as productivity—in the context of particular communities and nations”. — Darrow and Saxenian

According to Jequier (1976) Appropriate Technology “represents what one might call the social and cultural dimension of innovation.” The idea here is that the value of a new technology lies not only in its economic viability and its technical soundness, but also in its adaptation to the local and cultural environment. Assessing the appropriateness of a technology necessarily implies some sort of value judgment both on the part of those who develop it and those who will be using it, and when ideological considerations come into play, as they often do, appropriateness is at best a fluctuating concept.

Faulkner and Village Earth founder Maurice Albertson (1985) defined technology as “knowledge, skills, organization and machinery related to the production of goods and service.” Then they define appropriate technology as: “the skills, knowledge and procedures for making, using and doing useful things, while making optimum use of human, natural, and person-made resources in the village—with ‘optimum’ determined on a village-specific basis by the villagers themselves”.

They further break down AT into appropriate hard technology and appropriate soft technology with the following definitions:

  • Appropriate hard technology is “engineering techniques, physical structures, and machinery that meet a need defined by the village, and utilize the material at hand or readily available. It can be built, operated and maintained by the local people with very limited outside assistance (e.g., technical, material, or financial). it is usually related to an economic goal.”
  • Appropriate soft technology deals with “the social structures, human interactive processes, and motivation techniques. It is the structure and process for social participation and action by individuals and groups in analyzing situations, making choices and engaging in choice-implementing behaviors that bring about change.”

Taking each of these concepts, ideas, and arguments into consideration, we provide the following definition of Appropriate Technology

Appropriate Technology is the appropriate use of knowledge, skills, organization and machinery for the production of goods and services that are desired by those people being served. These goods and services are provided in a way that is compatible with nature and the environment, uses only renewable resources (including energy resources), benefits people equally and to the maximum extent possible, and is based on an economic system where the service motive is combined equally with the profit motive.

This definition of AT is speaking in generalities. Therefore, the following is presented to expand on these generalities:

1.   Compatibility with nature and the environment includes:

  • The physical environment
  • The biological environment
  • The social and cultural environment
  • The political environment
  • The atmospheric and space environment
  • The earth environment
  • The auditory, olfactory, and visual environment

2.     Utilization of renewable resources, in order to develop a harmonious and sustainable relationship with nature and the environment, includes:

  • Renewable energy resources to help find a way out of the accelerating energy crises
  • Construction material and supplies
  • Equipment and instruments
  • A non-violent approach taken for all activities
  • In order for all human resources (the people) to benefit to the maximum extent possible, AT must assure that:
  • It is a win-win situation for all people and communities concerned.
  • All persons concerned are involved equitably in decisions related to the project or activity.
  • No alienating work is created (which is disconnected from its products and goals).
  • The workplaces become more democratic.
  • Local communities and cultural traditions are preserved and revitalized.

4.    If the economic systems of both private enterprise and public enterprise are based on the service motive as well as the profit motive, AT will help to insure that:

  • No one person or group of persons benefits at the expense of another person or group of persons.
  • Incomes and standards of living are enhanced and not degraded.
  • No inappropriate or burdensome debts are incurred.
  • Diverse locally owned and operated enterprises are encouraged.
  • The AT will have a beneficial effect on income distribution and productivity.
  • Entrepreneurs will place equal value on, and feel equal satisfaction from, performing a service as well as making profit.

The Technology Generation Process

  1. Technology generation begins with a need.
    High-tech (technology) for the sake of high-tech is irrelevant. New for the sake of new is a waste of resources. Appropriate technology addresses a need by providing a solution that fits with the resources and goals of a village in its relationship to a prosperous future.
  2. Technology does not stand alone.
    Technology must be surrounded by organization, participation, management, decision-making, and financial solidarity. It requires training in its requirement for maintenance and optimal operation and training in management skills required to sustain its operation.
  3. Technology generation requires a technology that fits, a package, a scheme.
    The technology fits local resources and fills an expressed need. It is based on local knowledge of circumstances, social arrangements and what words, and imported knowledge of innovations that have worked for others and have solved similar problems.
  4. Technology should be a complete package.
    The package is the way a technology is introduced in terms that make sense to the people using it. The package includes preparation, installation, operation, maintenance, and replacement.
  5. A scheme is the way a technology is made usable and suitable.
    Nothing happens without a scheme. A scheme provides a way to provide the technology, a way to pay for, develop, and maintain the technology, a way to operate and manage the technology. Schemes involve incentives, agreements, organizations, and commitment. Some we all are familiar with are the Heifer Project and milk schemes.
  6. Monitoring and evaluation of the performance of technology is the privilege and responsibility of ownership.
    Constantly evaluating the performance of an innovation means that you are a dynamic part of continued improvement. You are a continual problem solver and innovator who can keep up with this changing world.

Village Earth is the distributor of the Appropriate Technology Library and publisher of the online Appropriate Technology Sourcebook. Topics discussed in this blog post are also discussed in the following online courses: Approaches to Community DevelopmentTechnology and Community Development and the in-person course Community Mobilization for Chapters of Engineers Without Borders (EWB)

 

Developing a Shared Community Narrative (Past, Present, Future) Through Community-Based Film

Community-based film

Community-based film workshop facilitated by Village Earth with communities along the Rio Tigre in Peru and Ecuador.

Participatory video can be powerful tool for creating a dialogue and building consensus around a shared community narrative for “where we came from”, “who we are now”, and “what do we want to be in the future.” This post synthesizes the community film approach developed by Village Earth over the course of about 10 years working on such projects on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota and with indigenous communities in Peru and Ecuador.

The community-based film workshops, developed by Village Earth, allow entire communities to work together dialogue and link past, present, and possible futures into a shared narrative with the express purpose of communicating with outsiders to raise awareness and support for their situation while attempting to mitigate the distortion or framing of issues by outsiders.

Background

The roots of this approach stem from the cinéma-vérité approach Village Earth utilized in earlier films such as Pine Ridge Session One (2004) and REZONOMICS (2005). In these films we attempted to limit our influence on the subject and topic by avoiding elaborate staging, lighting, large-intimidating cameras, and even narration. However, even with these precautions it was difficult to avoid framing the issues from the outside through the selection of subjects and especially while in the editing room. Yet, despite these limitations the power that these films had to giving form to an emerging narrative for issues on the Reservation, especially the growing movement to recover and utilize lands, was readily apparent. It became clear that film would be a powerful tool, not only to educate outsiders about complex issues but also to mobilize communities for collective action.

 

Theoretical Perspectives

Village Earth believes that western values are not determinative and that all communities have the right to self-determination. This core belief has guided our work with indigenous communities around the world and has allowed us to be allies despite our position as ‘outsiders’ and with our less than complete understanding of their world-view. Furthermore, we recognize that leading up the end of the 20th century there emerged a growing crisis for the Western world-view. The crisis of scientific positivism brought about scholars such as Kuhn and Feyerabend, the delegitimazation of cultural imperialism, the rise of cultural relativism, and the acceptance of the environmental crisis caused by capitalist globalization created a paradigm shift for the totalizing meta-narratives of the Western worldview. According to the French Philosopher Jean François Lyotard, these meta-narratives were the basis of the social bond for western society, in their absence society is faced with a crisis of legitimacy especially in how it defines “development”. According to the Arturo Escobar:

“First, modernity’s ability to provide solutions to modern problems has been increasingly compromised. In fact, it can be argued that there are no modern solutions to many of today’s problems. This is clearly the case, for instance, with massive displacement and ecological destruction, but also with development’s inability to fulfill its promise of a minimum of well-being for the world’s people… Second, if we accept that what is at stake is the recognition that there are no modern solutions to many of today’s modern problems where are we to look for new insights?”

In the absence of the meta-narratives of the West (summarized by Escobar by the concept of modernity) we must create new narratives that become the raw material of a new society and a renewed social bond. But for this new society is to be based on equality, reciprocity, and compassion we must exchange the totalizing meta-narratives of the modern era, based on the on a notion of “Truth” and exchanged and monopolized for past several centuries by the Western States for a more relativistic notion of “truths” and the acceptance of differing world-views. Thus, this is a two part processes for individuals and communities. The first is rejecting the legitimacy of western knowledge as being implicit because of its reference to the Western meta-narrative of logical positivism. The second is creating new, more localized narratives where legitimacy comes from self-reflexive dialogue and community consensus.

According to Lyotard “A collectivity that takes narrative as its key form of competence has no need to remember its past. It finds the raw material for its social bond not only in the meaning of the narratives it recounts, but also in the act of reciting them.”

While this may be a paradigm shift in western world-view its the basis of the social bond for many indigenous communities who have been able to avoid, for whatever reason, the assimilation and acceptance of western meta-narratives.

Another principle that guides our work is the right that communities have to opacity. “For Glissant, “opacity boils down to the “irreducible density of the Other,” suggesting that it is not possible to ever fully know, understand, or be the Other. More importantly, Glissant recognizes the inherent violence in appropriations of the Other and warns against the types of appropriations that are evident in the social sciences and that tend to dominate the Western way of thinking. Western understanding, in this context, is based on transparency, measurement, and reduction. Glissant argues that in the West, “In order to understand you and thus accept you, I have to measure your solidity with the ideal scale of providing me with the grounds to make comparisons and, perhaps, judgments. I have to reduce” (Glissant 1997, 190). Moreover, the seemingly benign act of understanding, from an etymological perspective, constitutes an aggressive act.”(Stetson, 2007)

[A] “right to opacity,” which is a right not to appropriated, not to be objectified, not to be essentialized, and not to be understood (too deeply), arguing that is time to give up the “old obsession with discovering what lies at the bottom of natures”. [Glissant] develops a theory of difference that rejects pure… In this sense, opacity acts as an ethic that encourages a shifting of the gaze away from objectifying the other. However, while it leads us away from essentialization or objectification, (Stetson, 2007)

In 2006 Village Earth was invited to facilitate a community-strategic planning session with the Shipibo-Konibo of Peru’s Amazon Basin. After a discussion with community members it was agreed to structure the planning around the creation of a shared narrative of drawing from the past, present, and possible futures. The reasons for this decision were multiple: For one, it was thought that this approach would be more practical since at the end of the workshop they would not only have a plan but a compelling way to share that plan with other’s in the community who were not present at the workshop but also to outsiders and potential funding agencies. The other reason was that it was thought this would engage the participants more as they saw their story take shape. We also decided to venture further away from creating films of people to facilitating communities to create their own films and thus have greater control over the framing of the issues, the level of opacity, and the creation of their own narrative.

The central idea was to create a cohesive narrative of the community, what it was, what it is, and what it could be. By participating in the creation of the community’s story, workshop participants take an active role in framing and re-framing a shared narrative of the community and archetypal images. While also framing their own representation(s) for people outside of their community. Simultaneously creating a narrative that is empowering internally to your own community – addressing the role of individual/community agency but also analyzing the structural changes that has limited personal/community agency and self determination.

The process of the film workshop has four steps:

  1. Identify important defining images/stories from the past, answering the question “who were we and how did we live?” this is accomplished by writing or drawing pictures on pieces of paper.
    Aspects of their past they want to discuss and share with others.

    Aspects of their past they want to discuss and share with others.

  2. Identifying important defining images/stories form the present answering the question “who are we and how do we live today?,”
    Present

    Aspects of their current reality that they would like to discuss and share.

     

  3. Identifying important defining images/stories for the future “how would we like to live and who do we want to become?” The final stage of the workshop is tying together past, present, and future by identifying narrative “threads.” An example might look/sound like this: “In the past our rivers were clean and full of fish (past). Today, because of the oil companies drilling upstream, our rivers our contaminated and there are no more fish (present). However, we plan to organize with other communities along the river to make our voices be heard and let the world know about what these companies are doing (future).”
    Aspects of their future vision that they would like to share.

    Aspects of their future vision that they would like to share.

     

  4. Once the group has come to consensus on the most important threads, the next step is creating a storyboard. We accomplish this by having the workshop participants break into groups, one for each thread. We then give a brief explanation of “shots” and “scenes.” Scenes are collections of individual shots that tell a story. A particular thread might contain several scenes.
Narrative Threads that tie-together past, present and future.

“Narrative threads” that tie-together past, present and future.

For example, to tell the story of river contamination you might want to have a scene explaining how children get sick from swimming in the river. This scene might have several shots – children swimming, a sick child, an interview with a doctor, or whatever the participants believe will tell the story best. Once they are satisfied with their scenes they create a “shot list,” basically a list of of their shots, where they will do them, and who will be responsible to get it done. Finally we give a brief explanation of how to use the cameras and then let them go out with their teams to start working on their lists. Each night we would collect the footage, digitize it and work with each team to edit together their scenes (below).

Editing footage captured by the community during the day.

Editing footage captured by the community during the day. (Photo: Ralf Kracke-Berndorff)

The final evening of the workshop was the film premiere of the community’s new, completely participatory, documentary which they decided to title Paromea Ronin Bakebo, which is Shipibo for The Children of the Anaconda. Many people from the community showed up and there was quite a buzz throughout the community about the film. This was very exciting for everybody involved. The film premiere was amazing. As one American observer remarked, “It was like the Shipibo Academy Awards.” After many long speeches, songs, and special recognitions, the film was projected onto a make-shift screen in the community hall for all the people to see. Everyone was very happy with the film and the children were so excited to see themselves on the big screen.

The impact of the film was readily apparent. According to one participant, “Working on our Cosmovision has brought us together and gave us an opportunity to keep the dreams of all the particpants’ families with us.”

Stetson writes, “in the video the Shipibo express themselves in terms of the possibility of re-living or re-making Shipibo culture (via language, traditional medicine, pottery, dress, reciprocity, sharing, and community integration). The film also reveals practical and material needs such that the interests in getting micro-projects funded reflects the reality of being indigenous in a modern world. As mentioned, the video deals with the real structural constraints that both individuals and communities face. However, to look at the Shipibo only in these terms would be a mistake. The workshop participants, in Children of the Anaconda, framed Shipibo culture in terms of the past, present, and future. The past is dignified, beautiful, and even romantic; the present is a crisis, economically, environmentally, and culturally; but the future is potentially bright, given the potential to re-live and re-new Shipibo culture, of course, with the help from, and relation, to the world.”

The community film we developed with Communities along the Rio Tigre in Ecuador in partnership with the Zapara Nation followed a similar process and highlights similar concerns about loss of habitat and contamination by nearby oil and gas.

Click here to learn about Village Earth’s support for Narrative Evaluations.

Ideas and concepts discussed in this post are also discussed in the following courses: Community MobilizationParticipatory Monitoring and Evaluation & Development and the Politics of Empowerment