My project while in the Bajo Lempa has been to evaluate the impact and success of Associación Mangle’s microcredit program among a hub of shrimp cooperatives in the area. The hub is called Salinas de Potrero and is noted by Associación Mangle as the most successful group that participates in their micro credit program. Salinas de Potrero’s success is attributed to heightened production and diligent repayment of credit. To evaluate this group of cooperatives, we used a collection of indicators with the objective of providing a comprehensive framework that can be used for future evaluations of other lines of credit under the umbrella of Mangle’s program.

The framework we have developed includes indicators related to the impact of micro credit on production of shrimp farm cooperatives, the quality of Mangle’s organizational relations with shrimp farm cooperatives, the short-term community development as a result of micro credit, the long-term community development and/or investment as a result of micro credit, the sustainability of micro credit program, and the impact of micro credit on the cooperatives’ environmental sustainability production. Our hope is that this collection of categories will provide a comprehensive understanding of the success of the micro credit program as an integrated development program in the community rather than solely a credit system.

Having completed all of our interviews and meetings with Mangle staff, cooperative leaders, and an environmental
expert, we are now compiling and reviewing our data as related to our indicators of success. As we work through this stage of our project, I cannot help but reflect on what “success” even means.

Success is a word that everyone can understand but is also subjective enough that we all have our own definition as well. In considering our project, I find this one little word overwhelming. How does one define success in a country where the average person struggles to send their children to school? What is success in a country healing after a brutal civil war? And perhaps, most importantly, who am I to define success after only being here for 2 weeks?

Success in development has been frequently discussed in my courses at MIIS. It is a word/concept/goal that we continually return to and ground ourselves with. In fact, I spent a good piece of my fall semester considering the improbability, complexity and subjectivity of success in the development field. It is the complexity and subjectivity that resonates even stronger with me now. My experience here has helped me to realize that my personal definition of success in development is progress, however small and however insignificant that progress may seem.

In conducting this evaluation, we have discovered that while most cooperatives have been able to boost their production and consistently repay their loans, the ability of each cooperative to produce is dependent on their receipt of credit. The cooperatives depend on the micro credit for the majority of their production inputs and could not reliably produce without financial assistance. In addition, the cooperatives are vulnerable to any shocks such as a drop in prices, natural disasters, or epidemics among the shrimp.

Within our first couple of interviews it became clear that this micro credit program is sustaining, in a variable manner, a kind of buffer rather than facilitating economic independence or a higher standard of living. But isn’t this buffer successful too? Isn’t it better that the credits allow for many other levels of independence that could not have been realized without the existence of the program? I think so. But also, should we as aspiring development practioners settle for just that? Of course not… and that’s just it, if success in development means progress, there is always more that can be done.