An Organic Workshop

Guest Post by Franck Lemperle, Community Social Change Workshop, April 2013

In the last couple of months, since my first day at MIIS, I have been trying to understand what exactly social development means to me. I could not find any answers which would enable me to prove my current enrollment in this school. The world population is over 7 billion people and one third of this number tries to develop its knowledge to keep moving forward, without ever thinking of looking back to see what they provoked. Who is accountable for the hungry or those who do not have enough water? Who is accountable for those two hundred children who will have died in the world because of a lack of food or water by the time I will have finished this paragraph? Am I? Are you? Here is the question I have been asking myself since January.

Being one of these 7 billion people who decides to follow the path of social development is a tough question and needs a deeper reflection to justify any implications in this sector. Social development is not spared from corruption or bad management by those who take advantage of this “market” that might be very lucrative, to the point that they forget the moral code of each of us who is involved to improve the life of millions of people.  The solution is maybe to reduce “the capacity” and to think more like a human being. We must come back to the source of who we are and ask ourselves what is the purpose of what we do? We should think like a human being who has honest ethics on a human scale. The world became capitalistic, and globalization is one of the powerful forces in the world today; did social development take the same path? If so, the first actor who would be reached is the community.

Without a social change background and with only a limited perspective of what I am talking about, AASD has changed my view of what community social change should be and which approach might be the best to help communities in need. What I’ve seen during this workshop is honesty, engagement, sharing, involvement; what I did not see is any barriers between these actors and the community. All these virtues enable a frank contact with communities and lead to a humane and ethical approach which might be the minimum to realize upstream of the process of development. This weekend opened my mind to the process that ought to follow a strategy of community social development. It has to follow an organic way, a human way to build a solid pedestal to improve the lives of millions of people. AASD is the perfect model of an instinct behavior for the sake of social development.

In the context of this workshop, the case study was very helpful to understand what is happening in the Lares region. Working on it in-depth was a very good opportunity to understand these different concepts of what are the main ideas of the community social change. The framework we created during the first day was very powerful and illuminated the case study. Our case study has been theorized thanks to the framework, and both juxtaposed each other. Working on the case study greenhouse project taught me that the community is not always the priority of the different stakeholders and that a lot of work has to be done to address the question:  who has the right to do something in a different cultural context?

Add comment Posted in  Agriculture Projects ,BLOG ,Guest Posts From Students ,Immersive Education May 21, 2013

Community Development: What is Important to Consider?

Guest Post by Haroon Noori, Community Social Change Workshop, April 2013

The Community Social Change workshop helped me broaden my perspective of development in rural areas; embedding AASD’s experiences into the workshop’s curriculum further refined my understanding of community social change. This workshop was also a great complement for my Social Sector Needs Assessment class here at MIIS.

After the framework was developed and applied to our case studies, and when the skits were performed, I came to realize that community development is not a simple task. It is slow, frustrating, and complex. It is even more complex in communities that have complex sociopolitical and cultural structures. Reflecting on this point and also that community development is dealing with people, I have come to realize that we – as prospective development practitioners – should be very much aware of the social and cultural anthropologies of the communities we will be working in. Without understating power and other social structures in communities, the goal of community development and social change might not be conceivable in any meaningful way. Moreover, one has to have strong facilitation skills (as I noticed in the case of Aaron and Adam) to be able to tackle the power dynamics within a community, to be able to foster a democratic environment for the exchange of dialogue, to promote awareness, and to facilitate activities.

AASD’s bottom-up strategy of community development work in Peru (helping communities to recognize and develop their abilities and potentials and organizing them to respond to their own problems and needs) reinforced and contextualized my understanding of the definition of community development.

Add comment Posted in  Agriculture Projects ,BLOG ,Guest Posts From Students ,Immersive Education May 15, 2013


Guest Post by Mandy Kruse, Community Social Change Workshop, April 2013

This class highlighted the time, effort, and buy-in that is required to achieve social change by engaging and involving communities. In our case study specifically the projects failed – failed because there was not a strong leader in the schools to support the project. The problem was not so much funding, as it was buy-in. Aaron and Adam even said lack of funding shaped their initial strategy and strengthened their commitment to slow and thorough development work. That is not to say that development organizations do not need funding; there needs to be balance.

That is the biggest takeaway I got from this class. I think it should be recognized that we do not always have the resources or the time to do development in a way that is inclusive, relevant, and effective.  However, if development intervention is not sufficiently inclusive, relevant, and effective, is it worth the time (however short), or the funding (especially when it could be allocated more usefully)? When working in community development we must always be asking ourselves if the work we are doing is actually worth the funding we get, and even more so, worth the time of the community with whom we are engaging? If we do not satisfy these things, we can do a lot more harm than good.

Add comment Posted in  Agriculture Projects ,BLOG ,Guest Posts From Students ,Immersive Education May 15, 2013

Those With the Most Potential

Guest Post by Charlotte Carr, Community Social Change Workshop, April 2013

In the MPA program at MIIS, we are urged to approach development work with participatory asset-based methods. This dictates that development practitioners should identify the pre-existing strengths of a community and develop programming that builds on these strengths. This approach aims to create sustainable community-driven development programs. Asset-based approaches typically utilize participatory methods, seeking to include the community in all steps of the development program process, and are usually sustainable in part because they are based around structures already in place in a community. The opposite, and frequently practiced approach, would be for an outsider to enter a community and identify what they perceive as problems, and work to implement a foreign solution in the community. By not integrating the programming  into the community through participatory approaches and building on strengths, the results are typically ineffective or unsustainable.

An idea that struck me during the Community Social Change workshop, that goes along with the ideals of asset-based development, was offered by Aaron Ebner during the panel discussion. He said, “in the history of development, people have looked for the neediest, but we should be looking for those with the most potential.” To me, this idea exemplifies the best practices taught in the MPA curriculum, as well as the development processes used by the AASD. The assets of the community the AASD has identified are the community members themselves. The community members are not targeted because they are perceived as the worst off, they are the farmers and weavers who have the most potential to use their pre-existing strengths to empower themselves and their community.

Add comment Posted in  Uncategorized May 9, 2013

Empowerment and Accountability: Who Should Care?

Guest Post by Gabby Abrego, Community Social Change Workshop, April 2013

To achieve positive and worthy community development and social change, more than just good intentions and planning need to be implemented. Going through the framework we created during the workshop, we found that development is complex – really complex – and even if an organization tries to include every factor, compassion and strong relationships between the stakeholders are really the keys to pulling an effective project together.

When comparing my case study organization methodology to that of AASD, it was shocking to see how much they were missing and how much their mission was, in some ways, crippling development in the Lares region. My organization wanted to foster empowerment within the Lares community but made no effort to connect with them or listen to their needs. The organization also provided a greenhouse for the community hoping to improve nutritional health but did not teach the community members how to utilize it and, even worse, never returned to maintain and follow-up with project sustainability.

The AASD approach comes from the hearts and voices of all stakeholders. They are not only capable of finding a problem and working with the communities towards a solution but also, when necessary, they can say no to a project that is too big or out of reach, because they feel accountable for their actions within their communities and for the people they work alongside. Development needs compassion and accountability to achieve empowerment. Communities need policymakers and practitioners to care about not just the end result but the process as well. Only then will responsible development and social change occur.

Add comment Posted in  Agriculture Projects ,BLOG ,Guest Posts From Students ,Immersive Education May 9, 2013

An Opportunity to Question Assumptions

Guest Post by Anja Mondragon, Community Social Change Workshop, April 2013

Community development: what does it mean to me?  Unfortunately, it’s not that simple and really I’m not the community in question.  I’ll be quite frank, I’ve operated under the assumption that the communities I want to work with will want money and a sustainable income.  It is strange that I never really thought of this as an assumption before but I guess that’s how assumptions work.

Initially working with the Andean Alliance, I felt unsure that I understood their methods.  “Why is it taking so long to get anything done?” I thought, however, I understand now that they operate much differently than most internationally organizations do which is quite refreshing, and a bit confusing.

I won’t say that I think the Andean Alliance is assumption-free, however, I do think that their method of slow development helps to remedy some assumptions they might make on behalf of the community.  They also use the adaptive management approach, and shift their focus as the communities’ needs change.  Taking the CSC workshop from two prominent founding members of the AASD (as professors) allowed us to question our assumptions together and gave me a great deal of respect for their method and how I could incorporate it into my own work.

Add comment Posted in  Agriculture Projects ,BLOG ,Guest Posts From Students ,Immersive Education ,NGO Network May 4, 2013

The Role of a Change Agent (the AASD)

Guest Post by Sean Huber (Team Peru January 2013), Community Social Change Workshop, April 2013

Developing a framework for understanding how to repeat the process of community social change is incredibly difficult and involves far too many factors and variables that need to be addressed.  The most apparent observation is that there is ambiguity, so adaptability is essential.

Team Peru began as a January term project lasting less than three weeks.   This January, I spent three weeks with two current students and three former students of MIIS (half of the current AASD staff).  We traveled to remote villages and at one point became fully-fledged members in an annual corn harvest celebration. Our main Team Peru objective was to develop a partnership model between a honey bee sanctuary and AASD in order to establish community growth through educational programs.  These programs focused on the natural benefits of honey bee populations for agriculture, as well as the possible economic benefits of products coming from an active honey bee colony, a super-organism vital to healthy ecosystems.  The relevance of our project was immediate as the community saw great value in honey bees and what they offer.  The education and inclusion/contribution of locals was a paramount goal.

A community project that involved two organizations run by Americans working in Peru is a broad concept with an outcome that is not inherently obvious.  What is obvious is how these communities have come to embrace the AASD at a level that eludes many NGOs, regional governments, and a myriad of other actors.  AASD has strong community ties to a variegated group of villages that are relatively isolated but still welcome visitors and people that they consider part of their community.

Add comment Posted in  Agriculture Projects ,BLOG ,Guest Posts From Students ,Immersive Education ,NGO Network May 4, 2013

What does “community” mean anyway?

Guest Post by Benedicte Gyllensten (Team Peru Summer 2012), Community Social Change Workshop, April 2013

I spent two months as a part of Team Peru last summer, working on a photo project in the small village of Pampacorral. I wanted to take part in the Community Social Change workshop because I thought it would be a great opportunity to reflect upon my experience in Peru in relation to community development. As we were discussing the Sacred Valley context and the different communities, I could picture it all in my head. I could see the colorful weaving products, the smiling kids with red cheeks and even the llamas and alpacas. Having the experience in Peru was definitely a big bonus for me, and it made the workshop more interesting and understandable. At the same time I think the things we discussed can be applied all over the world, including in our own backyards.

I really enjoyed critically examining the concept of community development over the weekend. Community is everywhere, and while we tend to discuss it as if it was a set entity, community is so much more than that. Our discussion about coffee on Saturday morning made me realize how many communities I am a part of; my “friends from high school” community at home, my family, Oslo, Norway, the MIIS community, the community of people that love coffee and so on. Community is about having something in common. In the development context, it is useful to define communities as set collections of people, but when we do this, we fail to recognize the many different communities within this community.

I am not always comfortable with the idea that I can enter a community I am not a part of to “create” social change. What this workshop made me realize is that there are many ways to become part of a community. I might not speak the same language or believe in the same religion, but I might have other things in common with the community. I think it is important to look for similarities rather than differences when trying to create a common ground. That way we can understand each other better and together create social change.

Add comment Posted in  Agriculture Projects ,BLOG ,Guest Posts From Students ,Immersive Education ,NGO Network May 4, 2013

Learning about Community Social Change through the work of the AASD

Guest Post by Kate DiMercurio, Community Social Change Workshop, April 2013

Over the course of the semester, I worked with a group to write a case study of the Andean Alliance’s work with the Wiñay Warmy weaving group in Choquecancha. We were tasked with learning about the project, the primary stakeholders, what was working, what wasn’t, and what changes could potentially be made to improve the project. Over the last weekend, our Community Social Change class met to discuss 6 different case studies focused around the work of the AASD and other NGOs working in the area.  The experience was incredibly useful for me to contextualize my understanding of the process of community social change.  I was also very surprised by how much the AASD was able to accomplish over the period of a few years, and how much they had learned and grown as an organization in that time.  In all of their projects, they are always putting the interests of the community first.  This organization truly lives by the value of “do no harm,” and I greatly admire that, because it is a value which is lacking in so many other non-profits working in the area.

The main concept I took away from this weekend workshop was the idea that sometimes development and community social change should focus more on the process rather than simply the outcomes. Lasting and sustainable change happens slowly, we can’t rush the process, and this is an important lesson to keep in mind as so many “western” development organizations place so much emphasis on efficiency and getting things done quickly. Get in and get out. But that kind of mindset can do much more harm than good, and leave communities facing the greater issues of dependency. If we allow ourselves to truly listen to and work with the members of these developing communities, the outcomes can inherently be much more sustainable and have a greater impact. The AASD still faces many challenges in being able to do the work they wish to do, but they are on the right path, and they have the support of the MIIS community behind them.

Add comment Posted in  Agriculture Projects ,BLOG ,Guest Posts From Students ,Immersive Education ,NGO Network May 4, 2013

Do we need a perfect framework? Where does a poor one help?

Guest Post by Noah Brod, Community Social Change Workshop, April 2013

One of the takeaways from the past weekend for me has been the usefulness of even ad-hoc, informal frameworks. Our class ended up seeing “community social change” as a process that touches upon 9 natural categories: Power, participatory development and ownership, process versus outcome indicators, networking, solidarity and agency, accountability and legitimacy, community identity and its origins, social justice, and a focus on continuity, patience, and process. Over the course of our discussions following the creation of this framework, we were able to make use of it in coming back and improving content that had been generated from discussions without any framework to guide it.

Looking over the categories above I feel like our class developed a good start at approaching the idea of community social change, but that we really only ended up with a first draft by the end of the weekend. Our framework, in order to be something transportable beyond the discussions that were held around its creation, needs clarification in many areas. Many of the categories are double or even triple barreled, and almost all of them have the same level of specificity as an I Ching category.  It’s one thing to divide the world at a set of joints that a group has collectively decided to bring into existence, it is another to actually locate those joints in the world.

Add comment Posted in  Agriculture Projects ,BLOG ,Guest Posts From Students ,Immersive Education ,NGO Network May 4, 2013

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Our mission is to provide and implement sustainable programs and projects in collaboration with the indigenous people of the Sacred Valley of Perú in an effort to improve their lives and reduce poverty in a culturally sensitive and appropriate manner. Furthermore, we work to support local NGOs with whom we have shared values using the skills and tools we possess.