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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Guest Post by Judy Mavroleon, Community Social Change Workshop, April 2013

Conducting research and preparing case studies prior to actually participating in the Community Social Change workshop really helped clarify the situation in the Peruvian Sacred Valley (PSV). It allowed us to observe the many activities and key issues surrounding the numerous stakeholders in that region. During the workshop itself, we delved deeper and gained insights into the development philosophies and behaviors of the Andean Alliance for Sustainable Development (AASD) and other NGO’s in the PSV.

The AASD has taken a different approach to community development than other NGOs in that region by placing greater focus on the development process and emphasizing the importance and significance of building long-term relationships with the PSV locals. This community development approach is in contrast to the current and generally accepted outcome approach which heavily emphasizes concrete assessments, metrics, and evaluations over some prescribed timeline. The AASD approach can be more clearly described as a kind of intentional “hands-off” intervention (if it could even be classified as an intervention), where the process of development evolves from a community over an undetermined period of time. In this scenario, AASD strives only to provide ‘aid’ in a very un-intrusive way by waiting for a local community to approach them and request AASD’s assistance to accomplish a particular project (i.e. build a greenhouse). Only then, does AASD provide assistance to that community by providing training and mentoring, and occasionally accompanying a community leader to visit the Peruvian government offices. AASD’s methodology is in sync with the rhythm of each individual community. It works in conjunction with the drive and desires of that unique community – when it is ready to accept something new into its culture. In this sense, AASD “follows the energy” and responds to or compliments that energy with ‘aid’.

The Community Social Change workshop provided an opportunity for students and AASD to share and receive a wide array of ideas surrounding current community development, future community development, and the potential for social enterprise specifically in the PSV. It was extremely thought provoking and laid the ground work for potential transformations within current community development philosophies for all of us.