Jun 1, 2012

Guatemala paper of the day and an interview with the author

I try to be alert to academic papers on Guatemala (among other topics) from different perspectives. This paper caught my attention: "A Tale of Two Communities: Divergent Development and Embedded Brokerage in Post-war Guatemala" by sociologist Julie Stewart (Journal of Contemporary Ethnography, May 6, 2012). The abstract:
Sociologists of development are increasingly interested in better understanding the reasons for intracountry variation of development outcomes, often focusing on community-level studies. I draw on extensive fieldwork in two return-refugee communities in rural, postwar Guatemala to explain why some community development initiatives succeed while others fail. I attribute this divergence to the presence of embedded brokerage, a new form of brokerage that is particularly useful in the context of aid relationships, which frequently cross transnational cleavages of class, power, and privilege. In particular, I argue that when brokers who are embedded in both the sending and receiving communities facilitate aid relationships, the outcome is more successful. This study demonstrates how embedded brokers responded to community initiative, attracted specialized funding, and helped institutionalize key development values in one community. In contrast, the absence of brokers in the second community contributed to the absence of community initiative, the delivery of generic projects and the failure to institutionalize development values. 
The author compares a community which she calls "Pueblo Alto" (PA) -- in western Guatemala -- with "Pueblo Bajo" (PB) -- in southern Guatemala. Pueblo Alto ended up being more economically successful.   

Unfortunately the full paper is not online. Julie shared the paper with me and after reading it I sent her some questions that she kindly answered:

1) Why do you use the word "brokerage" and not "leadership"?
I use the term brokerage rather than leadership because in my mind, leadership connotes activities like command, demand, direct. A leader is the person on the top of a vertical hierarchy.""In contrast, brokerage fundamentally is the act of connecting people. It is much more horizontal. Brokers are people who facilitate transactions between unconnected actors, creating more productive or effective relationships. I see it as much more synergistic.
2) What are the policy implication of the main findings of your research regarding sociology of development in Guatemala? e.g what would be your advice for government authorities, NGOs, or other organizations that want to promote prosperity in rural Guatemala?
I think there are many policy implications that grow out of this study. Number one would be that a "one-size-fits-all" development solution will most certainly fail. Instead, my research suggests that community development depends on linking the local knowledge and capacities of local actors with the resources and organizational capacity of transnational actors. Policy makers should try to work through transnational brokers that can link local capacity with transnational funding. There are many organizations that do this. One example that comes to mind is the San Carlos Foundation, an NGO dedicated to placing North Americans in impoverished communities where they work with residents to develop projects and provide skill training in areas such as education, health, engineering and law. Since 1984, the San Carlos Foundation has placed more than 100 long-term volunteers in the global South, with a focus on Central America. Sometimes, parish-based sister-city relationships can serve the same function, or long-term student exchange programs. Another organization doing terrific work of this type is Rights Action <http://www.rightsaction.org/>. In the interests of full disclosure, I serve on the Board of Directors of this organization, primarily because I believe in its mission of education people in the global North about problems in the global South, providing legal/organizational expertise when requested/necessary, and providing funding for projects that are truly grass-roots.
3) Could the difference between the two pueblos be due to other variables, such as productivity, the structure of the economy, more demand for the products of Pueblo Alto, educational attainment before returning, or level of violence and crime?
This is a terrific question. In terms of the productivity/economic differences, I think what you are asking is, "Was Pueblo Alto in a context more conducive to development." My answer is that the empirical evidence argues the opposite. Although a rural village, Pueblo Bajo is only an hour and a half from Escuintla, Guatemala’s third largest city. It is also in the area with the country’s second highest level of infrastructural development. In contrast, Pueblo Alto is in the Quiché, one of the most isolated, poorest, and least populated parts in the country. So against these odds, PA is still succeeding where PB is not. The issue of demand for products gets at the heart of my argument. On the South Coast, the received wisdom was, "this region produces coffee, let's help this village produce coffee." What they overlooked was that the global economy for coffee had changed dramatically since the previous era. Further, as I argue in the paper, coffee production in Guatemala always enjoyed state support in a variety of ways. And so to re-start a coffee project without state involvement was definitely a poor decision, what I call a "generic development recipe" in the paper. Finally, upon returning, both communities had comparable levels of education, though because one prioritized education as a primary development project, after 10 years, there was considerable divergence in average educational levels.
4) It seems that at the core of the development failure in one of the communities is the lack of trust, reciprocity, and "social capital," (you also use the concept "community cohesion") do you agree? What is the best way to promote social capital in Guatemala? In other words how can we purposefully "institutionalize values such as reciprocity, trust, and transparency"?
This is the million-dollar question. My case study suggests that "doing & being" leads to the creation of values. So, for example, in PA, there was an initial high level of distrust, because refugees were re-merging their lives with people who lived during the terrible model village years. So they started to develop trust by identifying a series of projects from which all would benefit, and making everything - and every expenditure, down to the quetzal - transparent. This process developed organically, but certainly we have to give credit to the foreign priest and his experience working in christian base communities, the accountant living in the community who could help keep all the numbers straight and the professor who devoted years of his life to raising money and awareness around the plight of this village.
5) Did university students from the successful pueblo (Pueblo Alto) return? Or do they contribute in some way?
Again, a great question. Here are some current stats on the university students: From this small village, 250 of its young people have graduated from high school and more than 70 have continued to university studies. Its graduates and emerging professionals are moving into leadership roles at levels of society from a very progressive social change position. Many of them return to the village for a specific period of time to work with younger students, do an internship, etc. And, my understanding is that many of them pledge to re-pay part of their scholarship into a rolling fund for future students. It's not a formal Rotating Credit Association, but it uses some of the same principles. In this way, this community is helping shape a new generation of highly-educated and highly motivated young people who will have the skills to lead the county in a new direction.
6) If I understood correctly all of the embedded brokers are originally from abroad. Did you find any cases of this role performed by Guatemalans? In other words, can local leadership play the role of embedded brokerage?
This is my favorite question by far. And one which I would love to answer in the affirmative. One of the major differences when one thinks about the global North and the global South is that people in the global North have greater access to income and wealth (on average) and a higher probability of accessing institutions of higher education, where they can develop many important skills. Unfortunately, those same opportunities are not available for the average person in the global South. In Guatemala in particular, we know that it has an extremely polarized wealth/income distribution, so there simply is not a robust middle class that can provide the ordinary donations that together add up to significant funding for community projects. And whereas in the U.S. there is this term "noblesse oblige," a French terms that in the U.S. suggests a general obligation for the more fortunate to help the less fortunate, in Guatemala we see elites generally serving the opposite function. 
Thanks Julie for your answers!!!

For full disclosure I should say that I myself benefited from a full scholarship to go to College and then to study a Masters and a PhD., this came from some wealthy Guatemalans whom I do not know - I am thankful for this. 

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