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Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Guest Post: Doing Development In Peru: Development & CSR Learning from the Field

By Patricia Chin-Sweeney

A working session during a DDI trip in Peru.

Edtor's Note: Guest Blogger Patricia Chin-Sweeney sent us the following post, where she shares details and insights on Doing Development In Peru, a learning and immersion opportunity focused on market-based approaches to poverty alleviation.

This August, I-DEV will host its second Doing Development In...Peru (DDI) training program to the Andes.  I-DEV developed this 10-day program to train the next generation of CSR and development sector leaders about the nitty gritty details that are crucial to effective and impactful social programming.

I mistakenly made a joke to some Peace Corps volunteers that we ran into in Lima about DDI being Peace Corps Lite- a comparison that was extremely offensive.  But, I simply meant that the program would expose professionals and grad students to the cultural and business dynamics at the base of the pyramid (BoP) via face-to-face interactions with the BoP.  There are few programs other than the Peace Corps that offer such a comprehensive and honest glimpse at the ups and downs of working in a country with little rule of law and what one Peace Corps volunteer has appropriately referred to as "Opposite Land," in which very different rules apply than those we are accustomed to.  

As an MBA graduate, I can appreciate how important this hands-on experience can be.  After all, one of the biggest criticisms of MBA programs is that management tools taught are of limited value without the specific business context and previous work experience in the field tacked on. 

So, what exactly does Peace Corps or DDI teach that other programs do not and cannot?  It's hard to put into words- and perhaps that is exactly the point.  Being on-the-ground, living with host families who live on less than $5 dollars per day, shopping in the open air markets where they buy and sell their goods- or witnessing the paradox of development through the eyes of a farmer whose plot of land was discovered to house an expansive Incan ruin, and hearing him say, "I don't want these ruins excavated because I need the land for my kids to harvest on."   These moments put everything into perspective- and give DDI participants a glimpse at a new worldview. 

Participants develop a unique sense of empathy- a highly intangible concept that my friend Rob Strulowitz from Worldview Learning would explain is crucial to implementing change in any context (and yet so frequently forgotten!).  In addition, DDI provides exposure to the unwritten rules of Opposite Land, an understanding of the greater role that political influence and popularity has in getting things done, and the need for back up plans from A-F to ensure more likely project implementation and success.

DDI incorporates a 360-degree perspective on development dynamics, from the country manager to the local implementer and community perspective.  The majority of the trip takes place in and around Cajamarca City, a mining town, where "gringos" are rare.  We get away from formality and chat openly with local implementation staff from I-DEV, Aramark, GTZ, and Discover Hope Fund to understand the endless roadblocks between them and effective program creation.  Not only is there the grant writing and approval from senior management, but there is the disappointment of hearing that you lost a $600,000 grant to a cuy (guinea pig) project that will can and export cuy meat to the U.S. for human consumption... We also talk about supply-driven vs. market-driven development and new trends in social innovation that are founded upon economically-sustainable models that take local producers up the value chain. 

These conversations and experiences continue over the remainder of the trip as we hike along the tara fields and outline how APT, a large farmers association that produces a pea pod called tara, was restructured and scaled to increasingly empower and benefit local community members.  Eventually, back in Lima, we close the loop by chatting with regional directors and country heads of both corporations and NGOs, like Clinton Giustra Sustainable Growth Initiative, Kiva.org, and Technoserve to get the broader country managers' perspective- which we can contrast with that which we've witnessed beforehand.

But, of course, the unanimous highlight of DDI is not the more formal educational component, but rather the host family stays with the tara farmers living in villages outside of San Marcos. Three nights with these families may not seem like much, but we cram it full of bonding activities including a community-wide Pachamanca feast, camping and smores, and the inevitable homemade moonshine, dancing, and Peruvian fireworks that ensue.  Our Peace Corps volunteers and I-DEV Peru staff facilitate conversation for non-Spanish speakers and of course, throw in their crazy and unforgettable tales!  Call me biased, but I think the trip has a lasting impact on DDI participants.  (One girl plans to visit her host family for a month long visit!)

Finally, our real vision and hope for this program (or more importantly, the concept behind it)  is that it will become a standard in policy and business programs around the world, and that corporations with operations or suppliers in developing countries begin to acknowledge and embrace the importance of providing their employees with exposure to these unwritten rules of Opposite Land and a new worldview.  After all, understanding these rules and being able to effectively navigate them by whatever means possible will become increasingly crucial in a globalized world - and we don't all have the time, endurance or immune systems for 2 years of Peace Corps...

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