Congress created the IAF with a vision of supporting self-help efforts in Latin America and the Caribbean, but it was up to the IAF staff to figure out how best to do so. “Roads are made by walking” they often said in the early years, referring to a Spanish saying. With that spirit, the IAF pioneered its approach of listening and responding to the needs of emerging grassroots organizations. The publication of They Know How in 1977 articulated the IAF’s philosophy that “people whose lives will be directly affected by development efforts know best what they need and want and how to do it.”
Early grants reflected the diversity of organizations that would look to the IAF over the years—village and neighborhood associations, production cooperatives, workers’ associations, and ethnic-based coalitions such as indigenous and Afro-descendant organizations, among others. In common, they aspired to collectively resolve shared problems.