Centro de Iniciativas para el Desarrollo Local (La Choza), a nongovernmental organization in Corrientes, Argentina, used its 2004 IAF grant to train officials of the 67 municipalities in the province, as well as residents, to identify priorities for development and to access public resources efficiently. The original grant was amended in 2007 to fund a training center. The IAF’s investment in La Choza totaled $121,290; other donors provided $41,200; La Choza committed $21,760. La Choza’s project unfolded in the aftermath of the 2001 economic crisis that left Argentina with limited basic services, high unemployment and even more disproportionate inequality. At the local level, officials had little experience with engaging citizens.
Results were collected and analyzed using the Grassroots Development Framework (GDF), which measures results at the level of the individual or family, of the organization and of the society or community. La Choza trained more than 1,000 municipal employees and residents in topics including civic participation, public management of projects and budgets, advocacy and the inclusion of young people. As an organization, La Choza gained experience in engaging young people and the poor. La Choza’s achivements included 58 community projects financed in two municipalities, Paso de los Libres and Esquina. In Curuzú Cuatía, the community supported a center for social inclusion and budgeted for proposals from the neighborhoods.
La Choza achieved the following with its IAF funding:
- Officials in four municipalities were trained to welcome input from residents on development funded with public resources.
- Residents of four municipalities learned to identify priorities for publicly funded development and work to implement them.
- Young leaders were trained to encourage active participation in community groups.
- Municipal advisory councils (CCM) increased representation from civil society.
- In the municipality of Paso de los Libres, La Choza worked to include grassroots groups in decision-making. In the municipality of La Esquina, La Choza helped organize a citizens’ forum and worked with residents in a neighborhood of the municipality of Curuzú Cuatiá to develop proposals to improve conditions.
- In the municipality of Mariano I. Loza, workshops on the management of public resources and on assessing community needs resulted in a mesa de gestión that brings together residents, members of the CCM and municipal officials.
- The microregional network, created in 2002 to undertake economic and social action, cooperated with La Choza on training for municipal officials and related technical assistance. Mayors representing members of the network met in the new IAF-funded training center and set aside political differences to work together on common problems.
- La Choza trained leaders from grassroots groups at the center during the second phase of the project.
La Choza’s training resulted in opportunities for participation that continue in 2015. Community groups now offer training that respond to residents’ priorities.
Individuals trained remember and use what they learned. Gustavo Ponce, trained at 17, is involved in politics and introduced in his current workplace open discussions and a mediation process. Luis Mendoza, who attended training sessions in 2007, noted the focus on “the importance of working as a team for the good of society as a whole and how to approach the mayor, schools, and the police.”
The participatory process continues. La Choza is working with the Argentine Ministry of Labor to help young people looking for work. The municipalities distribute La Choza’s training materials to new employees.
Municipal officials benefited from hands-on training and still use La Choza’s guidebooks. Many residents continue as well to apply La Choza’s practices and use its materials.
La Choza’s development of municipal teams was effective, especially in Curuzú Cuatía, and both the organization and the municipalities made good on commitments to share costs and space.
La Choza trained active leaders which helped encourage ongoing participation by individuals from communities and civil society.
The adaptive design of forums for presenting proposals (propuestas parriales) and for participation n Esquina ensured their continued effectiveness as a means to development.
La Choza’s vision for developing the organizational skills of grassroots groups and creating the training center was critical to a more inclusive civic process.
What Did Not Work?
The CCMs did not remain participatory in their operations or policies.
Some civil society organizations did not develop democratically and so had less impact despite training members to be mentors. Those trained could not overcome their organizations’ political structure. To address the issue, La Choza introduced training in conflict resolution and collaborative problem solving.
A partisan political culture has been a factor in the inactivity of the network since 2011, even though the network was intended to be above it.
The project resulted in opportunities and developed residents’ ability to identify and implement priorities for development. Training made officials more receptive to residents’ initiatives. La Choza succeeded in expanding participation beyond the election cycle to decisions on public policies. Transparency, including on municipal budgeting, is still a challenge as are changes in elected officials. Current Argentine and provincial laws on the books favor participation, but poor or weak organizations still struggle to be heard. La Choza’s school might help them.