Advocacy for Highland Seniors in Bolivia

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Meeting of senior citizens, bolivia
In 2003, the Inter-American Foundation awarded Fundación Horizontes $197,350 toward its work with a consortium of three nongovernmental organizations on a three-year program to reduce poverty and assure the representation of elderly residents of rural communities in Oruro and Potosí. An additional $19,555 extended the effort through a fourth year. Horizontes contributed $94,612 and mobilized $9,900 from other sources.

Its program included assistance with organizing senior citizens into associations; the development of developing advocacy strategies; better services for seniors; and projects to improve food security and generate income for seniors. The activities benefited 4,200 families.


When IAF funding ended in 2007, most objectives had been accomplished. Vegetable gardens and poultry farming were among the activities that generated sufficient income to improve living conditions for approximately 1,000 seniors, who found satisfaction in productive work and their contribution to their households. More than 1,800 seniors participated in workshops on leadership and 64 applied the skills learned to form networks of their contemporaries. The rights of the elderly were memorialized in 36 agreements entered into with local authorities. Two new networks in Oruro became forums for exchanging information and experiences, and the network in northern Potosí expanded to include residents from more rural communities. All 13 networks developed partnered with municipalities.

Most remarkable was the progress of the already influential Asociación Nacional de Adultos Mayores de Bolivia (ANAMBO), whose effectiveness in advocating for legislations and policies that protected senior citizens had been confined to urban areas. The new rural associations and networks in Oruro and Potosí partnered with ANAMBO, making it stronger and more representative.

GDF pyramid displaying society, organization and individual level.
The results of HORIZONTES’ project were collected and analyzed using the Grassroots Development Framework (GDF). The GDF measures results on three levels: the individual or family level; the organization or grantee level, and the community or society level. At the lower level of the cone, the project positively impacted the lives of approximately 1,000 residents in rural communities in Oruro and northern Potosí as measured by indicators such as living conditions, training, acquisition and application of skills, and income. At the mid-level, HORIZONTES reported on the planning process to increase access to community services for seniors; partnering with other organizations; and dissemination efforts. At the upper or community level, HORIZONTES reported on the effect of grant activities on sensitizing local authorities to legal, health and pension benefits mandated by Bolivian laws.

By 2014, more than 40 percent of the elderly Bolivians active in the activities of Fundación Horizontes had died, migrated to other areas or become unable to continue in the leadership of the groups that had formed. As the trained population declines, new entrants into ranks of senior citizens find themselves without the skills to continue their elders’ advocacy for legal, health and pension benefits. New Bolivian laws favoring seniors are not reaching those intended to benefit because of the lack of awareness in rural communties.

Of the organizations whose formation was attributable to IAF funding, the association located in Potosí remains viable because of the resources it receives from the municipality. Associations elsewhere relied on external donors; once funds did not materialize, activism on behalf of the elderly ceased. Families lost interest once the older generation was gone and stopped attending meetings. As membership dwindled, so did influence; today seniors are not included in community decisions.


What worked:
Activities to generate income helped ameliorate poverty in the targeted communities, and the ability to contribute to their families’ support improved self-esteem and the community’s perception of the elderly.

Seniors banded together into influential advocacy groups. Making their voices heard helped assure their exercise of their rights, their inclusion in development plans and their greater access to government services and benefits.

What did not work:
Lacking government support, the program could not reach every senior in every municipality and benefits were short-lived.

The associations’ link with local governments weakened as time passed and influence waned. There were no funds available for sensibility training. Without training, new government officials were insensitive to the needs of seniors, and aging community residents were not versed in advocacy. Benefits achieved during the grant years were lost.


Bolivia was one of the first countries in Latin America to solicit its citizens’ input as the central government transferred responsibilities to local entities. By opening the deliberation process to individuals representing organized civil society, the Bolivian government gave historically excluded populations a say on development plans and budgets.

Seniors and their associations participated in municipal budgetary decisions and secured services that met their needs. Horizontes facilitated dialogue between associations of elderly Bolivians and municipal authorities toward better policies and programs. The grant to Horizontes yielded solid results, but they did not prove lasting. As the trained cohort was reduced so was the inclusion of the elderly in budgetary decisions. Younger generations with different priorities have taken charge of the participatory process.