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Note: The current visiting faculty program has been postponed given the rapidly changing circumstances and the latest university policy on COVID-19. We are exploring the possibility of rescheduling it for next spring. We will update on it soon!


Polson Institute Visiting Faculty Program Spring 2020: Pioneering Models of Grassroots Development in Latin America, Professor Kevin Healy

About the Course

The contribution of non-governmental organizations from civil society to local development in Latin America has been underappreciated and understudied in much of the development literature. Often such studies lack a longitudinal lens to follow organizations contributing to positive social and economic changes over decades within micro-regions and beyond. This is not to argue that local organizations as such are a panacea for development ills but rather to appreciate the roles they can play and analyze how they contribute to progressive societal change in certain contexts. The course will focus on the case studies/histories of local organizations and the grassroots development projects which propelled them.  These cases demonstrate alternative strategies to mainstream approaches to benefit low-income families and micro-regions primarily in the Latin American countries of Bolivia, Peru, Colombia and Mexico.  The course will analyze narrative histories of selected organizations that have at least three decades of grassroots development experience and have invariably played pioneering roles in their respective societies while sustaining and expanding important accomplishments.

This professor has had first-hand direct experiences (as both a funder and researcher-disseminator) over many years with all these grassroots development organizations included for in-depth analysis in the course,

The selected case studies come from provincial micro-regions representing small-scale project experiences in community-based tourism, organic agriculture with cocoa and coffee,  community museums, and community self-managed enterprises, Andean traditional textile revitalization, and diverse indigenous and peasant crafts marketing., The grassroots development features described in these cases  include social entrepreneurship, social and cultural capital mobilization, innovative institutional strategies and methodologies for capacity-building, and the replication of organizational capital and socio-economic gains in the wider community and marketplace.

 The analysis will also address the questions of how scaling-up and project replication take place over time. The historical depth of the material analyzed will contribute to shaping our analytical insights and constructs.   The readings for the course will include both social science literature and institutional literature from the Inter-American Foundation(IAF), a foreign aid agency, which was one of the major funders of the selected organizations. Major social science contributors to the literature on local organizations in the Third World for the course include Carroll, Hirschman, Tendler, and Uphoff.

The case studies will also be used to understand and appreciate the professional skills used in grant-making at the IAF where this professor worked for 36 years as a grant officer. 

Class discussions and exercises will also focus also on professional skills for selecting, financing, monitoring, documenting and writing about community development projects.  Such skills include project proposal and budget analysis, conceptualizing project socio-economic change processes and the related empowerment of communities, project portfolio development, country-based funding strategies, evaluating institutional capacity, analyzing project socio-economic contexts, approaches for disseminating community development experiences, tracking project replication and scaling-out and up to broaden and multiply project impacts. The class will conduct simulated exercises for reviewing project proposals, create flow charts for pinpointing evolving project trajectories of empowerment which identify key project actors, resources, methodologies, and outcomes.

Class discussions will also cover common small-scale project pitfalls and dead-ends, donor dependency issues and donor practices for capturing lessons-learned and documenting community development processes. The course will utilize visual material documentation through PowerPoint slide sets for analyzing project processes and their contexts. Students will be graded for their participation in class discussions including individual and group presentations and exercises. The final requirement for a grade will be a term paper analyzing a development organization.  

Course Goals: This course will provide students with an understanding of factors that have contributed to effective grassroots development together with skills for evaluating grassroots development project proposals, processes, and impacts for varying time periods. The course will enable students to develop analytical tools to critically evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of grassroots development organizations and their potential for innovative action.

Learning Outcomes:

As a result of completing the course, students will:

  1. Acquire skills for assessing small-scale grassroots development project proposals and conceptualizing grassroots development strategies and processes
  2. Gain knowledge about innovative grassroots development methodologies
  3. Gain skills for identifying social and cultural capital in grassroots development processes.
  4. Gain an understanding and appreciation of the important contributions grassroots development organizations can make in society.

To access the course syllabus, click here