On November 2, 2015, 10 Peace Corps Response Volunteers arrived in Colombia. We had 11 months to pilot the nascent Community and Economic Development (CED) program. We represented many years of accumulated experience in varied environments, with several recent Peace Corps volunteers and several who had been volunteers many years ago. Many had multiple other CED related jobs and graduate degrees.
Our first two weeks in Puerto Colombia were dedicated to some essentials: getting to know our Colombian institutional context, meeting national and regional leaders, imparting some basic program goals and objectives, and deciding where each of us might be most effective. On November 15th we dispersed across the Caribbean Coast of Colombia.
CED draws from a wide range of theories of economic development, numerous methods for implementation, and consequently a diversity of forms. The Peace Corps model for CED includes tools for community organizing, on one side, and small to micro-enterprise support on the other. The Colombian model targets small business support, particularly for women, youth and historically disadvantaged populations. Less emphasis is given to large-scale projects and community organizing; however we of Ten Go CED did some of each.
Years of experience do not guarantee that all things will go as planned. It is safe to say that we all experienced measures of frustration and jubilation. We expected this coming in and used our two Reconnect Conferences to compare notes and draw some conclusions about community-level opportunities and threats.
Peace Corps Colombia encouraged CII-9 volunteers to focus on two CED strategies and one partnership with a philosophy of Asset Based Community Development.
- Community Savings Groups: CED volunteers organized small groups that contributed regularly to a savings fund.
- Education in money management, financial literacy and entrepreneurship: CED volunteers engaged youth and adults in curriculum to improve business administration, including finance, accounting, and budgeting.
- SENA will be a key counterpart organization: CED volunteers assisted Colombia’s community college system in training for financial literacy, entrepreneurship, and related topics.
As always, volunteers encountered unanticipated opportunities and obstacles in their sites. Many tried new ideas in a complex economic and cultural environment. We will all be wiser for their innovated responses.