CIPA offers a variety of ways to get involved in hands-on research experience, including International Capstone projects. In this blog post, Hillary Mara writes to us from Chile on her current Capstone project where she is conducting interviews, meeting with key stakeholders and collaborating with members of the community to develop a Corporate Social Responsibility plan for an association of agricultural exporters.
I’m writing from the Atacama Desert in Northern Chile: I’m here with my Capstone team members, Nathan Kalb, Jeffrey Joseph, and our team leader/ Chilean insider Maria Jose Sanchez, working on a consulting project for APECO: Asociación de Productores y Exportadores Agrícolas del Valle de Copiapó, an association of growers and exporters in the Copiapó Valley. Here in the Valley one finds irrigated grape and olive production in one of the driest deserts in the world. The first day here we couldn’t look away from the unique landscape—lush green vineyards, surrounded by brown and yellow hills with no signs of life.
APECO has enlisted our Capstone to develop a Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) plan to contribute to long-term growth and development in the rural communities in which they work. Our Capstone team comes from different backgrounds in international development, with experiences in India, Guatemala, Mexico, South Africa, Guinea, and Mali. Because we understand the importance of taking into account community needs when designing a plan, we were able to arrange for a week-long visit to the region to conduct focus groups, surveys, and one-on-one interviews with key stakeholders.
Today was our third day—packed full of interviews—but considering that we’re already held 15 meetings and spoken with around 40 different people, it feels as if we’ve been here much longer. We’ve spoken with people ranging from members of a parent association to seasonal farm workers to local law enforcement. Nearly the entire population is affected in some way by agriculture, and our conversations have revealed an intense respect and admiration for the sector, as well as perspectives on specific community concerns and needs. We’re also learning methods for designing and conducting needs assessments with diverse groups; the unique history, culture and economic climate of the region; and how to get around in Spanish.
In the near future, our group is looking forward to a deserved day of rest at the beach in Caldera—and soon after, we’re eager to begin the process of uncovering the most feasible, impactful, and sustainable way that this mainstay of livelihoods in the region, APECO, can play a bigger role in meeting community needs.
Hillary Mara is a 2nd year CIPA fellow, focusing in International Development with an interest in agricultural development in West Africa. She is a returned Peace Corps volunteer who worked in Guinea and Mali, and currently works for IP-CALS for the System of Rice Intensification and on gender projects.