Laura Cuéllar

Country: Colombia & Ecuador
Organization: Ayuda en Acción

Laura worked with Ayuda en Acción (AeA), a Spanish development NGO that has worked for over 30 years in enhancing the welfare of millions of people around the world. Perhaps one of the most interesting aspects of AeA is its model: rather than deploying its teams on the ground, AeA identifies local NGOs and supports them financially during an average of twelve to eighteen years. Throughout what it defines as “territorial development,” AeA identifies the community’s most urgent needs –from food security to production and/or commercialization barriers, gender issues, education, and social fragmentation– and designs a long-term integral and panoramic agenda to addresses them. 

Laura:  "Every three years, AeA and its local partners outline the overall development goals and lines of action that will be implemented throughout the upcoming three years in what they call the Triennial Intervention Plan (PIT)1. Each PIT is comprised by between eight to twelve micro- projects, which are the specific development initiatives that will be carried out throughout the triennium2.

During my internship at AeA, I was responsible for analyzing the PITs of Colombia, Ecuador, Bolivia, and Paraguay and systematizing the micro-projects that intended to stimulate the community’s local economy. In order to do this, I came up with a series of categories that provided a comprehensive understanding of each micro-project. These categories were: country, Territorial Development Area (ADT)4, local NGO, local NGO code5, micro-project name, micro-project code, description of the micro-project, development goal, path chosen to stimulate the local economy, and analytics6. More often than not, a single micro-project included several analytics and more than one path chosen to stimulate the local economy.  

This internship was my first real-life exposure to development issues. Visiting these communities, talking to community members, witnessing the work of local NGOs, and tying my background in Latin American history to the issues that people are currently facing not only fulfilled me at a personal level, but also reassured me that I want to keep working in the development field after graduating from Fletcher.

Throughout the internship, however, I noticed something that concerned me: the absolute lack of state presence throughout the communities I visited. From schools, to roads, to wells, to everything the communities counted with, had been provided either by NGOs or by the communities themselves. In a way, NGOs such as AeA and its local partners fill voids that states cannot, or do not want to, fill and, hence, have a fundamental role in the wellbeing of these communities. However, there is a limit to what NGOs can do and, unfortunately, their deeds cannot be extended to all poor areas of the countries where they operate.

The oblivion to which states condemn these secluded and impoverished areas is perhaps the main obstacle to their development. In order for long-term self-sufficient economic development to take place, structural changes through which the public sector integrates impoverished regions to the system –for instance through the provision of public services, security, and access to efficient legal and political institutions– are required. Seeking to generate the greatest possible impact in the wellbeing of these communities, this reasoning has, without a doubt, awakened my interest in joining the public sector once I return to Colombia. "