December 2015

The Gap Between Producers and Consumers in Bolivia: A Matter of Diversities.

Intending to approach the matter of sustainable development in a context of innovation, in a meaningful way; we will dive in Bolivia, in the experiences and situation of its people. And around it wonder, “What does being an innovator mean?” Innovation implies creativity, building new ideas, thinking differently, and finding alternative and even unconventional solutions. Now, for it to have meaning and real value it needs to be taken into actions. Which takes us to the following question, “What does entrepreneurship involve?” Initiative, taking the lead, and act.

By: Andrea Moscoso
Projects Abroad Volunteer
Cochabamba, Bolivia

Photo by: Freddy Mita

Innovation needs actions to make a difference to make a change in the way we think about the future. The future generations, the commodities and the resources we all need and share, in our community, our country, our continent, our world.

Sustainable Development as a priority in the world’s growth of the whole world. So, who are these people in my country? Who are the ones that not only identify with the need of change, but are also doing something about it?

I have identified two separate groups: users as producers and users as consumers. These groups couldn’t be more apart.

There are all kinds of producers, but in Bolivia the ones who actually take more initiative are the poorest ones, not only because of their beliefs about mother earth, but also because of their needs; their constant battle to not only produce but to deal with the shortages they face. The lack of energy, water, and communication routes made them find alternatives to live with the least possible.

In the other “corner” we have the users as consumers, all the people who become conscious about the product they are buying, asking themselves where it came from. This little group of consumers belongs to the upper middle class, people with education and access to mass media. Apparently, education should be a solution but the problem also resides in the audience that we are trying to educate. In theory, people who go to school know about sustainable development; they know what to do with what they see as reachable. The problem is in the extra work and effort it takes to access information in Bolivia about the products and their manufacturing process.

There is a flaw in the communication channels between the innovators and producers with the consumers.

Considering this, the question is: how do we diminish this gap?

Bolivia is a multicultural country. It has 41.89% of the population self-identified as part of an indigenous group. Additionally, it is comprised of 36 different nations, each one with its own uses and traditions.

They are distributed in all our territory, some of them coexist in the big cities and others live in small communities. In the distribution of wealth, the communities are the most affected. The 2012 census showed a Gini index of 0.42 in urban areas and 0.55 in rural areas. An example of this is the 45% poverty index of poverty where people live with less than two US dollars per day. This reality obligates these people to figure out alternatives to satisfy their needs.

Indigenous people in Bolivia are certainly diverse but in the situation of economical capital deficit, they contrast it with strong social, cultural, and symbolic capital. Even though there are so many different cultures in the area, they all seem to converge in the main lines of their worldview and philosophical principle of “living well.” Most indigenous cultures in Latin America have a notion of the relationship with nature, with Mother Earth as they call it. In this relationship they depend on the earth, they are not more important than it. “Living well” implies to live in harmony with all that surrounds them.

In addition to this element of cultural capital, they also share the way they transmit knowledge; for them the experience is fundamental. Every learning process needs to be a relationship; all relationships are a reflection of their functional worldview. All living beings have an important role to play in the whole system. It is very important neither to idealize nor generalize: these are the principles but not necessarily are reflected in all their actions.

Their social capital is one of their strongest assets. Since they live in communities there are part of something bigger. The relationship with others is mandatory; the community owns the individuals as much as they own the community. They all move in networks, they establish fraternal relations with each other; as godparents, “loving cousins/uncles,” or compadres. These bounds can be as strong as the blood ones. As a symbolic capital this also marks a hierarchy between them, the godfathers/uncles sometimes provide monetary support or are recognized by their experience and are elected as leaders or rulers. Living in the community does not mean that they all have to do the same, or that they all have a fair distribution of wealth; even more, the Gini index shows a major inequality in rural areas where this social system persists.

All these elements are part of the cultural heritage of almost 42% of Bolivia, but the reality is that for the majority this is now not much more than a speech. In politics it is even clearer. Though Bolivia has an indigenous president who gives positives speeches to the international crowd about the rights of Mother Earth, the government’s actions are not coherent as such. We have Law 1333 that was written in 1992 for the landmark Earth Summit in Rio that same year. Despite its good intentions, it does not respond to our reality. The law, even with its annexes, fails in recommending its application; it is still incomplete. The 2012th census showed that they had only conferred 1,104 environment licenses in the whole country. In the past three years, the local governments have increased control but are still far from ideal.

This is the breaking point, knowing the entire context. In reality, we will see the potential through the initiatives that have been emerging. People combining all their capital strengths, their worldview, their networking, and even their scarcities with creativity and leadership; they not only can change their reality but in a certain way they can also change the world.

For many years Bolivia has been in the eye of NGO’s with great development projects but a great part of them have failed once they have stopped been financed. Even worse, sometimes they never even worked. This, in our opinion, resides in the inability to understand the population and its system. René Zabaleta coined the term “Motley Society” to describe Bolivia, a society with several cultures and production modes overlapped, asymmetric, and antagonist with each other. For sustainable development to be possible, a marriage is necessary between innovation and entrepreneurship with uses and customs.

There is an initiative in Bolivia sponsored by SNV and CEDES Bolivia in agreement with the Dutch Embassy that we believe is taking that path. They are called “Inclusive Businesses.” Their proposal is to join large and consolidated companies with the communities previously mentioned. Between them, they are supposed to develop environmental and financial sustainable alternatives so the communities can live and work in their territory, administering it and preserving it in the eyes of international laws and indigenous worldviews.

The case of Delizia is a good example of an Inclusive Business. This one is an ice cream company well established in the country that has started to work with these communities in the Andean region. These communities breed cows but were never able to produce the quality of milk that the standards require, so they created a hydroponic green forage cultivation greenhouse system of barley grains.

“Happy people are not the ones who have more, happy people are those who need less”
José Mujica, former President of Uruguay.

The company provides them a loan for starting up and commits to buy them the milk. Unfortunately, these kind of projects have two problems:

The first one is that there are not enough of these initiatives or enough companies willing to participate.

The second major problem is that even though they are in the public domain, they don’t reach the consumers.

The consumers in general do not research the companies or the products; they usually even do not care. The small group we mentioned at the beginning are educated people, not only in terms of academic education but are people who have been encouraged to be proactive and to constantly question everything, not to settle for commands.

Despite all this, the consumers are the more prospective group because everyone is in one way or another a consumer’ so, they are more reachable and they give the power to strengthen this movement for conscious growth.

The producers are always the minority, so their change is in the hands of a small number of people, but we are all potential agents of change as consumers.

We need to be agents, not simply actors. We are not playing a predetermined part in our society; being an agent implies that you can create change. Nobody is powerless; we all have an incorporated power of will, the will to make a decision or not; an action as a statement; as the concept of agency in sociology stands for.

Growing in these terms as people and as professionals will give us better tools to embody this power and open paths for the others to do the same. Thus, in a context of sustainable development, aside from our capacity of innovation and entrepreneurship, we must empower our agency in any moment of the process from the production to the consumption of a product.

Informing ourselves, informing others, questioning, consulting, and just selectively buying makes an important difference. We need to be honest with ourselves and take over our responsibility in this process, for we are all part of it. Consequently, not taking actions will affect us indiscriminately.

This channel of communication between the producers and the consumers is a major problem in the gap between them. We have the essential need of innovating this channel, of being creative and to be leaders; we need the tools of the “know how” to understand and educate through it. For those reasons, it is crucial in Bolivia for an interdisciplinary approach of the consumer affairs, but always keeping in mind that consuming it is not happiness per se, it represent only the supplies for us to find it.

Prison by Birth
Childhood and prison are two things that should never be mixed yet thanks to the Bolivian penal system, children of convicts often face a youth of growing up in a cell.
read more ...

Archive Issues

2007 | 2008 | 2009 | 2010 | 2011 | 2012 | 2013 | 2014 | 2015 | 2016