This is the fourth and final part of a series of posts about my first impressions on the social sector in the US, compared to the sector in my home country:
It has been four weeks since I got to the US to train in the social sector and I would have never believed I’d be so fascinated by it in such a short time. Social ventures are supported and become successful, the general public wants to participate in it in one way or another and great ideas are shared, accepted and scaled. As part of MOLE, Movimiento de Liderazgo Educativo (in English, Educational Leadership Movement), we had discussed so much about how to build a thriving social sector back in Peru, how to convince investors and beneficiaries that government policies were not the only solution to our nation’s problems, that even we were not convinced that there was a realistic way to achieve this in time. Our huge impetus was accumulating and running the risk of hitting a wall too hard to demolish.
Some of the lessons I’ve learned about the social sector here will sure be helpful to make things clearer back home and to channel our efforts.
A different generation of Limeños
I remember being stunned by what I saw during my first social work visits to poor areas of Lima as a part of the International Baccalaureate program during high school. People lived in improvised housing in sandy dunes among foggy clouds behind a hill that had luxury homes with pools and large lawns in the other side. The polarization Limeños lived in, between “haves” and “have-nots”, was, and still is, astounding.
Migration into Lima started in the mid-twentieth century because of poor economic conditions for farm workers outside the capital caused by exploitation from large landowners. Agrarian reform in the late sixties, although needed, was not carried out effectively and only disconnected farmers from the markets for their products. The ensuing increase in poverty and being ignored by the government pushed many people to support communist revolutionary movements which moved from the poor provinces to the capital in less than 10 years, causing rampant death and even more poverty. People migrated to the city for safety, which was short lived. This is how Lima, previously a highly aristocratic city, became surrounded by “marginal” neighborhoods populated by people from different provinces and cultures.
Adding to this acute change, the Peruvian economic debacle of the eighties forced the wealthier people to prioritize their own needs in extreme. This, together with a large number of immigrants from a various different cultures, made racism and concealed discrimination trademarks of Lima’s high society. The same has happened with cities around the country. In my opinion, that is the reason why social work is looked upon as a waste of time: people in my hometown and other Peruvian cities either strive for social progress or try to maintain their economic status. Thus, economic growth is seen by most of the better educated minds as the one and only solution to poverty.
The Peruvian economy has grown in the last ten years or more almost unaffected by the world economic crisis but poverty issues and a polarized society are still very latent. Like me, many people have noticed that economic growth is a great part of our development but not all that is needed to change things in our country. The close contact with poverty, seeing children’s or senior person’s suffering expressions begging for a few cents while looking out the window of our parents’ nice cars, has had an effect on some of our consciences. More and more young Peruvians are being increasingly motivated to engage, in different ways and lengths, in complementing our country’s admirable economic growth in order to solve poverty in their lifetimes.
In this we have some sort of advantage, if we can call it an advantage, over the US: poverty is not isolated in small pockets like in large American cities nor is it in the “global south”, far removed from our country’s reality. We live day by day looking at poverty in the eyes, willingly or not, and this is starting to motivate an increasing number of young Peruvians towards social service and social entrepreneurship. The presence of many social entrepreneurs and movement leaders, some part of the “Global Shapers” community, in the World Economic Forum on Latin America 2013 held in Lima last April, is an important evidence of this. Organizations like Enseña Perú, Ruwasunchis, Imagina, Yaqua, ANIA and many others show us that social ventures in Peru are a growing movement and a rising trend that is starting to adapt to our society and our heterogeneous culture.
My only hope for the social sector in Peru and in every country in the world is that funding will reach it efficiently, the most capable and committed minds will work with it and that the movements themselves, in their countries and world-wide, can work as one to reach our common goal: defeating poverty and building a better society.