What Did I Do Wrong?

Abstract

This case offers students an opportunity to discuss rural development. Set in a coastal Philippine village of poor farmers and fishermen, the story unfolds as Elena Santos pursues efforts to assist the villagers with reviving a moribund cooperative in order to build a fish sanctuary. Harmonious at first, and full of expectation, the villagers divide and fall into discouragement when they face the difficulty of accumulating the capital needed to make the cooperative official. The case challenges students to analyze how the development project went awry, and strategize about what Santos and her colleagues might do to stave off its impending demise.

What did I do wrong? is the question Elena asks herself as the Participatory Rural Empowerment Project reaches the point of apparent failure. The project, run by the Agricultural Training Institute Elena works for, is a collaboration between the Philippine and Japanese governments. Elena brings in coastal resource management expert Ed Lopez, and persuades village leader Cap Nito to organize a mangrove plantation and go along with the idea of building the fish sanctuary. She prepares to buy building materials while the villagers attempt to gather enough money to fund the cooperative that will run and maintain the sanctuary. While she is away, the villagers stumble over the challenge of meeting their payments. Hostility builds between the farmers and the lower income fishermen. Ed worries that delays will threaten construction of the fish sanctuary, but Cap Nito is more deeply troubled by the disharmony in his village, fearing that it will be long lasting.

Sponsored by the Foundation for Advanced Studies on International Development, this case is suitable for students in courses on international development and participants in training programs on development projects, particularly for those prospectively involved in community development.

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