Cerrito Initiative: Towards a community without poverty

Artisan woman from Cerrito, Paraguay.

Cerrito is part of the municipality of Benjamín Aceval. Its customary limits begin at kilometer 44 of the Transchaco route and its geography covers about 9 square kilometers. There live about 1,000 families, 70% of them are indigenous of the Qom family. A few kilometers from the capital, 47% of families in this community are poor and 37% are hungry!

This doesn’t need to be this way. In such a small country, with so few people, with a booming economy, significant growth, a balanced budget, and low unemployment, it is possible to eliminate poverty in the short term. Cerrito is showing it.

A year ago, leading a group of local businessmen, community leaders, the municipality, civil society organizations, and working with the community itself, Fundación Paraguaya launched the “Cerrito Initiative”. This is a program to eliminate multidimensional poverty in the short term, using the Poverty Stoplight methodology.

The first step was to make a very complete “radiography” of the community to see what resources are already available. Pictures were taken with drones to know the geography and the different sectors where people live, and an inventory was drawn up of the living forces of the community: which are the community organizations that work in it, which are the humanitarian groups and how they are organized, what NGOs operate there, what private companies employ the people, what public services are available, among others.

Then, with the Stoplight App, each family self-assessed their multidimensional poverty in a way that is comprehensible and actionable by themselves. They saw in which aspects of their lives they are well (Green, no poverty), more or less well (Yellow, poverty) or bad (Red, extreme poverty), and they elaborated their Life Map prioritizing their needs. This Life Map, their family plan, is at the “micro” level, and since it is prepared by the families themselves to solve their own shortcomings, it entails a significant commitment to get involved in the solution.

This bottom-up information, once aggregated, allowed the elaboration of a Poverty Elimination Plan. This “macro” plan makes it possible to better coordinate public and private services that already exist and facilitate their delivery to the families that really need them and want to obtain them. This precision is on “millimeter” basis since the App allows to georeference the information.

With all existing services in the area and other existing services in the region, a “Menu of Solutions” was built so families can take advantage of this information. Do you need additional income? Microfranchises and microcredits are offered. Do you need to know how savings work? Financial education workshops are coordinated with the ENIF (National Strategy of Financial Inclusion). Are there problems with the security of the area? We work with Police Stations and the Protek Foundation. Visual health? We work with Global Vision 2020. Problems with the water tanks? The neighbors are organized to solve it. And so on. As happens in all the communities from Paraguay, in Cerrito there are hundreds of services available, but they are not efficiently coordinated.

The Cerrito initiative has family extension workers. Each of them works with around 200 families who they advise on the implementation of their plan and give support to find the appropriate solution in the “Menu” offered. The family extension workers are also in charge of “activating” the families so that they are proactive in the search for solutions.

After a year of implementation, the first results are encouraging: the “Reds” and “Yellows” of the community in general terms have been reduced by 8%. For example, “Green” families in income increased by 15%, families that have appropriate hygienic habits increased by 18%, those that declare having safe housing increased by 13%, those that have appropriate clothing increased by 13%, those that have legal electricity increased by 12%. Meanwhile, in the neighboring community chosen as a control group, the “Greens” decreased by 5%.

Paraguay is only made of “Cerritos”. Poverty is concentrated in small communities like this. Implementing similar initiatives in each and every one of them is possible. How many “Cerritos” will there be? 1,000 maybe? It is not much and it is possible to reach each one of them to take better advantage of the public and private resources that already exist so that each family can leave poverty on its own.

For the time being, the community of Remansito — also located in the lower Chaco — has joined the challenge at the hands of a private company and aims to be the second community without poverty.

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Written by Martín Burt, Poverty Stoplight CEO.