The Global Studies Seminar welcomes Rebecca Ray, pre-doctoral research fellow at the Global Economic Governance Initiative at Boston University’s Global Development Policy Center, presenting “International Development Banks in the Andean Amazon: Working Despite People, For People or With People?”
Over the last 10 years, development banks have rapidly mobilized to fund new projects in sensitive watersheds in the Andean Amazon: home to the richest biodiversity in the hemisphere as well as the “uncontacted frontier,” the highest concentration of uncontacted and voluntarily isolated indigenous communities in the world.
Fortunately, countries in the Amazon region, and the international development banks that operate there, have enacted major reforms (called “safeguards”) boosting representation of affected peoples in project planning stages. Over the last year, Boston University’s Global Development Policy Center has coordinated fieldwork by researchers in Brazil, Ecuador, Peru, and Bolivia to trace the impacts of these reforms. Their work shows that incorporating the voices of stakeholder communities in development projects not only diminishes the risk of social conflict, but also reduces project-related deforestation – a crucial result in a region called the “lungs of the earth.”
However, benevolent regulations are not a panacea. Their fieldwork shows that a “one-size-fits-all” approach to applying safeguards can lead to major misunderstandings of the concerns most important to local communities, which can backfire and lead to more conflict, rather than less. Overall, institutional reforms are beneficial, but ultimately no substitute for true economic democratization.