Looking Backward, Moving Forward: Success-Based Capacity Building in Rural Brazil

Blake H. Schmidt, School for International Training in Brattleboro


This paper reports on the successes, challenges and future of a community cooperative in Brazil’s Atlantic Rainforest. I worked for six months as program coordinator for a small non-governmental organization (NGO), called Friends of Iracambi Association (Iracambi). Iracambi works with rural communities to create income generating alternatives and to protect the rainforest. To facilitate this it helped start a small community cooperative, the Iracambi Producers Group (IPG). My work with the IPG made me curious to know what its members thought of its success and future prospects. The research question for my paper was: Has membership in the IPG affected the members’ self-efficacy and visioning for the future? The research methodology used was designed with the communities involved in mind. I collected data using semi-structured observation and interviews, questionnaires and material culture. This data was then analyzed to answer the research question. Through my analysis I came up with a number of conclusions, primarily about the IPG but also Iracambi. In my conclusions I determined that member’s self-efficacy and visioning for the future have benefited from participation in the IPG. Members thought, planned and worked together, and learned new skills and trades while working for the IPG. This was facilitated in large part by Iracambi. It has proven to be a good use of their time, energy and resources. Both Iracambi and the IPG face many challenges. I have made recommendations to both on changes they should make. The practical applicability of this paper is for a small group of individuals and organizations that might find the new knowledge presented useful. This inquiry will be most helpful to the IPG and Iracambi. It might be beneficial to community cooperatives or NGOs thinking of working with communities in rural Brazil or starting similar cooperatives.