Engaging Financial Self-Management Processes in a Mapuche Context

By Alison Guzman and Ignacio Krell
MAPLE Microdevelopment Chile


March 14, 2017

When it comes to sustainable development, cultures and local conditions do matter. Designing approaches to development that can be sustained by local communities is based on MAPLE’S guiding principle that culture matters—greatly—and engaging the local community, as much as possible, in the design of those approaches, also matters—greatly. 

Many indigenous and rural communities around the world find themselves excluded from the direct benefits of national economic growth and run the risk of becoming ever more marginalized, with their culture and environment at risk of becoming devastated.  Yet, these communities are resilient, often prefer autonomy, and tend to have the resources and capacities to establish sustainable microeconomies.

At MAPLE Microdevelopment we know these resilient albeit marginalized communities are capable of realizing their visions of a better future for themselves and the planet. They just need tools to create change -and through local engagement, these very tools can be designed to fit the local cultures, values, and purposes of those who will sustain them. Our ten years of work within very different community contexts, both in post-conflict regions of Uganda and in our case,  indigenous Mapuche regions of southern Chile, demonstrate that community-owned financial services are an effective tool for local communities to sustain lasting local development through autonomous decision-making processes.

Through this and the upcoming three blogs, MAPLE Chile and our partners the Mapuche  Community or Lof of  Llaguepulli, would like to share the collaborative processes through which, between 2012 and 2016, community participation and indigenous self-determination have become cornerstones of effective local  approaches to economic, cultural, and environmental sustainability in Mapuche Lands of northern Patagonia.

This first blog introduces MAPLE Microdevelopment’s approach to establish financial tools that are community owned and managed by engaging local communities in the design of those tools.  Enjoy!

MAPLE Microdevelopment

Seeing through a “Microdevelopment” lens is as much about self-governance—good, transparent governance—as it is about local economies. One of the conditions necessary for Communities to manage and sustain development initiatives on their own is that they become engaged in the design of those initiatives. 

MAPLE Microdevelopment was established as a U.S. non-profit organization in 2009, following discussions initiated by students led by MAPLE’s director, Dr. Ron Severson, a professor at the Lundquist School of Business at the University of Oregon, around the possibilities of culture-specific Microdevelopment. In 2008, they began dialogues with saving groups formed by returning displaced families in remote areas of post-conflict Northern Uganda, just one year after the LRA had fled the region (See BOX 1.A).  

After 7 years of establishing a foundation of successful working relations with local communities in Uganda, in 2012, MAPLE Microdevelopment initiated conversations with Mapuche communities of Chile living on ancestral lands of Northern Patagonia.   Since the guiding principles of MAPLE’s approach to microdevelopment is that local culture and self-governance in the design of sustained financial services matter, it was important for us to test that approach in a quite different region of the world- Mapuche-Lafkenche territories of Lake Budi.  Since 2013, Alison Guzman and Ignacio Krell, specialists in cross-cultural development and environmental issues respectively have served as MAPLE field officers in the Community of Llaguepulli, our first partner in Chile.

Thanks to funding support from The Bay and Paul Foundations, First Peoples Worldwide, International Foundation and supporters like yourselves, what began as a participatory process of information gathering following invitation from the community in 2013, led to the design and establishment of the first ever Mapuche-owned community financial institution in 2014.

For more details on MAPLE’s team biographies, please see www.maplemicrodevelopment.org.


BOX 1.A: Micro-development in Uganda

In the places where MAPLE Uganda works, as in much of Eastern Africa, savings groups are indigenous institutions that enable communities to save, borrow, invest, and promote wellbeing, women’s empowerment, and solidarity. When MAPLE arrived in Uganda, people were returning from internally displaced person camps to reestablish livelihoods on ancestral lands after the 20-year war. We quickly learned that working in post-conflict and indigenous contexts requires understanding and respect for cultural norms and protocols. Through community dialogues it became clear that rural Ugandans wanted to strengthen their own approaches to community banking: villagers asked MAPLE for education in financial literacy, entrepreneurship, and business development, not money, so they could grow their self-managed funds, generate more income, , and keep their children in school, all while retaining control of their community organizations and assets. Over time, as groups and intercultural trust became stronger, many locally-managed groups asked MAPLE to help them design linkages to external funding, through a membership-based model, to finance larger income generating projects managed entirely by the community.  By designing a membership based model, groups retained responsibility for managing and sustaining their successful development initiatives, while also respecting external members as equal to them.  This solved the ever-present insider/outsider problem in financial linkages, which often leads to problems of so-called “moral hazard” and “project failure syndrome” in sub-Saharan African initiatives involving cultural outsiders that often supplant rather than strengthen civil society.

Today, MAPLE Microdevelopment Uganda currently serves over 60 village-based savings groups in hard to reach rural areas including over 2000 member through offices in Lira, Northern Uganda, and Mbale, Eastern Uganda.  

MAPLE’s work in Mapuche Ancestral Lands

Thinking that finance is simply a matter of pure numbers, and not a social endeavor laden with particular cultural values has led societies to turn financial services over to institutions they had no part in designing or governing.  And this might not even be an option for indigenous peoples, if they want to exercise their rights to self-determination and cultural preservation.

 Within the Mapuche language, “Mapu,” means land and “che” means people.  Like many indigenous peoples worldwide, Mapuche are “people of the land,” not in terms of private ownership but in terms of the stewardship necessary to preserve one’s own life, identity, and future as a people. 

Through MAPLE´s work with Mapuche communities, it is possible to rediscover that a different approach to designing sustainable financial services on a local level is possible: one rooted in traditional exchange systems that always respect the values of reciprocal relations among people and with the land. 

Llaguepulli, a small coastal Lof or community of Mapuche-Lafkenche families living at the shores of Lake Budi much like many Mapuche communities in Northern Patagonia have maintained traditions of indigenous leadership and entrepreneurship, and are implementing strategies for achieving cultural autonomy and economic self-sufficiency.  Many believe survival culture involves facing the challenge of integrating traditional and modern influences in an ever-more interconnected world.

 Through exceptional leaders and commitments, Lof Llaguepulli and their neighbors in Lake Budi ancestral lands, have been on the forefront of solutions that create environmental and social resilience for Mapuche families and future generations to come. MAPLE’s work with them is based on an aspiration of economic self-determination arising from indigenous communities themselves and encoded as a human right (See inset Box 1B below for more on Mapuche People, and the upcoming second blog of this series to learn more about our community partners, the Llaguepulli Lof). 


BOX1.B: Did you know…?

The Mapuche People, the largest indigenous group in Chile with about a million people of whom  250,000 still live  in their traditional lands, continue to face systemic discrimination in a country with one of the highest income gaps in the world (OECD 2016).

The Mapuche have been struggling to reassert their rights as a People under international frameworks since the 16th century, when they achieved recognition by the Spaniards south of the Biobio River. Adhered by Chile, the ILO 16, and the 2008 UN Declaration on the Right of Indigenous Peoples, have supported their struggle to recuperate sustainable access to natural resources, such as rivers, farmlands and forests in their traditional rural territories, together with the more recent reassertion of their traditional systems of law, education, and resource management, as well as decentralized self-development programs. The latter has been specifically asserted by international human rights frameworks. The UN Declaration, for instance, in its crucial Article 4 states that:

“Indigenous peoples, in exercising their right to self-determination, have the right to autonomy or self-government in matters relating to their internal and local affairs, as well as ways and means for financing their autonomous functions.”(Our highlight)

Self-development and with it, effective implementation of Article 4, remain elusive as marginalization and discrimination continue to be embedded in politics, economics, and socio/cultural societal norms. Chile has been summoned by successive UN rapporteurs on indigenous rights, and appear before the ICHR several times over violations to indigenous rights. 


The Mutual Support Group Model: A Collaborative Journey across Cultures

Following initial dialogues in 2012, MAPLE was invited by Llaguepulli Community to assist them in the creation of a uniquely Mapuche tool for economic, cultural, and environmental revitalization in their own terms and with their own resources. The community understood that MAPLE Microdevelopment was committed to apply traditional knowledge to co-design a uniquely Mapuche model for financial autonomy through agreed-upon methods for cultural immersion, interdisciplinary research, and informed community dialogues. With this aim, our MAPLE team embarked on a journey to the Southern Cone of Latin America- coastal Lake Budi in 2013.

The project team consisted of MAPLE’s field team, Alison Guzman and Ignacio Krell, and two Llaguepulli community women leaders, Nadia Painefil Curiqueo and Fresia Painefil Calfuqueo. Nadia and Fresia had been appointed by the community´s Longko (traditional authority) in a community assembly to make up a diverse, interdisciplinary community-driven team.  

MAPLE was offered a cozy tourist cabin for the next 6 months. The small cabin in the heart of the community provided the adequate space to collaborate, merge ideas, and adaptively co-design the project that  began to be implemented. In the 6 months that followed, our team underwent in-depth conversations with Llaguepulli´s families and elders, completing 12 recorded interviews, 40 surveys and innumerable more home visits and conversations around fires, mate, and earth foods. You can read more on these methods and results of these community-driven processes in the upcoming second blog of this series of four.

In 2012, Llaguepulli families and leaders invited MAPLE Microdevelopment’s Chile external consultants, Alison Guzman (second from left)  and Ignacio Krell (far left) to Llaguepulli to jointly work towards creating the first Member-Owned Institution (MOI). Meanwhile, two young women, Fresia Painefil Calfuqueo (second from right) and Nadia Painefil Curiqueo (far right) were appointed to the project by community traditional leaders. A team was formed!

It is important to note that ever since week 1, the Llaguepulli Community had full access to decision-making at key moments of the 6-month preparatory process.   This was made possible through the creation of an Advisory Council for the project consisting of traditional Authorities who would then guide and provide us protocols to ensure the project was inclusive, transparent and effective for community participation and consensus building. Each step in the research and co-design process was discussed with the Council and community assemblies every month.

At a community assembly on December 2013, where the team presented the final research results and proposed the newly designed mutual support tool, traditional consensus process resulted in the decision to pilot it.  In March 2014, with 24 founding members, RekuluwnKeyuwun (Grupo de Apoyo Mutuo, GAM) was born!

Community leaders and members discussing recommendations at the end of the preparatory research cycle

Three years later, as of mid-t2016, the GAM is completing its 3rd annual cycle with 44 members. More importantly, the GAM is entering a new phase of full self-management and self-determination by community members and leaders. Today, the GAM is known as a financial tool that applies the traditional Mapuche concept of Rekuluwn-Keyuwun that expresses families support for each other in sustaining abundance and general wellbeing.

Meanwhile, inspired by the Llaguepulli community’s experience, neighboring Mapuche-Lafkenche communities are undergoing initial preparatory processes to form their own Groups.

The community aspired to enhance management of their family and community assets through financial processes they could own and control. MAPLE helped them turn this vision into reality: As we will show in the coming 3 blogs, a uniquely Mapuche community finance institution is now the product of 3 years of cross-cultural learning, innovation and entrepreneurship, and is already strengthening many Mapuche families’ assets and community-level capacities for self-governance, thus adhering to the framework and protocols for Indigenous Peoples Rights.

We will share with you the whole story. But first, some definitions.


1.      What is “Microdevelopment”?

Grand Macrodevelopment schemes are driven by a belief in the predictability of accumulation of wealth and economic capabilities by nations, enterprises, and families. These macro-level approaches to development often rely on short term cookie-cutter approaches justified as a way to eliminate “poverty”.  Yet, one-size-fits all models, while seeming scaleable, often prove to be less sustainable as they ignore the significance of culture, of local participation in the design process, of the capacity building necessary for sustaining models of development on local levels.  Through a tradeoff of sustainability for short term scalability, these approaches also trade potential long term benefits for easy-to-tabulate short term measures.  Over time, failures of unsustainable short term interventions, can cause more harm than good.

“Instead, microdevelopment processes embrace cultural diversity and are culture/context- dependent.  In other words, local communities build the processes necessary to depend upon themselves rather than on external interventions. Microdevelopment encompasses two interconnected processes:

1.      Turning resilience into self-reliance and  self-determination of goals and strategies at a community level is the key to achieving sustain lasting, humane and ecological prosperity in accordance to people’s cultural context, history, values, sense of belonging, and dignity.


2.     Reciprocal connections to the land and the intergenerational community, which indigenous traditions sustain despite marginalization and historical losses. Collaboration can help not onlyindigenous and rural communities, but all of us, exploring ways in which non-western traditions of economic initiative and cooperation can address global challenges of the XXI century.


2.     How does MAPLE go about Microfinance?

Microfinance has existed since families and communities could exchange and make financial commitments with each other. As a strategy for development, back in the 1970’s, a focus on rebuilding local economies was reborn out of the critical problems prevalent in top-down development programs. Through the rediscovered Microfinance lens, it was believed that everyone could make their own financial decisions, responsible commitments, take initiative, and support each other, regardless of where you live, what you do, or what income you have. As Yunus[1] put it:

“In my experience, poor people are the world's greatest entrepreneurs. Every day, they must innovate in order to survive. They remain poor because they do not have the opportunities to turn their creativity into sustainable income.”

Over time, however, it became apparent that microfinance did not always deliver its promise of lasting and self-determined development. Instead, just as in previous top-down development schemes, relationships of dependency and external control were often formed between the communities and the microfinance institutions.

Lots of discussions and counter-arguments ensued, and important research, innovation, and a drive for more sustainable community-based and savings-based approaches have emerged (Roodman 2012).

For the past 10 years in our work with communities in northern and eastern Uganda and southern Chile, we have made sure to build on our community partners’ capabilities, as we co-design processes than can strengthen indigenous institutions through mutual commitment and learning, while also establishing processes and models that can be replicated.


3.     What is a community financial tool?

In Uganda, village savings and loans groups are part of the social fabric. MAPLE works with existing village savings groups to develop the capabilities they need to produce the changes they want. We have worked with several groups to adapt to the local context- processes for financial education, transparency and good governance, youth engagement, and external financial linkages.

In Chile, and in a completely different context, we were called in by leaders from Mapuche communities to assist them to incubate the first-ever indigenous self-managed financial group, designed to be a tool to advance their social, environmental, cultural and economic aspirations, holistically and autonomously.  In the Mapuche culture, there isn’t a tradition of monetary savings. However, there exists a vibrant tradition of mutual support that often involves non-monetary forms of exchange and reciprocity for achieving general wellbeing and solidarity. As we found out through collaborative community driven research in 2013, despite pressures from a disadvantageous integration into global monetized economy, cultural practices of mutual support are still practiced through gift exchange and mutual agreements for family and community asset management.  The challenge MAPLE and our community partners at Llaguepulli has taken in is to build community financial institutions that incorporate these unique Mapuche economic practices.

Based in these experiences, as seen throughout the next 3 parts of the blog series, we learned that the implementation of pre-designed microfinance schemes often misses the potential of integrating community values and capacities for lasting local and regional development. MAPLE Microdevelopment believes a genuine community finances tool is the product of community-driven and context-dependent design through collaborative incubation.


4.     How does MAPLE ‘s collaborative processes enable sustainable development?

MAPLE and our community partners experience being part of a global movement for the sustainable and equal development of all peoples through sustainable and humane inter-independence. But inter-dependence, as opposed to dependence, has to be built first locally and then regionally, upon self-determination and self –reliance. 

MAPLE Microdevelopment currently works in communities that have entirely different cultures and historical contexts, while systematizing approaches to incorporating local practices and protocols. According MAPLE’s director and senior adviser Dr. Ron Severson, “Using the same process of dialogue with communities has led to develop two different models, with some minor similarities.  Most importantly, these models can be sustained by communities because they are co-designed to fit communities’ needs, values, aspirations, etc.  Yet, they are also scalable across communities that share similar cultural and historic backgrounds through adaptive processes and tools”. For Dr. Severson, these microdevelopment methods should build upon:

1.      Receiving an invitation.

2.     Facilitating dialogues.

3.     Living with a community and practicing participant observation necessary to build trust and overcome the insider-outsider divide.

4.     Listening and establishing reciprocal understanding.

5.     Reaching consensus on specific goals, measures of success desired by the community.

6.     Co-designing a prototype institution and management processes to achieve community goals and objectives based on local values and commitments.

7.     Implementing and testing the design to improve it based on actual experience and continuous feedback from the community.

8.     Facilitating dialogue (Yes more dialogue!) related to redesign and adaptation.

9.     Incubate and connect income generation and holistic assets-building strategies.

10.   Building reciprocally capacities for replication through knowledge networks and training of trainers.

11.    Co-designing and implementing ethical external linkages (finance, markets, and distribution) to strengthen microdevelopment activities.


What’s next…

In the next 3 blogs of this series, we will present more detailed information on the collaborative between the Llaguepulli and MAPLE, so you can understand what we are doing and so you, perhaps, can duplicate some of these efforts towards supporting economic self-determination.

In our upcoming second blog, we will introduce Llaguepulli Lof’s capabilities for self-governance and self-sustainability through the voice of the participants in the preparatory community-led research who would eventually become GAM’s founding members. Insight on the Mapuche-Lafkenche families of Llaguepulli, their asset building strategies, organizational capacities and norms involving finances through observations validated by the Llaguepulli Community will be presented to you together with key preparatory methods co-developed with the Llaguepulli Community in 2013.

In blog 3, we will delve into the inner working of the first Mapuche Mutual Support Group, and the new capacities created by the Management Team with assistance from MAPLE.  

And finally, blog 4 will present actions taken to materialize and monitor a holistic framework for positive and lasting impact, which arose from 16 social, cultural, environmental and economic strategic directions for multidimensional development of native arts and crafts, ecotourism, and family organic agriculture in the communities of lake Budi with which MAPLE works.



[1] Mohammad Yunus is a Bangladeshi was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for founding the Grameen Bank and pioneering the concepts of microcredit and microfinance