Approaches to Equity: Interview with Alejandro Acosta,Director of the International Center for Education and Human Development ( CINDE )

Monitoring and Evaluation

Alejandro Acosta explains why he believes that “inequity” and “inequality” are social constructions and why it is vital to understand how internationally construed power relationships come into play regarding these matters. He further goes on to elaborate the necessity of looking at the consequences of not only best practices but those of bad practices too in making future policies.

Interview conducted in February 2014

Q.What characterizes the concept of “equity”?

A: I think the concepts of “inequity” and “inequality” are social constructions. Though we are not all equal, inequalities that are socially construed to discriminate, exploit, marginalize, or worse, to exclude sectors of the population, must be overcome. We must understand that, despite the progress made, we have determined that there is a vertical inequality (when this inequality affects the individual), and a horizontal inequality (when this inequality affects groups), and in both directions there are different dimensions of inequity that have to do not only with the distribution or redistribution of wealth, but also with the recognition of the individual and individual agency.

Q.What do you see as the main causes of equity and equality?

A: It is clearly power dynamics that allow these redistribution and recognition processes to have an impact. I believe that this is one of the great advancements in this dialogue: understanding that the difference is not between rich and poor countries but that it has to do with internationally construed power relationships that allow the different performance of economic relations, political, cultural and social processes. This point should be well understood. We should consider raising awareness of horizontal and vertical inequities, not only the point of view of opportunities and capacities.

Economic growth in Latin America did not guarantee social equity and equality as a consequence of such economic growth, but it was completely compatible with an increase in inequality. One of the central problems in this situation is that human development was not seen as the beginning and the end and, as a force to achieve development.

One issue that is very large in scope is the situation of violence that we are living nowadays. For instance in Colombia, here in Mexico, in Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, I believe that in general this is a situation that is spreading, unfortunately, through all Latin America. The communities that surround the children are being fractured by violent groups that divide zones in such a way that children lose the possibility to move around and run big risks. And there are very valuable experiences in which, in order to overcome the issues that generate such violence, children manage to move around in between these areas, where adults have not been able to. That means that is necessary to involve children, adolescents and youth in the efforts to achieve equity and equality in our societies, of course not replacing adults in those issues which are their responsibilities

Q.What would be the key recommendations you would like to share with policy makers and practitioners that would promote equity?

A: Children, in particular, need to have opportunities for the development of their capacities but also need to  be deemed as recipients of these opportunities on the present of the worldwide scenario and not only on the grounds that they will realize their potential in the future. Children should be seen as individuals with rights who need to be able to function and realize their own potential, etc. For this reason, we need to clearly to articulate the efforts to overcome the horizontal and vertical inequalities that exist.

The crisis of 2008 showed two different things: number one:  the prevailing model leads the global economy to a recession, with high possibilities to go deeper and become a depression, and the second thing was that in spite of all the wealth generated, there was great inequality in rich and poor countries. This opened a new door to all the discussions that were already taking place in academia and in political spheres, both in majority and minority countries regarding the concept of justice and social justice.

There has to be a joint effort from all of us who work in the field to achieve such convergence between the discussion on the Philosophy and Social Sciences with the one about public policies and politic to move from a normative approach to social justice to one which really helps to improve policy and program design and execution so that they can have an impact in the quality of life of boys and girls and families.

Q.What do you think are some of the best practices in terms of policies and programs?

A: There are very interesting experiences in trying to understand the consequences from both good and bad practices. I’d say that both good practices and bad practices should be considered. In general, all the analysis based on current processes has a very constructive, positive, critical and libertarian discourse but the consequences are very differentiated. We need to better understand the mechanism of what the cause is for things to go in one direction or in the opposite direction. I believe bad practices have an equal potential to teach us valuable lessons as good practices.

I believe there are some very interesting efforts to understand why early childhood work must recognize diversity. Diversity can be cultural, ethnic, socio-economic, geographical, etc. and there are good examples with indigenous and disabled populations.

I think as far as gender issues are concerned, there are also very meaningful examples. For example, SEWA, which is an acronym that stands for Self-Employment Women Association, is an Indian organization that works with women in drought zones. Millions of women who live in these conditions organize to do activities that will provide an income. They develop processes to address their child care needs to allow them to go to work. I think there are good programs addressing gender issues that are also child-related in that way.

If you visit the “Early Years” page, the largest organization that works with early childhood in Northern Ireland, they are involved in the technical aspect and there is a book in both English and Spanish, which gathers life stories from people that have built experiences in 8 or 10 countries. This could be a good example.

There are some youth and adolescent projects by Colegio de la Frontera (COLEF). They have about 6 or 7 sites, especially on the northern border, that are showing many youth related experiences regarding issues such as the violence caused by the drug cartels, migration, etc. There is an example in Medellin, Colombia, called “Bandas Juveniles” (Youth Bands). Linguistically speaking, a “band” is both a musical group and a gang. So, there is a new program created among this fracture between the children, where many of them join gangs and are in trouble with the law that provides children with the opportunity to build their own paths, different from those in their environment. This program has been extremely successful not only in preventing the violence, but also in building positive individual and collective group paths. I believe that “Bandas Juveniles” in Venezuela and the way it has spread to other countries, such as Colombia, is no longer just the individual experience in Medellin, which is very focused on violence on gangs. It is also the way that Colombia has worked on the band project, which they call “Batutas”, that shows a very interesting inclusion process.

At CINDE, we have worked on a peacebuilding project with indigenous youth in conjunction with UNICEF that is very well documented as well as with afro-communities that we worked in conjunction with PLAN. Now we are conducting a research and development program based on peace building with seven projects in a seven years perspective.


AlejandroAlejandro is an economist who studied at Universidad de los Andes and la Fundación Universitaria Jorge Tadeo Lozano in Bogotá. He also has a sociology degree from Universidad Nacional de Colombia and a PhD in Education from Nova University in Florida.
He coordinates the Research Group on Policy and Programs for Children and Youth for the Doctorate in Social Sciences program at the University of Manizales and the Technical Secretariat of the Network of the Consultative Group on Early Childhood in Latin America. He also represents NGOs working on children’s issues on the Council of the Americas in Colombia.

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