“Our challenge is to make the programs sustainable and the people own them”

On December 30th, 2020, Conny Toornstra, ICCO’s regional manager in Latin America, was interviewed by laRazon, the most important newspaper in Bolivia. We translated the interview for you.

“Our challenge is to make the programs sustainable and the people own them”

ICCO carries out development projects in Bolivia, the main beneficiaries of which are youth, women and indigenous people. In 2021 ICCO will allocate 3 million euros for various programs. The Sustainable Chaco program stands out, which benefits 120,000 producers: 300,000 families belonging to the Guaraní and Weenhayek indigenous peoples. ICCO does not only work in Bolivian territory, but also in Paraguay, Nicaragua and Colombia.

What programs will you invest in 2021?

We will invest the 3 million euros in programs such as Manq’a, Sustainable Chaco and Vuela Libre. These are the largest programs that we have in Bolivia.

How many years have you worked in Bolivia?

ICCO has been around for more than 50 years. It made a commitment to work with social organizations resisting the dictatorship of that time. This is how it began in Argentina, Peru and Brazil, in very difficult times. ICCO has worked a lot with the issues of small producers, food security and support for associations, cooperatives and the rural communities. There was a very active Dutch embassy in Bolivia until five years ago. NGOs left and at this moment, we are one of the few that have remained in the country.

What challenges have presented themselves at this juncture?

One of the challenges is to make the programs sustainable and the people own them. In addition, the state and private sector should participate. The challenge has been how to make alliances? How to make people take the leadership of their lives.

Which program stands out because it “walks by itself”?

We can mention the Manq’a schools, which provide the opportunity for young people in vulnerable contexts to train as cooks and revalue traditional Bolivian foods. I feel that in all of Latin America and in Bolivia there is a devaluation of rural areas. However, in these spaces you see dignity, joy and opportunities. The Manq’a program is sustainable, and not only financially. We all feel owners and seek to strengthen and innovate. With that, we have created business units. The municipality of El Alto requested entrepreneurship courses to replicate these models. The Mayor of Sucre asked us to set up facilitators. The schools are an alliance with the neighbors. With Manq’a, some 4,500 young people benefited from the project and there are like 5,000 beneficiaries with other projects.

In the Sustainable Chaco program, who are the beneficiaries?

Chaco has 120,000 producers and some 300,000 families. In the first instance, in Chaco, the Guaraní indigenous peoples benefited. We started with governance, rights, etc. From there, about five years ago, more economic work with Guarani and Weenhayek families was developed. Above all, we work with families that are young and female. We set-up small businesses of honey, peanuts, carob, products of the Chaco region, and cattle. Local production is for the market. ICCO supports market access for these small producers.

Why do you support young people and women?

More than half the population in El Alto is made up of young people, who are a link between the rural area and the city. They are creative, and they want to start businesses. We see great potential in them. Women, because they are also undervalued and have a high burden of responsibility for being good administrators, cooks, supporting their families. If you support a woman, you support a whole family. They are invisible people with a lot of potential.

Profile. Conny Toornstra. Agronomist. Conny has directed ICCO in Latin America since 2010 to date. The Bolivian office is the regional office for Latin America. She started her career in the 80s in Nicaragua, working on agricultural education with women, youths and indigenous peoples.

LA PAZ / December 30, 2020

The work of ICCO in Latin America will become independent from ICCO and Cordaid – two organizations that have merged as from 1 January 2021 – in two years. A new autonomous organisation is being established, named CONEXION. The transition is supported by Cordaid.

As of 1st January 2021 ICCO has joined forces with Cordaid and continues as one organization under the name Cordaid.

ICCO’s international website will remain online for the time being and can be visited here or go to Cordaid: